Sherri Johnson was sworn in at this month's Village Council meeting.
Sherri Johnson was sworn in at this month’s Village Council meeting.

Garrettsville – Sherri Johnson was sworn in at the May 13, 2015 village council meeting and was immediately immersed in the issues of the night’s meeting.

First up was a lengthy discussion about the status of scheduling for the use of the village’s fields for Hot Stove baseball teams and the new Garrettsville Sandlot teams.  Representatives and parents of the Garrettsville Hot Stove league questioned council as to why they had to adjust their set game and practice schedules to allow field time for the new league this late in the year.  Councilman Steve Hadzinsky explained how he had met with both league representatives to discuss an equitable and fair way to divvy up the field time between the two leagues.  Hadzinsky and village solicitor Michelle Stuck agreed that as a community group the new teams have every legal right to field time the same as Hot Stove and currently there is no set deadline as to when scheduling requests have to be filed.  Questions were then posed about Hot Stove property and whether or not they had to share things that had been purchased with Hot Stove monies.  Stuck clarified that the village owns anything permanently attached to village property, even if Hot Stove monies purchased it.  Movable equipment remains the property of Hot Stove and should be removed or locked up after their use to protect it.  Stuck went on to say that the new Sandlot teams had not submitted the correct insurance information or waivers needed before they can use the fields.  Council agreed to give the Sandlot League one week to get the necessary forms submitted or they would forfeit their field time until next season.  Council also agreed to establish a deadline beginning with next season for all insurance and waiver forms to be filed with the village in order to reserve field time for the season.   Representative from the Sandlot teams were not in attendance.  Hadzinsky stated he would notify them of the decisions made at the night’s meeting.

Next up was a lengthy and passionate discussion about the village’s request to the police department to cut $100,000 from their 2015 budget.  Department police officers, including Police Chief Tony Milicia, and several residents had questions about the cuts and how the village got into this financial position.

Councilman Steve Hadzinsky had been asking council for a while to acknowledge the deficit spending trends that had been going on for several years.  Council President Tom Hardesty explained that it wasn’t until he sat down with the village clerk and went through the budget line by line, then looked to the 2015 projections for income that he realized there was a significant deficit.

almost half [of the budget], is appropriated to the police department

The village has budgeted $1.89 million for 2015 and has projected only $1.69 million in revenue.  A significant portion of the budget, almost half, is appropriated to the police department.  Council therefore felt half of the $200,000 shortfall should come from the department.

Police Chief Milicia and Lt. Tim Christopher had presented plans for cuts at the safety committee meeting.  There were several options presented which included cutting dispatch, the Drug Task Force, annual longevity pay, janitorial services and paying higher health care deductions.

Making changes to bring village health care coverage more in line with the norm would be a significant savings for the village.

Currently village employees pay 10% of their health care premium costs (the village pays the rest).  In the public sector, the average split on employer/employee premiums is 20-25% employee, 75-80%employer.  The village also offers spousal and family coverage at the same split. Many non-public employers insist spouses get insurance from their own places of employment or make coverage available but spouses must pay a larger portion if not the entire premium. Making changes to bring village health care coverage more in line with the norm would be a significant savings for the village.

However, neither Milicia nor Christopher’s plans included not filing the vacancy opened when Officer David Firtik resigned to take a position with the Ravenna Police Department.  Council President Tom Hardesty suggested that not filing the position would have a low impact for the department and would save the necessary funds.  The officers and residents in attendance had a different view.  Several of the officers in attendance explained how important the current staffing was to the department and how not filling the vacancy would be detrimental.

Chief Milicia’s suggestion for cutting dispatch stems from eminent changes in the next couple of years because of federal and state mandates requiring upgrades in equipment and software that will more than double the cost of running the dispatch center.  He said the state plans to centralize and consolidate all public safety-answering points (PSAPs) in the county.  Though Garrettsville would have to pay for their dispatching service (Milicia estimates that to be $100,000 or less annually) the department would almost double in savings the $100,000 they’ve been asked to cut.  Milicia doesn’t know when the mandates will take place, everything is bogged down in the legislature, but the changes are coming.

The officers present guaranteed that they would be able to run their own “drug task force”

Much concern was also raised about choosing between suspending the contract with the Portage County Drug Task Force or not hiring a new full-time police officer.  The officers present guaranteed that they would be able to run their own “drug task force” with a new full-time officer and the K-9 unit and felt a better choice was suspending the current Drug Task Force contract.

After much discussion council agreed to hire a new full-time officer in exchange for a consolidation of some of the concessions that the department had submitted which includes: Suspension of the Portage County Drug Task Force contract, one year suspension of longevity pay, decrease in off-site training, a change in patrolling activities, charging for extra security services for events and the schools, cuts in janitorial services, increased health care premiums, and selling equipment and cars no longer needed or in use.

More questions were raised asking how the village intends to make other cuts and what do these budget issues mean for Garrettsville’s future.  Council President Hardesty explained how the budget and the departments work.  How monies from the General Fund and monies from the BPA or Streets Department do not and cannot intermingle.  But he also explained that the village has been carrying the burden for some expenses that should be shared by other departments and moving forward they will be.

 Perme questioned council about the status of economic development in the village, however his question went unanswered.

Resident and local businessman Christopher Perme wanted to know what council plans to do for the future.  He asked if there is a plan to increase revenue.  Perme pointed out that building homes and bringing more families will not generate the kind of revenue needed to support the village; business and industry however would generate that kind of revenue.  Perme questioned council about the status of economic development in the village, however his question went unanswered.

After the council meeting, Councilwoman Harrington stated she felt economic development was something that the village really needed to pursue.  She said she has the utmost respect for Council President Hardesty and appreciates all the work he has put into making the budget understandable and bringing to light viable options for controlling expenses.  She credits him with getting the police department’s overtime spending under control last year.  Harrington is confident council made the right decisions in moving forward.  “The police are a valuable resource for our residents and it’s important to keep our community safe”.

If you’d like to know more of what is happening in your community attend a meeting.  The next regular Village Council meeting is scheduled for June 10, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. at Village Hall.