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Council to vote on CBE

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What’s the best way for Village Council to proceed with deciding whether to spend $1 million to fund the Center for Business and Education infrastructure? After a hiatus of several months on the locally controversial issue, Council discussed CBE funding again at its June 2 meeting, with some Council members wanting to move ahead quickly and one urging a slowing down of the process. In the end Council members voted unanimously to bring CBE funding back for the first of two votes at its June 16 meeting.

However, in an unexpected development, two Council members who had previously voted to fund the CBE stated that they might change their vote. Council members Marianne MacQueen and Gerry Simms both said they are reconsidering their position due to concerns about the capability of Community Resources, which created the CBE, to back the long-delayed business park. Because they question CR’s capacity, both said they believe Village government will end up shouldering the responsibility, a responsibility for which the Village may not be prepared. Consequently, MacQueen urged Council to slow down the process.

“I think we need to have more ducks in a row,” MacQueen said, stating that the Village shouldn’t move ahead with committing significant revenue until it has developed an economic development plan and has settled the question of whether Community Resources will become a designated community improvement corporation, or CIC. And Simms stated that the all-volunteer CR has not shown the wherewithal to back such a big project.

“Community Resources has to show more activity or I’m voting against it,” said Simms, who is Council’s representative on the CR board. “The last six months they haven’t shown me anything.”

Interim Manager Kent Bristol encouraged Council to move ahead with a funding vote so that CBE opponents have time to mount a referendum, as they said they plan to do. Council needs to have voted on the funding before a referendum can take place, and referendum organizers will need to collect the required number of signatures before the early August filing deadline.

“I say, bless you, let’s find out” where villagers stand on the CBE, Bristol said.

Villager Sue Abendroth also urged Council to move ahead so that a referendum could be mounted.

The question of whether the majority of villagers support the CBE “is a fair question,” Abendroth said. “Let’s get an answer.” And a referendum is “the only answer most villagers will accept and understand.”

Before the CBE issue was tabled at the end of January, MacQueen, Housh and Simms had voted for the funding, and Lori Askeland had voted against. At the time Karen Wintrow recused herself from the vote due to the potential of the appearance of a conflict of interest regarding the past participation of her husband, architect Ted Donnell, in the CBE. However, the Ohio Ethics Commission has since ruled that Wintrow has no conflict of interest.

The CBE topic had been tabled at the end of January, after Village Solicitor Chris Conard announced that the CBE process had been flawed. The project’s engineering plans had never been approved by Planning Commission as required, according to Conard, so those plans had to wend their way through the PC process. In the intervening five months, the project plans received Planning Commission approval, and at the June 2 meeting, Council unanimously approved the first reading of the CBE subdivision plat that the planners previously approved. However, that vote did not include the CBE funding.

The CBE issue had sparked a debate over economic development strategy in that CBE supporters believe the business park is the best strategy for ramping up Village economic vitality, while opponents question whether the project will ever return the financial investment. The $1 million bond issuance is estimated to cost the Village about $80,000 yearly in interest over 20 years. In stating her concern about the CBE funding, MacQueen said she felt uncomfortable making that financial commitment at a time when the Village has entered deficit spending.

While Community Resources originally planned to fund the infrastructure with federal and state grants, a significant grant was lost last year due to a long delay in the project.

In other Council business:
• Bristol stated that he has changed his recommendation on how best to address the street problems in the Fair Acres neighborhood. The street problem, which Council discussed at several recent meetings, is complicated by poor utility infrastructure in the area, so that significant street work also initially appeared to require an upgrade of water lines. Because the whole project would be very expensive, Bristol had recommended an inexpensive “cape seal” process for an immediate fix to the streets.

However, after meeting with Fair Acres residents, Bristol said he understands that the poor street conditions are what the residents want fixed, and the water lines are not causing serious problems. Consequently, Bristol recommends that the Village fund a more comprehensive street repair, which is expected to cost about $40,000 more than originally planned.

Fair Acres residents at the meeting agreed with Bristol about the need for immediate street repair.

“We’d like to see this done sooner rather than later,” Dan Carrigan said.

• Village Finance Director Melissa ­Vanzant gave a report on the effect of the 2014 Village budget’s deficit spending on Village fund balances. Questions had been raised at a previous meeting over the relationship between the Village’s currently large budget surplus — about 50 percent of the total Village budget — and this year’s budgeted deficit spending. The beginning surplus balance in overall Village funds is about $7.5 million, which includes a $2 million surplus in the general fund and a $2.7 million surplus in the electric fund.

However, deficit spending means that the fund surpluses are being drawn down, according to Vanzant.

In the general fund, the beginning surplus of $2 million will end up the year at about $1.56 million, due to about $474,000 in deficit spending from both the general fund operating budget and capital projects, according to the figures.

Deficit spending will also draw down the Village electric fund surplus. This year, the Village expects about $2.9 million in electric fund revenues but total expenses of about $3.6 million, leading to deficit spending of about $762,056 and an ending surplus of $1.9 million.

• Bristol reported on a meeting with large Village water users, in regard to whether to upgrade the current plant or build a new one. Because the businesses described how much they currently spend to soften local water, Bristol said he is now leaning toward building a new plant, which could include a mechanism for water softening.

• Longtime villager Joe Lewis, who lives on Fairfield Pike, expressed concerns around the recent flooding on his property. While the Village constructed a detention pond at the Glass Farm to reduce flooding, the pond has suffered from neglect, according to Lewis, who said it malfunctioned during the storm. Wintrow said the Glass Farm detention pond will be a topic at an upcoming meeting.

• Council gave verbal approval to a request from Green Environmental Commission’s Vickie Hennessy for $5,000 to fund a public education and mosquito prevention project that seemed to work well last year. In 2013 Council, at the GEC’s urging, agreed to stop contracting with the county health district for pesticide spraying in the event of finding West Nile virus-infected mosquitos in the village, but instead to educate villagers on how to eliminate mosquito habitats. The project was led by Antioch College professor Savitha Krishna, a former public health educator in India, who worked with college students on the project.
Council will vote on the project June 16.

• Council expressed agreement, if Village staff has no complaints, to expand hours in the Village train station public restroom from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., at the urging of villager Brian Harris, who presented a petition to Council on the issue.

• Villager Sue Abendroth asked Council for an update on the 2009 lawsuit against the Village brought by Ken and Betheen Struewing, who had requested access to Village utilities on property just outside Village limits. Greene County judges had twice, in 2012 and 2013, ruled in favor of the Struewings, and a year ago the Village had not yet decided whether to pursue an appeal. Wintrow stated that Council would be addressing the issue in that night’s executive session and could not comment further. This week, she reiterated that she could not comment at this time.
As of last year, the Village had spent about $98,000 on the lawsuit.

• Council unanimously approved the first reading of a summer sewer rate adjustment for villagers who register for the special rate, which is intended for gardeners who use extra water but not extra sewer services. Interested villagers need to sign up with the Village each year to receive the rate.

• Council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance to accept a utility easement across the property of Family Choices Real Estate LLC, the local funeral home. The easement is necessary so that Village staff can make upgrades to Village water lines so that the new Mills Park Hotel meets fire code requirements, according to Bristol.

• Council approved an emergency expenditure of $33,000 for the replacement of a water plant filter that failed last month.

• Council approved the awarding of a contract for infrastructure improvements for the Cemetery Street affordable housing project.
Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, June 16, at 7 p.m.

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