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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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Learning to live within its means has been a tough task for the Village of Oak Harbor the past couple of years.

The village had to dip into its cash reserves in the last quarter of 2013 to cover $207,000 of expenses beyond its planned budget.

And as village council readies to solidify figures for the 2014 budget, the haunting issue and need for fiscal accountability loomed over conversations among council members at their most recent meeting. By Ohio law, the budget has to be settled by March 31.

Councilman Don Douglas introduced a motion last week for the finance committee to submit to council the $11 million permanent appropriations, which includes $1.8 million for the general fund that covers salaries and day-to-day operations. Oak Harbor revenue projections are $7 million for the year.   Expenses are figured at $6.8 million.

The sum varies little from the 2012 budget, according to Fiscal Officer Debbie Carpenter.

But the introduction didn’t come without questions.

Councilman Jim Seaman wanted to know why only $189,000 had been trimmed from the proposed finances when the village went in the red $207,000 last year.

Douglas noted that spending needed to be monitored better and council had to be diligent in its attention to detail in the future. Nonetheless, he added, council had to begin the three-reading process or face missing the mandatory March 31 state deadline.

Seaman recounted that his requests for more finance meetings in recent months to address the spending issue had landed on deaf ears.  And, as a result, he said, the village remains in the same circumstance as this time last year. The council simply hadn’t made serious advances in 12 months toward stemming another potential shortfall, Seaman assessed.

He pointed to items such as $93,000 slated for downtown revitalization for possible cuts.

“That’s the easy item to pick on and we shouldn’t do that,” Douglas said.

Why not?  Seaman asked, noting hard choices have to be made when facing budgets shortfalls.

“I’d rather say ‘no’ we won’t spend it,” he added.

That $93,000 is slated for boat docks and other projects in the coming year, Mayor Bill Eberle explained. The partnership with the downtown revitalization committee has the village putting out the initial costs and the committee rounding up donations to cover beyond the village’s $15,000 share.

The committee gave the village $23,000 toward planters, benches and banners installed last year, according to Carpenter.  The village has not yet seen any of the $15,000 expected for covering boat dock installation in 2013.

“We need to find ways to become more accountable, Councilman Jon Fickert added.

Douglas agreed, adding village leaders need to get better at forecasting problems and keeping the budget in line.

Sounds like a good plan, Fickert said. Is there a timeline to get a firm plan rolling, he asked.  Douglas said there wasn’t.

At this point, Carpenter said, she will work with interim administrator Randy Genzman on a daily basis to oversee requests.

As an example, Fickert lamented over an $80,000 line item to replace fasteners for mats lining the walls of the problem-ridden combined sewer overflow pond. The mats keep breaking away, according to
wastewater plant supervisor Jerry Neff. But the cost, he noted, had been trimmed to $39,000.

“Doesn’t anybody do a job right anymore,” Councilwoman Sue Rahm fretted.

Councilman Brad Weis asked Neff to get written responses from both the manufacturer and the installer.  Council also asked Village Solicitor Jim Barney to explore if the village could take legal recourse to recoup the costs.

Former Councilwoman Donna Wendt-Elliot offered advice to help council get a handle on its cash flow. Council committees should return to a regular monthly meeting schedule. The practice was dropped about six years ago because of complaints of too many meetings, she said. And that, she surmised, “Is when it all started to fall apart.”

Tax Commissioner Kim Mehlow agreed, adding those meetings allowed council to be on top of problems.

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