Village Council

Village Council President Karen Wintrow does not have a conflict of interest regarding the Center for Business and Education, according to a recent Ohio Board of Ethics ruling.

Village budget with smaller deficit OK’d

Village Council on Monday evening gave initial approval to a 2014 Village budget with a general fund deficit that is considerably lower than the deficit projected at Council’s budget workshop two weeks ago. This year’s general fund budget, which is regarded as the barometer of a town’s fiscal health, projects a deficit of about $200,000 rather than the originally projected $470,000 deficit.

This is the first projected general fund deficit spending in recent years, and while Council managed to bring down the deficit, continued deficit spending is likely, according to Council President Karen Wintrow.

“Our costs will only go up and so far revenues are stagnant. That’s not a good formula,” she said.

Council will take its second and final vote on the budget at its March 17 meeting. According to state law, 2014 municipal budgets need to be approved by April 1. The total Village budget approved, including utility funds, is $8,468,021.

The approved general fund budget includes revenue projections of about $2.7 million and expenditures of about $2.9 million, The expenses are lower than originally projected partly because they do not include the addition of a new officer position in the police department, as Police Chief Anthony Pettiford had requested, for a savings of around $74,000. Other reductions, which were presented to Council members at the beginning of the meeting, were linked to a close analysis of the proposed police budget by Finance Director Melissa Vanzant and Pettiford. The analysis revealed some salary projections were too high, according to Vanzant. Consequently the department’s original request was trimmed by about $100,000.

However, given the deficit spending, the request for a police department increase of about $200,000 was still too much for Council member Marianne MacQueen, who had been out of town at the previous general fund discussion. MacQueen proposed an amendment to the budget that would cut the new officer position, which was seconded by Lori Askeland. The two, along with Karen Wintrow, made a majority that approved the amendment, which Brian Housh and Gerry Simms voted against. However, all Council members voted in favor of the final budget, without the police officer addition.

About 25 villagers attended the meeting, with many who spoke expressing concern about the large deficit and specifically about a significant increase in the police department budget. Pettiford has repeatedly said that the new officer position is necessary so that the department could have two officers on duty most of the time, which he said would increase officer safety.

But the villagers who attended asked for more information before they would favor an increase.

“Other communities are safe” with fewer police, according to former Council President Judith Hempfling, who also said that she was shocked by the original projection of a $500,000 deficit.

A village conversation and more analysis is needed before villagers should approve more police officers, according to Heather Wright and Michael Anes. And while several Council members suggested moving ahead to approve the proposed budget and later look more closely at the police request, MacQueen disagreed.

“I’d rather hold off on hiring new people than have them come on and then fire them,” she said.

Anne Bohlen also urged Council to have a conversation around the police request before approving a hike.

“It seems crime statistics are declining in town. Why do we need to add more police?” she said.

Several villagers, including Hempfling, also questioned the growing cost of Village government contractual services, stating that the Village lacks a way to keep track of those expenses — legal contracted expenses reached $135,000 this year — that could help keep those costs down. Overall, Hempfling said, she’s concerned about the growing deficit’s effect on affordability in the village.

But factors contributing to the fiscal challenges continue to grow, according to Interim Village Manager Kent Bristol, who identified the root cause as the loss of local industry.

“Villagers have gotten used to luxury services because our industrial base once financed them. Now they’re gone,” he said.

MacQueen also expressed concern that the Village must grow its economy in order to address the possibility of growing deficits.

“I hope that when the community understands the situation we’re in, the community can agree on” some economic development strategy, she said. “Otherwise we’ll either be cutting services or raising taxes.”

Also regarding the budget, Tecumseh Land Trust Director Krista Magaw expressed concern that the budget does not include $50,000 for land conservation, as it has in recent years. Magaw also questioned whether the budget included the $100,000 that Council already approved for preservation of Glen Helen, which later was added to the budget. However, additional green space funds were not included.

Villager Amanda Banaszak also urged Council to include funds to improve the space for young people at Bryan Center.

Council will take the second and final vote on the 2014 Village budget at its March 17 meeting. For details on the budget, go online to yso.com and click on Council’s March 3 packet.

See next week’s News for other agenda items from Council’s March 3 meeting.

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