The Press Newspaper
Possible spending freezes and staff layoffs dotted the discussion at Monday’s meeting of Oak Harbor Village Council as members reviewed a dire budget forecast.
Revenue for the first six months into the year is about $140,000 below the $3 million projection while spending is about $291,000 over budget and rising.
The calculations were presented by fiscal officer Debbie Carpenter in the absence of the finance committee chairman, councilman Don Douglas, who was excused for obligations regarding his private sector job.
As they absorbed the graphs and charts before them, council members couldn’t contain their irritation that they were likely setting the village up for the same dire financial scenario experienced last year.
The village overspent by $207,000 in 2013 and had to dip into its carry-over fund. Several members of council spent the fall of last year making desperate pleas not to repeat that situation in 2014, calling for cuts and finding new revenues.
The carry-over fund contains about $620,000 currently and there isn’t any plan in place to build the fund rather than deplete it, councilman Jon Fickert reminded others.
Councilman Jim Seaman has repeatedly for months asked Douglas to hold finance committee meetings that would consist of Douglas, Seaman and Fickert. No meetings have taken place, he said.
Douglas has compiled figures on fixed costs and spending at recent meetings. And earlier in the year, with the assistance of Carpenter, he talked about revamping the personal income tax to help generate revenue. But other than that, other council feels things have stalled.
Seaman has taken a stand about the overspending. He started the new year proclaiming the appropriations needed to be cut just over $200,000 to compensate for the spending that lead to a red spread sheet last year.
Monday night, he renewed his call.
“We are six months into the year and we are $291,000 in the red. When are we going to do something about it? We are eating into the carryover,” Seaman said.
All lamented about the fact that no finance meetings had taken place. Seaman and others apologized for taking Douglas to task while he was not present but said the financial situation simply cannot wait.
Seaman asked Carpenter, who has been meeting with Douglas, if she could shed light on the subject. Carpenter would not speak for Douglas. She noted she only provided figures he requested for the information packets he put together for council. She added they had only discussed the idea of changing the income tax credit, which council knew about. That change could potentially bring in up to $166,000 annually for the village.
“We are at a point where we can’t just cut our way out of it. We need revenue. Let’s go forward and put this thing into play,” Seaman said.
Councilwoman Donna Wendt-Elliot called on the mayor to demand Douglas hold a finance meeting to start addressing these issues as a group. She said “his one-man show” could go on no longer.
Mayor Bill Eberle said he would contact Douglas and schedule a meeting at the earliest convenience of all involved.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to make cuts or we’re going to be bankrupt,” Seaman insisted.
He acknowledged, that may mean spending freezes or staff layoffs that lead to decreased services. “We have to make cuts tomorrow to stop this erosion,” Seaman added.
Eberle said Seaman talked of spending freezes yet in discussion earlier in the meeting council had granted Administrator Randy Genzman the authority to exceed a $15,000 spending limit to enable him to proceed with a $21,500 project to fix streets in front of school buildings before the new school year begins in September.
“Yes, we did,” Sue Rahm said. “But he came to us with a plan.” She said his detailed explanation was far more than they had received about other financial issues going on in the village and that that was the problem.
“What kind of detail do you want to go down to? We don’t want to micromanage,” the mayor responded.
That is not the intent, Fickert said.
“Jim has been saying this for six months. Jim has a valid point. Yet we still have had no meetings,” Fickert said.
Of Douglas’ plan of attack for reversing the trend, Fickert added, “He said he had a magic plan. I haven’t seen the magic plan.”
Besides the income tax levy proposal, Fickert reminded council a park levy was being considered that would help alleviate some of the spending problems. He added that while the forecast looked bleak, he saw some promising numbers in recent months.
In his letter, Neff cited changes in job environment and the health insurance for the public employees retirement system as chief reasons for his departure.
The mayor thanked Neff, who was in the gallery, for his 27 years with the village.
Genzman said advertising will begin soon for the position. In the mean time, he’ll shift around staff to handle duties after July 1.
“Obviously we are losing an asset to the community,” Genzman said. “You can hire wastewater operators. But you can’t get them with 27 years experience.”
The changes, which affect from the railroad tracks to Brooklyn Street, allow property owners a number of opportunities that weren’t included in the zoning regulations before such as outdoor patios and riverfront projects, Eberle explained.
Passage does not mean that all projects will go through though, Genzman noted. Project plans must go before the planning commission for review and then before council.