BUCKEYE LAKE – Retiring council member and finance committee chair Barry Herron didn’t pull any punches at Monday night’s council meeting.
He said next year’s Village Council must consider placing an operating levy on the ballot soon, mainly to cover police and street department expenses. Herron said he came to this conclusion after the finance committee reviewed the village’s budget.
“The water department is in excellent financial shape,” Herron said. “The fire department is in OK shape.” He said EMS soft billing has brought in more income than anticipated and has covered two employees’ salaries. Soft billing means Buckeye Lake will accept whatever it receives from Medicare, Medicaid or insurance companies for patient transports, and there’s no effort to collect unpaid amounts or charges for uninsured residents. But, Herron said the department would not be able to cover a “catastrophic” failure, such as a major equipment malfunction. “The bills are being paid, but if something bad happens, it’ll be hard for the department to cover it.”
Herron said the village police department is far from being even OK. “The police department, of course, is still underwater,” he said. Herron said half of the police budget comes out of the village’s general revenue fund. “That needs to be fixed in the village,” he said. Herron said the general revenue fund money currently going to the police department could be used to repair village streets or provide raises to village employees who have not received a raise for a very long time. “The street department is also badly underfunded,” Herron said.
“We do need to look at an operating levy going forward, sometime in the future,” Herron said. “The new council’s really, really going to have to work hard on that.” He said Buckeye Lake Village spends roughly a quarter of what the Village of Hebron spends on its police department and roughly half of what Millersport Police spends. “So, there is a great need to increase the funding for the police department and the street department in this village, and that will be done through an operating levy for the village,” Herron said.
Herron said there surpluses in the street light fund and some in the water department. “Otherwise, the village is piss-poor, excuse my language,” he said.
In other village news:
• Council member and public service committee chair Arletta Ruton said committee members discussed what to do about the vacant lots the village owns following removal of derelict houses. Some of these lots require maintenance, such as tree and branch removal. She said committee members discussed holding an auction next spring to sell off some of the village owned properties. Any decision as to whether to schedule an auction is on hold until new members join the council in January.
Council President Jeryne Peterson asked if the committee discussed using the money generated through property sales to remove derelict houses from other village properties and rejuvenate those as well.
Ruton said committee members would have to look at the best uses for property sale income.
Herron said committee members should have an appraiser determine the value of the village property currently housing the village office and police department. If it could be sold at a reasonable price, Herron said the village should build a new municipal building on the property adjacent to the village water tower on Mill Dam Road. “This is a retail space; it should be operated as a retail building,” with stores and businesses, he said.
Council member Peggy Wells said there is a deed restriction on that roughly five-acre property requiring it to be used as a public park. “Maybe it’s possible to change that,” she said.
Herron said maybe a dog park could be created next to a new municipal building, when or if the village ever builds a new municipal building.
• Council members were surprised at the size of the mixing unit being installed in the village’s wall tower. “That’s not even as big as the propeller on a boat,” Wells said.
The mixer is needed to keep water from stratifying in the tank since it takes several days to move water through the tank. Council members were expecting a large, ceiling mounted apparatus slowly churning the water. Instead, water supervisor Toby Miller showed them a photo of the small, tripod mounted propeller sitting on the inside surface of the tower. “It’ll mix 500,000 gallons of water, total mixture, in three hours,” he said.
Miller said it works like a “reverse vortex,” churning at roughly 2,000 RPMs.
Herron said other people told him the mixer would be a device hanging from the ceiling.
“That’s an aeration system, which we may need eventually,” said Miller. He said the Village of Millersport is currently maintaining water pressure while Buckeye Lake waits for permission from Ohio EPA to refill the water tower. Miller expects the new mixer to last about 15 to 20 years.
A required exhaust system has also been installed on the water tower.
• Council member Tom Wolfe said he’d like to table ordinances about the village budget until more details about budget appropriations are provided. “I’d like to see a monthly budget. At the very, very minimum, I’d like to see quarterly updates,” he said.
Council was preparing for a second reading of the village budget. Wolfe questioned $125,000 being transferred from the general fund to the police department fund. He said he would like to see more information presented to council regarding how funding is transferred within each department. “I kind of feel like we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Wolfe said. “I want to table (the budget ordinance) until I see more detail.”
Wolfe would like to have monthly updates of the transfers.
Ruton said the finance committee had a meeting where the budget was thoroughly reviewed. “Tabling it could potentially put us in a bind,” she said. If tabled, a special council meeting may be necessary to approve the budget.
Mayor Clay Carroll said Monday night was only a second reading, and information could be gathered ahead of the third and final reading. If that wasn’t adequate, the budget could be voted down. “We need to get this put to bed,” he said. “This is the whole budget for next year.”
Council member Kitty Zwissler said the budget should be discussed with the entire council as it is being developed, rather than just being presented to council as a completed document for a vote. She also disapproved of how line items could be changed within a department’s budget.
Wells said while more detail is always appreciated, she believed Carroll presented the budget to council in the proper manner according to the village charter.
Wolfe said, “it’s pretty serious” when $125,000 is being pulled from the general revenue fund for the police department. He didn’t know how the village could continue to pull that much money from its budget. “Do we need to pull out that much money? I’d like to see a breakdown of how that department is going to run when we give them $125,000 plus the $122,000 that’s already in their budget,” Wolfe said.
Carroll suggested another finance committee meeting to discuss what’s going into the police department.
“This is definitely the time to discuss it before the budget is approved,” Herron said.
“I’d like to see the detail that’s proposed,” Wolfe said.
“The detail is there in the budget,” Herron said. Line items are specific within the budget; however, “It’s very legitimate to ask about $125,000 for the police department,” he said.
Wolfe said he simply wanted to double check the $125,000 and get more detail as to why it’s an appropriate amount for the police department before approving the budget. “We’re all on the same page,” he said.
• Council members agreed to use $180,000, which was col lected from property owners as a pre-assessment to fund development of the public water system, to pay down debt incurred during its installation. Miller said paying down debt with the leftover pre-assessment would not necessarily lower residents’ water bills, but it may delay future water rate increases.
Carroll said village officials were perplexed as to what the village could do with the leftover $180,000. . He said village solicitor Butch Bindley doesn’t specialize in that aspect of law, so Bindley asked a cohort at the Bricker & Eckler law firm for an opinion. The Bricker & Eckler attorney said the village could simply do nothing and let the money sit in the account, the village could return it to the customers (although the money could only be returned to the specific property owners who paid the pre-assessment, which would be nearly impossible to determine given all the time that’s passed), or use the money to help pay for the existing water distribution system it was slated to help design.
Helping to pay down the debt “sounds like good money management to me,” said Wells. The rest of council agreed except for Zwissler, who voted against the measure. She said she still had some questions about the pre-assessment money, but didn’t necessarily object to council’s decision to use it toward the debt, despite her ‘no’ vote.