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‘09 budget includes funds for greenbelt, conservation

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On Monday, March 16, Village Council unanimously approved the first reading of the 2009 Village budget. The budget includes a substantial allocation to the greenbelt fund, along with money to upgrade Village facilities for energy conservation and to fund a Village-wide visioning/planning process.

Council will vote on the budget a final time at its first meeting in April.

“I see this money being spent to bring clarity to the future of the community,” said Vice-President Karen Wintrow of these three budget allocations, about which Wintrow said she had received substantial comunity feedback.

The visioning process will “bring the community together in a positive dialogue” about difficult issues, the greenbelt money will help protect valued green space land while still allowing for development in other areas, and the energy conservation funds will, along with saving energy, save the Village operational costs in the future, according to Wintrow.

“I feel confident this budget addresses these goals in a prudent fashion,” she said.

The 2009 Village budget general fund allocates $100,000 for the greenbelt fund, $50,000 for energy-conservation upgrades to Village-owned buildings and $50,000 to fund the visioning process.

Council member Kathryn Van der Heiden, who in earlier meetings had opposed allocating $100,000 to the greenbelt fund, stated that she continued to support providing $50,000 for the greenbelt fund and keeping the other $50,000 in the general fund if needed. However, she voted in favor of the budget.

About two hours were devoted to a discussion on the 2009 budget, beginning with a presentation by Village Manager Mark Cundiff, then questions and comments from both citizens and Council members. About 35 villagers attended the meeting, and most who spoke urged Council to vote for funds for the greenbelt and for energy conservation.

“If you look at what we care about, it’s preserving the character of the town, and that means setting aside money for green space,” said Mark Babb, who said he believed he spoke for many villagers like himself, “30-somethings with kids,” who usually can’t attend Council meetings.

“Green space is what makes Yellow Springs different,” said Sylvia Carter Denny, who said saving the Jacoby greenbelt would be “a great heritage to the village.”

The proposed budget had sparked community controversy in recent weeks, as some villagers worried that $100,000 was an excessive amount to allocate to the greenbelt fund in the current economic climate. The amount was recommended to Council by Tecumseh Land Trust leaders who believe that Jacoby greenbelt properties on the western edge of the village may soon come up for sale, and that the Village needs to be ready to act.

But the Village can afford to act on green space because the general fund is healthy, with a reserve fund — the amount left over after all expenditures are made — that has more than 50 percent of the total general fund, several Council members said.

“It looks like we’re in pretty good shape, certainly better than in the past,” said Council member Lori Askeland, who described the budget as “both prudent and having a vision for the future.”

Council members also clarified that the money for energy conservation upgrades, while recommended by the Electric System Task Force, will not go to the members of the task force, as had been rumored in the village.

“Please be informed on the issues as we debate them,” Council President Judith Hempfling said regarding the misinformation. “Personal attacks are never helpful.”

Some villagers who spoke questioned the amount to be allocated to green space at this time. New resident Craig Mesure urged Council to focus on economic development and infrastructure repair, stating that “new residents are moving into the village,” but that they won’t stay if basic services don’t work.

Al Schlueter stated that Council needs to focus on issues of affordability and diversity in the village, expressing his concern that money for green space might undermine those issues.

In his presentation, Cundiff stated that the total 2009 general fund budget is $3,153,068, with a reserve of about $1.7 million. The total Village budget is $12,337,590. More detailed information can be found online at Click on Village Council, and then on 2009 budget workshops.

Cundiff estimated that the Village’s income tax receipts would drop this year by about $55,000. In response to a question about how he and Finance Director Sharon Potter arrived at the figure, Cundiff called the process “more an art than a science,” and said they tried to be conservative given the difficult economy.

In his presentation, Cundiff also stated that next year’s Village budget will include a 5-year capital improvement plan, a 5-year operational budget plan, and evaluation of the current Village method of accounting, including consideration of alternative methods. Concerns about these issues had been raised in recent weeks from some community members.

“We don’t have the time now to have that conversation, but it should happen in the future,” he said.

Other March 16 Council business will be reported in next week’s News.

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