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Revenue stream error means more monies in greenbelt fund

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At their March 17 meeting, members of the Yellow Springs Village Council learned that, due to a past communication error, the Village greenbelt fund should have about $100,000 more than the $87,000 it currently contains.

If the $100,000 amount is correct, the fund will have a total of about $237,000 in 2008, the sum of the 2007 balance of $87,000, Council’s recent decision to add $50,000 to the fund, and the extra $100,000.

Council learned about the communication error and extra greenbelt revenues during its discussion of the 2008 budget at the meeting.

According to Council Clerk Deborah Benning, Village Council in 2003, during a time of fiscal belt tightening, voted to stop streaming revenues from estate taxes into the greenbelt fund. However, the 2003 Council did not vote to stop streaming revenues from two other revenue sources — rentals from the Village-owned cellular tower and rentals from Village-owned farmland — into the fund. But because of miscommunication, those revenue streams were stopped as well.

The error occurred because the 2003 Council decision to stop streaming the estate tax revenues into the greenbelt fund took place right before then-Village Manager Rob Hillard took a leave of absence and at a time of changeover for the Village finance director. Apparently, according to Benning, Council’s intention of continuing the two revenue streams to the greenbelt fund was never communicated to the new Village finance director, Sharon Potter, or the new Village manager, Eric Swansen.

“The information did not get filtered down,” Benning said in an interview last week. “It fell through the cracks.”

Benning suspected that a mistake had been made when in recent meetings Council stated that the greenbelt fund has no current revenue sources, she said. When she researched the issue, she found that her concerns were justified, and that the amount the fund should have received in the intervening years may be as much as $100,000. The exact amount has not yet been determined but will be in upcoming weeks, she said.

At its last meeting, Council had voted to add $50,000 to the greenbelt fund, with Karen Wintrow and Kathryn Van der Heiden voting for the move and President Judith Hempfling and Lori Askeland voting against because they sought a higher amount for the fund. Council member John Booth was absent at that meeting.

Budget approved

On March 17, Council approved a first reading of the 2008 Village budget after creating a new $10,000 earmark for diversity initiatives, as suggested by Booth. Council will address the second, or final reading of the 2008 budget at a special March 31 meeting.

Council needs a specific earmark for increasing the diversity of village residents because doing so is one of the 2008 Village goals, according to Booth.

“A goal without money behind it is an empty goal,” he said. “It’s about walking our walk along with our talk.”

The diversity funds will come out of a $35,000 earmark for a housing study, Council members agreed. The 2008 budget includes a number of earmarks aimed at supporting 2008 Village goals. Those earmarks include $50,000 for a visioning process, $35,000 for consultant fees for updating the Village zoning code; $35,000 for a housing study and $6,000 for a retail market analysis. These earmarks are funded by unexpected one-time 2007 revenues from estate and income tax revenues.

Overall, according to Village manager Eric Swansen, the Village’s financial situation is stable. The 2008 general fund is balanced and enterprise funds “are for the most part okay,” he said. The enterprise, or utility funds, are funded by utility rates, and the general fund receives revenues from income taxes, the recent property tax levy, and other sources. The general fund funds Village services, including road upkeep and repairs, parks and recreation, the maintenance of the Bryan Center and upkeep of the library building.

“For the most part, things are doing fairly well,” Swansen said.

The actual 2007 Village budget had an unexpected windfall of about $250,000 due to large to greater-than-expected estate taxes and also higher than expected income tax revenues; in all, the 2007 budget ended with a $600,000 surplus.

In 2007, the general fund had a beginning balance of $901,113 and an ending balance of $1,534,040. In 2008, the general fund has a beginning balance of $1,534,040 and a projected final balance of $859,721.

In previous meetings, Swansen has cautioned that revenue expectations for 2008 are lower than for 2007, partly due to the uncertainty surrounding the possible closure of Antioch College.

At the March 17 meeting, Swansen presented a list of one-time Village needs to be funded by the one-time revenues. Those needs included the $126,000 in earmarks for the various planning processes to address Village goals, along with $193,000 in one-time street department expenses.

Council approved the one-time expenditure list as part of the first reading of the 2008 budget.

In other Council business:

• Megan Quinn Bachman gave a presentation on economic development consultant Michael Shuman, who has worked with communities across the country to develop their economies based on a strong emphasis on local business. This focus includes not only supporting businesses that already exist, but creating new ones to address “leakages” of products and services supplied by outside companies.

“This is an approach in line with our values, and one that capitalizes on a huge asset we have, a lively downtown,” she said.

Shuman would offer a one or two day intensive workshop with local leaders, during which specific initiatives would be developed, along with supporting research on the local economy, Bachman said. The workshop would also include a presentation to the community, and a focus on action, with the workshop resulting in a plan tailored to Yellow Springs, she said.

“This is an action-oriented rather than a visioning approach,” she said.

The cost for a Shuman workshop would be about $6,000–$7,000, Bachman said, and a leakage analysis would be more expensive.

Antioch College faculty member Chris Hill spoke in support of Shuman’s approach, since he has worked extensively with town-gown collaborations, she said. The Smart Growth Task Force also supports Shuman’s approach, according to Dimi Reber.

Council did not take specific action at this time about using Shuman as a consultant. Council member Karen Wintrow requested that Council also look into other consultants who provide the same approach as Shuman.

• Jerry Papania spoke about his frustration the past several years with the Village not enforcing the noise ordinance against Antioch College. According to Papania, who lives next to the college’s commercial chiller in the student union, in the summer the chiller produces noise levels that are above that allowed by local law. Over the past four years, he has registered more than 60 complaints against the college, but the Village has not cited the college even once, Papania said.

“This has resulted in considerable discomfort and sleep disturbance” for himself and his family, Papania said.

According to Yellow Springs Police Chief John Grote, the Village has not cited the college because the Village does not now have the funds to purchase specific equipment and training to enforce the local ordinance. The Village did in the past take Antioch to court over the noise problems, and lost the case, due to the lack of reliable noise measuring techniques, he said.

The Village can cite the college daily for noise disturbances but doing so will not force it to not use its chiller, according to Village Solicitor John Chambers.

Council members stated that the Village needs to communicate directly with Antioch University officials about its intentions to enforce the noise ordinance, and the need for improved cooperation.

“This is a good neighbors issue, and I don’t understand why we have to turn it into a legal hullabaloo,” Van der Heiden said. “It seems to me we should sit down and talk.”

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