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Levy renewal talk begins

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At a Sept. 28 special meeting on a possible renewal of the Village property tax levy, several Council members stated their preference for a future levy at a reduced amount.

“Given that we care about affordability and this levy has been a burden on people, I feel we should think about a significant reduction,” Council President Judith Hempfling said.

Council Vice-President Karen Wintrow agreed that she would prefer a lower amount, although she cautioned that Council needs to look over the Village budget and upcoming needs carefully before making a decision.

The decision about whether to seek a new levy should be made by the end of this year, according to Village Manager Mark Cundiff, who said the Greene County Auditor had told him that the levy should be placed on the fall 2010 ballot to prevent a gap in revenues. Passed in the fall of 2006, the five-year levy will expire in 2011.

The current 8.4 mill levy provides $747,000 annually for the Village general fund, which funds police, roads and human services such as the Gaunt Park pool. The utility, or enterprise funds, are separate and are funded by fees. The levy revenues currently provide almost 25 percent of general fund revenues, according to Cundiff, who recommended to Council that they seek a replacement of the levy but at a reduced rate. If Council does not seek any levy replacement, Village services would have to be cut, he said.

The Sept. 28 meeting was a preliminary discussion of the levy. Cundiff has urged Council to start early on the discussion to provide adequate time to form a levy committee and to dialogue with the public. The 2006 levy, which passed by only a single vote and was controversial in the community, had been proposed by then Village Manager Eric Swansen only a few months before the election.

Council has three choices to make, Cundiff said: whether to seek a new levy, whether it should be a renewal in the same amount or a replacement in a lower or higher amount, and whether it should be for Village operating expenses or for specific projects.

The current levy is an operating levy, meaning that it helps fund day-to-day expenses. While the levy was presented to the public as having specific purposes, the levy revenues went directly into the general fund and were then mixed with income tax revenues.

“Once all the revenue sources come in, it’s difficult to tell what penny is from the levy and what is from income tax,” he said.

However, the property tax levy did free up other monies that were used for the purposes presented during the levy campaign. Specifically, the levy campaign promised that about 49 percent of the levy would be used for streets capital projects and maintenance and that about 51 percent would be used for human services, with 16 percent going to the Bryan Center, 14 percent to the pool, 12 percent to the parks, 5 percent to economic development and 4 percent to library projects.

In a report regarding the use of the levy money in the three years so far, Cundiff wrote, “The Village has used the revenue from the levy to accomplish a great number of projects.” More than $1 million has gone toward streets, including a major project with 30 streets receiving new resurfacing. Additionally, the Corry Street and library parking lots have been resurfaced.

In a spread sheet showing levy money uses, a little less than $100,000 was identified as having been spent on the pool, with $234,676 carried over after 2009 expenditures. The lower than expected use of pool money is linked to a large gutter replacement expense turning out to be unnecessary, according to Cundiff. Also, according to Village Finance Director Sharon Potter, some additional money spent on the pool was placed in other categories of the spread sheet.

Council members expressed some frustration that the spread sheet did not clearly identify the uses of levy money regarding specific projects. According to Potter, she is working on a new spread sheet that will do so, and that will be presented to Council soon.

Hempfling also expressed concern that a large portion of the levy funds allocated to parks and recreation appeared to have gone to Bryan Center maintenance.

“It looks like we’re putting more into human resources than we are,” she said.

In a presentation on future needs of the Village, Cundiff said that this year the Village will experience a drop of 20 to 25 percent in income tax revenues. While he and Potter had projected that large a drop in the 2009 Village budget, they had hoped they were being conservative, Cundiff said, although it turns out they were being realistic.

The Village also is not receiving any returns on its investments at this point, Cundiff said.

The list of upcoming Village expenses included an upgrade of the Sutton farm crew building used by Village crews. The current building has no showers and no gender-specific restrooms, both of which are needed, Cundiff said.

That project was one of the largest on the list, which can be accessed online at, click on Village Council documents for Sept. 28. Because the list seemed to be composed mainly of “little ticket” items rather than larger projects such as street resurfacing, it seems reasonable to consider replacing the levy at a lower millage, Hempfling said.

But some of the “little ticket” items could turn out to be “big ticket,” according to Kathryn Van der Heiden, who said that Council needs to make sure it has considered all necessary expenses before deciding on the levy amount.

Cundiff said that he will provide Council with a list of needed capital projects and funding sources at an upcoming meeting.

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