Garrettsville – Revenue for the village on the most recent reports is up $40,000 over last year’s numbers.  Council President Hardesty credits cracking down on non-filers for the improvement.  Hardesty stated that two years ago there were 510 known non-filers, and currently that number is down to approximately 240.  Hardesty estimates that the improved compliance effort will yield a $60,000 increase in revenue over last year.

Proposed Ordinance 2015-22 was up for third reading.  This proposed ordinance had been discussed at both May and June’s council meeting during executive session.  If passed, this would establish compensation for the Clerk-Treasurer for the village for the next term of office beginning April 1, 2016.   Currently the position pays $53,000 per year.  The ordinance would allow for a 2% increase annually beginning April 2017 through March 31, 2020.

Councilwoman Harrington stated that she wasn’t at the last meeting for the discussion but she didn’t think there should be any increase in pay.  A resident in the audience asked council how they could consider giving a raise when they are currently running in deficit.  He further commented on the sluggish economy, businesses leaving town and the business losses from the fire.  He asked council how they intended to make up the lost revenue and give raises.  He also commented that the $53,000 currently paid for the Clerk-Treasurer position was above the average working family’s income in Garrettsville.  The resident suggested that council should reconsider giving longevity raises for employees as well.  Solicitor Stuck commented that it was uncomfortable to discuss the topic in open session and that it is usually discussed in executive session.  Council agreed to further discuss the proposed ordinance in executive session at the end of the meeting.  (After executive session, council reconvened and voted to freeze the clerk-treasurer salary for the next term.)

In other business, Council passed Ordinance 2015-24 which establishes the appointed position of Village Fiscal Officer and abolishes the existing elected position of Village Clerk-Treasurer beginning January 2020, Ordinance 2015-31, an appropriation ordinance for the funds coming through a CBD Grant, Ordinance 2015-32 for recording replats of the Fox Hollow subdivision, Ordinance 2015-33 which increases village employee health care premium cost-sharing to 12.5%, and Ordinance 2015-34, the village tax budget, required by the state to certify the village’s need.

Up for second reading was proposed Ordinance 2015-28 which would amend the zoning ordinance pertaining to rebuilding, in case of damage with destruction, to structures that may not comply with the current zoning maps. Passage would help streamline the insurance and financing process for owner’s rebuilding efforts.  A public hearing will precede next month’s council meeting for public comment.

Village resident Terri Eierman addressed council informing them the police levy, discussed and shot down by council at last month’s council meeting, will be on the November ballot, using the ballot initiative process.  A ballot initiative is the means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can bring about a public vote.  Eierman was able to obtain 122 resident signatures (only 65 were needed) on a petition.

Eierman stated, “It [the proposed police levy] should go to the ballot.  A lot of us were unhappy that it wouldn’t, that it was stymied last month.”

Councilwoman Anderson asked Eierman if she had researched both sides of the issue before pursuing the ballot initiative.  Anderson wanted to know if Eierman looked at what the department really needed versus what their expenditures were.  Eierman produced a list she obtained from Communications Supervisor Joleen Clelland (also present at the meeting) listing what the police department does.

Anderson responded, “I’m not saying the police don’t do a lot but did you check on what the police department spends of the budget or perhaps why the majority of us felt the way we did?”  (The 2015 General Fund Budget is currently 1.3 million; of that, $828,000 was originally budgeted for police.  Council determined that $200,000 needed to be cut from the 2015 budget because of decreased revenue projections and asked the police department to cut $100,000 because their budget equals almost 64% to the total budget.)  Anderson continued, “So every time we need to do this or that we’re gonna go and raise taxes?  That isn’t the answer.”

Eierman responded that this wasn’t about raising taxes to which Anderson replied, “It IS about raising taxes!”

Discussion continued between Anderson, Eierman and several others until the mayor stopped them.  The mayor reminded everyone that Eierman has a right to do what she did and council has nothing to do with it.

“If you’re not for it, don’t vote for it.  If you’re for it, vote for it!  There is no sense in getting everybody all riled up about it,” stated the mayor.

Officer Eric Dunn, also a member of the audience, spoke out.  “That’s all we ask instead of six people representing the village, making a determination, is to allow you, the citizens, to tell us what you’re comfortable with, with the police.”  Dunn went on to say the department had been working within their budget, which was $50,000 less than 2014 “and now they [council] want us to cut $100,000”.

Councilman Hadzinsky addressed Dunn’s comment: “As far as six people representing you, I’m pretty sure that’s what we got elected to do in a representative democracy.”

That’s why you put us in place.  We look at the numbers, we look at the surrounding communities, like – communities, and we decided that it was not beneficial to try to get more money from the villagers…

Councilwoman Harrington added:  “That’s why you put us in place.  We look at the numbers, we look at the surrounding communities, like – communities, and we decided that it was not beneficial to try to get more money from the villagers…we felt they [the police department] could live within the means that we told them to prior to them trying to get more money from the village [residents].”

Harrington went on to say she is concerned that many residents are confused and don’t understand that this police levy will raise their taxes.  She openly invited any resident to contact any councilperson to look at the information that council used to make their determinations.  Harrington asked if there were any residents in the audience who had signed the petition.  Several raised their hands.  One resident stated that he thought the money issues were because of cuts in state funding to the police department.  He stated “I was under the impression that we were putting the levy through to stop the state from taking money from Garrettsville, not to raise my taxes.”

When asked if he read the petition he stated he had not, that he was busy outside doing yard work and he had “believed what the lady said to me.”

Harrington reiterated her concerns: “That’s what I’m afraid of, I’m afraid it’s going to be introduced to the public that this money is needed to keep them safe, to keep the drug people out.  I’ve seen some stuff printed already…I am afraid the public, in general, is not going to understand what this is truly about.”

Councilwoman Anderson agreed with Harrington and stated she too has talked with residents and “what was related to them is not what is going down.”

Councilman Kaiser had similar sentiment.  He presented a scenario if voters should pass the levy.  “You are going to have the same six fulltime police officers we have right now.  We did not slash one, which would have given your levy some more ammunition.  We kept the six, you have a well-equipped police department, you have a new dog with a new handler…you got the dispatch center that’s gonna be the same as it is right now – same functions, same hours, same shifts.  The people in the village are spending $200,000 more a year, they aren’t gonna see any additional services.  They will not be one bit safer 12 months after that passes than they are today.”

Police Chief Tony Milicia responded to Kaiser.  “I am requesting the money to maintain the services that people have.”

Milicia reminded Kaiser that the department’s 9-11 equipment is not being supported and it will cost $1,000/month to upgrade.  Currently only $458/year is budgeted.  He also stated that there that will be no new cruiser this year (for the past several years, a new cruiser has been budgeted for every other year and this would be the year.)  Milicia also said that his fleet is being reduced, more miles are being put on the current vehicles and maintenance costs are increasing because of that.

Harrington inserted: “That’s what’s happening in everybody’s life.  Every department is having the same difficulty.  All council is asking was that you try to live within a budget prior to asking the village people for more money.”

Milicia responded, “I am at the end of life on most of my equipment.”

Council members reminded Milicia that they recently approved spending on a new server necessary for the department’s in-house report management system and outside databases and information access (see March 20, 2015 village council report in the Villager).  Milicia continued, stating he was talking about “day-to-day operations” and that included video cameras in cars, alluding to recent events across the country.  Milicia said having camera-equipped vehicles would keep his officers out of court and prove they were doing their jobs “adequately and correctly”.

Officer Dunn suggested to council that the $200,000 the levy would raise would mean the village could cut more funding to the department which in turn would make up for the other $100,000 that needs to be cut from the 2015 General Fund Budget.

Don’t try to say your levy is going to fund the rest of the village because we’re not asking the residents for any money.

Harrington responded: “Don’t try to say your levy is going to fund the rest of the village because we’re not asking the residents for any money.”

Councilman Kaiser wanted to clarify the claim by officer Dunn that the police department has cut $100,000 from their 2015 budget.  “If you subtract the $34,000 for the Portage County Drug Task Force, and you add back the $58,000 that was reinstated for longevity, the police department is down somewhere between $25,000 to $30,000, that is it, in actual money out of the $100,000 we requested.”  (Longevity pay was one of the cuts the police department offered to meet the $100,000 requested cut, but council decided to not to cut longevity pay at the June 2015 meeting.)

The proposed ballot initiative levy, scheduled to be on the November ballot is a 3-year, 4.1 mil levy, which would raise about $200,000 annually only for the police department.  According to information presented at the June village council meeting, for every $100,000 of property value there would be an annual increase of $144 in property taxes for village property owners.  The levy estimate is based on 2013 figures for Fair Market Value – 2014 figures were not yet available so final amounts could change.

Last on the agenda was property owner Mike Paul, who asked council for help with surface water drainage problems for his property in the Meadow Run subdivision.  Paul stated he and several neighbors are having water issues including flooded basements during heavy rains because of blockages to the water flow to Camp Creek.  Paul said he had consulted with someone from the Army Corps of Engineers who told him several properties between Paul’s property and Camp Creek are “non-compliant”, meaning they have filled-in or installed too small  a drainage pipe in a ditch that was installed on the original allotment for water runoff. Council President Tom Hardesty informed Paul that, unfortunately, legislation by the village addressing drainage wasn’t established until after the Meadow Run subdivision was approved, therefore village council has no authority over the private property owners.  Solicitor Stuck concurred and told Paul he would have to talk directly to the property owners in question, the village could not legally do it.  They also suggested he contact the county to see if they might have any authority to deal with the problem.

If you’d like to know more of what is happening in your community, attend a meeting.  The next regular Village Council meeting is currently scheduled for August 12, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. at Village Hall.