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Village Council

Village Council — More cases for Mayor’s Court

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After several years of community discussion, a plan to hear more cases in the local Mayor’s Court was approved by Council at its October 2 meeting.

The new policy requires Yellow Springs police officers to send all misdemeanor and other nonviolent offenses to the local court, with a few exceptions. 

The resolution passed 4–0 (Council member Judith Hempfling was absent). The policy will take effect by November 1.

Technically, local officers will be required to cite misdemeanor offenders and other nonviolent offenders with local ordinance violations, which will result in a Mayor’s Court hearing, rather than Ohio Revised Code violations, which would send the case to Xenia Municipal Court.

However, a final change to the policy gives officers the discretion to cite an offender using Ohio Revised Code if they plan to take them to jail.

That change came about after a subcommittee of the Justice System Task Force, or JTSF, found that the Village would pay the cost of incarceration if an offender cited through local ordinance violations is jailed.

Council member Lisa Kreeger, who has been working on the new policy, urged Council to pass the resolution but also gather data on how often and for what reasons officers decide to jail offenders. She wants to study  how much the jail stays cost, too.

“The way the policy is written, it is 100 percent police discretion if they want to take a person to jail for a non-violent misdemeanor,” Kreeger explained.

Village Solicitor Chris Conard said that while those charged with minor misdemeanors cannot be taken to jail, those charged with fourth-degree misdemeanors can be. In addition, officers can decide to incarcerate someone if they deem them a “threat to themselves or others.” 

Council President Brian Housh said he supports the measure but wants more information from the police about why they decide to cite someone using Ohio Revised Code. He asked for more frequent reporting from the police department.

Other exceptions to the policy include  OVIs (operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol), citations where the offender lives outside of Greene County, and domestic violence, protection order violations and misdemeanors where the victim is a family member.

The policy was drafted by a subcommittee of the JTSF. According to a memo, the final policy was reviewed by Village Manager Patti Bates, Chief of Police Brian Carlson, Conard, Mayor Pam Conine, Laura Curliss of the subcommittee, Sergeant Joshua Knapp and Kreeger.

Kreeger said such policy changes are key to furthering a vision of community policing and are not a judgement on current leadership.

“I am today even more confident in the actions of our chief … but you can’t have policies based upon who is in a job [at a particular] time,” she said.

Council also discussed other justice system reforms and JSTF member Kate Hamilton implored Council to continue the work through a standing Justice Commission.

In other Council business —

Home, Inc.’s $60,000 request: Council continued to weigh a funding request from Home, Inc.  Home, Inc. has asked the Village for $60,000 through 2020 to defray development costs at its 14-unit, $2.7 million Glen Cottages pocket neighborhood slated for 1133 Xenia Ave. The proposal has been framed as Home, Inc.’s first capital fund request of the Village.

Village Manager Patti Bates prepared for Council a document recapping prior municipal support for Home, Inc. That amount, which includes cost of waived tap-in and zoning fees, land discounts and infrastructure spending, totaled $200,000 since 2011.

Bates added at the meeting that Council should understand the full cost to the Village of waiving fees, including parts and labor.

“When we forgive them, it’s not just unrealized revenue,” Bates said.

Bates also encouraged Council to weigh the merits of a Home, Inc. donation against saving money for other pressing Village needs, and for infrastructure improvements that may support an affordable housing project on the Glass Farm.

“We’ve got to save the money to do the Glass Farm or we’re not going to be able to do the Glass Farm,” she said.

Council member Kreeger aired several concerns about the request, including whether the Village might want to consider its own affordable housing projects. Kreeger was also cautious about “donating someone’s taxpayer dollars to a nonprofit” and about the need to be sensitive to addressing affordability for villagers who already live here.

MacQueen challenged whether Council is actually committed to affordable housing even though it has been a stated priority in town for decades, singling out Home, Inc. as one of the few groups that has worked towards affordable housing.

“The village has said we need affordable housing for decades and not much has been done about it, with the exception of Home, Inc.,” MacQueen said.

MacQueen also drew comparisons to greenspace funding. 

“If we cannot support lower- and moderate-income people who live in this community to the same degree that we spend on greenspace — which is having an impact on affordability — that’s our bad,” she said.

Home, Inc. board members spoke in support of the request. David Seitz called affordable housing “the best path to economic diversity in Yellow Springs.” School board member Steve McQueen stressed the benefit of Home, Inc. developments to the school district tax base, saying that Home, Inc. property owners contribute $60,000 annually in property taxes to local schools.

Council President Brian Housh and Councilmember Kevin Stokes both expressed their general support for the effort.

RVs must be moved: Recreational vehicles can no longer be parked in public streets, according to a new local ordinance. The same goes for motor homes, boats, camper trailers, pop-up campers, snowmobiles, dune buggies and other vehicles. Council approved 4–0 the second reading of an ordinance that allows local police to ticket RVs that are parked in the public right-of-way, except when they are loading and unloading.

Bates said that local police and street crews have complained about such vehicles impeding their ability to clean streets, clear snow and respond to emergencies. She also said that they will only give parking tickets after receiving citizen complaints.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to go running around writing tickets,” Bates said. “It is complaint-driven, it’s not seek and destroy,” she added.

Several citizens addressed the issue in the Citizen’s Comments period later in the meeting, not realizing that the matter had already been settled. 

Resident Laurie Stober said E. North College Street has become a haven for RVs, tents and people sleeping in cars. There, “constant campers” create litter and may not be properly handling sanitary waste, said Stober, who went on to pitch the idea of a bona fide local campground. She also urged stiffer enforcement of existing rules around camper occupancy. 

“We pay a hefty sum to live here,” Stober told Council. “Why not just move into my Airstream down the street?”

On the other hand, Athena Fannin told Council that she was concerned the new measure might be going too far. She fears involving the police in monitoring RVs could negatively impact vulnerable people who have no where else to go.

“On a systemic level I’m really concerned about ordinances that criminalize both poverty and homelessness,” she said.

The legislation takes effect in 30 days.

Utility fund now official: Council approved 4–0 the second reading of an ordinance that officially creates a utility round-up fund. Council had been working for more than a year to set up a fund that helps local utility customers struggling to pay their bills by soliciting donations from other local customers.

Under the program, local utility customers can choose to round up their bill to the nearest dollar amount, donating the difference to a household at risk of having their utilities shut off, up to $200. They can also write in a specific amount.

A new provision was added to the final version requiring those who receive funds to go on a payment plan for the remaining balance for six months, unless they are prohibited by their landlord from going on a payment plan. According to Bates, there are several landlords in the village that do not allow their tenants to go on a utility payment plan. 

Housh said the program is rare, with only two others like it in the state.

Kreeger suggested the Village pursue a matching grant to get enough money in the roundup fund going into winter, when the need is most critical.

“No community member should have their electricity shut off in the winter when it’s cold. Period,” she said.

Budget broached: Although budget planning begins in earnest at Council’s next meeting, Council members waded into budget talks. Setting the stage was Village Finance Director Colleen Harris in her first budget-planning process since joining the Village in June. The Village is running over the budget on both expenses and revenues in 2018, she said.

Housh said he wants to look for ways to match revenue generation to Village needs, for example through paid parking. MacQueen said she plans to eye the police department’s budget, which accounts for close to half of the Village’s annual expenses. She also said she hopes Council decides not to increase electric utility rates, as is planned, and to create a line item on the budget for affordable housing.

Cheaper than DP&L? A conversation continued about whether or not municipal electricity is more expensive than other area providers, with resident Jim Hammond challenging Bates’ report at the last Council meeting that the cost difference was minimal.

“You can spin it however you want, but this is what it costs,” Hammond said, citing a family member’s utility bill as $62 per month more expensive because she lives in the village compared to a neighbor. Hammond went on to say the burden is especially great for businesses, who will be deterred by high utility costs. He suggested selling the electric utility so villagers and businesses have more choice in an electric provider.

“If you want businesses to come to the business park, they are not going to pay this,” he said.

Bates responded that the Village is locked into higher-cost green energy contracts which determine utility rates. And Housh defended the municipally-owned electric system.

“We can’t just put our electric grid up for sale and I’m not sure that’s what the village wants anyway,” he said.

Later, Bates announced that the Village’s electric crew received a safety award in 2018 from municipal electricity provider AMP.

Lowering the voting age: Local 16- and 17-year-olds may soon get the right to vote in municipal elections. Council is considering a ballot measure amending the local charter as early as next May’s primary election, to lower the minimum voting age for municipal elections to 16. The youth would be able to vote for Council and Mayoral candidates and on local measures. They would not be able to vote in school district or township elections, or on any state or federal issues.

Vacant Council seat: Council is seeking applications until Oct. 19 for the Council seat being vacated by Hempfling at the end of November.

After a re-reading of the local charter, Hempfling will, in fact, vote on her replacement, according to Housh. MacQueen said she is looking for a candidate similar to Hempfling. 

“I would like to see someone step in that represented the same passions and concerns Judith did,” she said.

Candidates will answer questions from Council at its regular Nov. 19 meeting and the successful person will be voted in that same evening, after an executive session.

• Building a fence? Village Planner and Zoning Administrator Denise Swinger now has walk-in hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. Swinger can answer questions about permits and parameters to build fences, garages, houses, sheds and address other zoning queries. She is also available by appointment.

Indigenous People’s Day: Housh reminded Villagers that two years ago Council passed a resolution replacing  the federal holiday of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Village offices remained open. No activities were planned. 

“It was much more important to honor indigenous peoples, not just in America but worldwide,” Housh said.

Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. in Council chambers.

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