Sunday, February 8, 2009

Budget Thoughts and PC: Barr Property, new bench, etc.

Dear People: Well, it's been a busy week for Council, focused especially on the budget, and there's an important Planning Commission meeting coming up on Monday evening in which we'll be looking at the revised plans for the Friends Care Senior Housing unit on the Barr property and considering plans for a new, ceramic memorial bench along the bike path (contrary to a Design Advisory Committee report/recommendations from 2003 that suggest that no further such memorials be built along the path)

VC: BUDGET: If you get a chance to look at the budget documents released so far (they are not online yet, but copies are in the library or Bryan Center), or to watch the meeting we had Tuesday which was a kind of walk-through of the tentative plan for capital expenditures from the General Fund--purchases of bigger-ticket items for the village government--I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts.

BUDGET OVERVIEW FROM WHERE I SIT: There are a lot of complexities involved, but I'd say this initial look at the General Fund (GF) looks pretty solid. (The General Fund is the core of our budget, but does not include the budgets for revenue generating areas like water, sewer, electric, etc.) We came out of last year having added to our surplus--we now have over $1.6 million as a reserve.

This is an important cushion to have, given that we do not know what the future may hold, in terms of the economy. If there was a sudden catastrophe that cut deeply into revenues, it's good to have some money that could be drawn from to keep basic services running for awhile, to give Council and staff time to adjust to new realities. Managers and fiscal advisors universally suggest it is not good to run a municipal budget too close to the bone.

Some municipalities have a larger cushion, some smaller, and at our meeting it wasn't clear exactly what our goal historically has been, or what the current council would hope to set it at. Mark is planning to get more us information about how other municipalities determine their appropriate cushion, so that we can make those kinds of determinations.

The reserve that is there, is largely a result of the levy and the cutbacks to staff that have been made over the last few years. Our manager, Mark, and our accountant, Sharon, have approached this year's budget with a goal of trying to add 25% more to next year's reserve (although we probably won't quite make that in all funds, including the GF).

As it stands, with the current, fiscally conservative approach we're rightly taking to most expenditures, we're on track to possibly add 21% more to our surplus in the GF. And that number could be higher if some of the expenditures for the police, for example, are able to be covered by federal moneys known as the "Furtherance of Justice Fund." (That rather Orwellian name is basically drug-bust money.)

So, that being said, there are a few things I noticed that you all might want to ponder and provide feedback on.

GREEN SPACE: The current draft puts $50,000 into the Green Space fund, rather than the approx. $112,000 that the Tecumseh Land Trust suggests would be necessary to get it up to a comfortable fund of $250,000,
in the case of some land coming open this year, which is not a sure thing but there are some very good signs that it may happen, soon, and we'd like to be in a position to act quickly if it does.

WHY I SUPPORT THE LARGER AMOUNT: I look on this money as an investment of the best kind: it can bring many times the dollar value back into the community through matching grants from a variety of sources, and it supports our retention of our identity as a small, walkable/bikeable village. It is a long-standing goal of the community for 40 years to maintain green space in and around the village. While some villagers have characterized such an investment as frivolous in years past, the sense I have from the majority of villagers is that this is a vital part of our history, and should be an investment priority.

There are other things in the general fund that seem mostly non-controversial. There is a proposal to put up security cameras in some places--on the train station and the swimming pool--which some villagers may have concerns about. Please feel free to share your concerns.

PC: BARR PROPERTY (321 Xenia Ave.): The revised plans for the Friends Care Senior Housing on the Barr Property are available for public inspection--I have them in PDF form but, frankly, there are a dozen or more documents and many of the images are really big and bulky--meant to be printed on big 11 x 17 paper. I'll send 'em to you if you want, but unless you have a really fast, bigger screen computer, you may find it easier to just go look at the hard copies in the library and the Bryan Center.

My understanding of the agenda for Monday's meeting is that we are merely "receiving" these final plans for this important property, and that at a near-future meeting we will have the Public Hearing on the Final Plan.

CERAMIC MEMORIAL BENCH ON BIKE PATH: Kaethi Seidl and Beth Holyoke have been commissioned by the Scott family to create a memorial bench along the bike path, on a slab that the Village would create. The bench would be similar to the benches that now grace the library and the corner of Xenia and Corry, and they propose to place it at some point between the Glen Helen driveway and the Women's Park.

The main sticking point that the PC will need to consider is that in 2003, the Design Advisory Committee wrote up guidelines (that were never officially adopted by Council) which would effectively prohibit all further memorial bench installations, with the goal of primarily maintaining relatively pristine green space along the path, and avoiding clutter. There are 13 benches in the Women's Park (I find that hard to believe, but apparently it's true), and four more benches as you down the path toward the Riding Center. There are no benches in the proposed area, north (roughly) of the Women's Park.

I love the ceramic benches, but also agree that we could reach a point where there are too many memorial benches, etc. Is this the best place for such a bench? What are your thoughts?

OTHER PC BUSINESS: We'll be going over our report to Council for 2008, our goals for 2009, and--we hope!--actually completing the revision to the Comprehensive Plan (believe it or don't).


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