Sunday, March 1, 2009

VC: Budgets, Cell Tower, ESTF, Pool Fees

<--my dogs on a walk after that last storm. (And, um, yeah, my thumb...)

Dear People: I attended Eric Siemer's beautiful memorial service yesterday. It was a good reminder of how important it is that we appreciate life and the people around us, while we are here for our short, short stints on this crazy, beautiful, fragile, resilient planet. Even when that's hard to do, for all kinds of reasons... Including things like our Budget meetings this past week, and our village Council meeting this week (Mon 3/2, 7 pm, Bryan Ctr) , and all the other busy-ness of life. ...

I'll be in the Emporium from 12-1 tomorrow if you want to chat!

BUDGET MEETINGS REDUX: We had the final two major budget hearings last week, with yesterday's overall review of the budget lasting from 9:30-about 1 pm.
Mark Cundiff and Sharon Potter have done a simply phenomenal job for us; please thank them for their hard work and attentitiveness to detail
. Although our operating income, from tax revenues, is projected to be smaller than last year, by about $300,000, Staff will be presenting a budget at our March 16th meeting for our vote that features the following:
  • An across-the-board pay increase for all non-salaried employees of 3% with no staff reductions (Per unanimous Council vote).
  • $100,000 for the green space fund drawn from estate taxes (Per a Council vote yesterday of 4-1).
  • $50,000 for energy efficiency improvements to village properties as recommended by the ESTF Phase II report (these improvements, we believe, will eventually pay for themselves). Per Council vote yesterday (I think it was unanimous, but am not 100% sure).
  • $50,000 for Visioning/Planning (as voted on earlier this year)
  • Maintains our commitment to use the levy fees for street improvements, the pool, etc. Kathryn Van Der Heiden expressed concerns about the library being not sufficiently attended to--she will be bringing a proposed amount for library improvements to be included in this budget to our mid-March meeting
  • Capital allocations for all major projects like improvements to our waste-water plant and a related rate study, sidewalk improvements, the Northern Gateway and CBE projects, etc., and various prudent staff requests that should help them better serve your needs (e.g., new equipment, office equipment, etc.)
    • We did vote to allocate funds but to delay the purchasing of security cameras for some village properties until we've had a public discussion of this issue.
  • YET STILL should increase our general fund reserve, currently at $1.65 million, by about 7%, to over 1.7 million which is still at or over 50% of our operating expenses for the year, giving us more than a 6-month cushion in case of catastrophe. This does not make us rich--and doesn't mean that a levy renewal might not be in order as this one phases out--but we are not at this point in the serious financial crisis/bankrupt situation that many Ohio and US communities are in.
I do want to clarify a couple of things that came up in our meeting yesterday. One resident suggested that our "unencumbered balance" or "reserve" cited in this year's budget--currently at almost $1.65 million--is not really "free" but is allocated for capital projects. This is not true: the unencumbered balance is just that: unallocated, not appropriated for any use at this time it does NOT include things like the Green Space fund balance or money that we've said we're going to spend on big projects but haven't actually spent yet.

And it should also be clear that that is just the general fund balance. Only one of our "enterprise" fund balances--water, sewer, electric, solid waste, etc.; the funds that depend on rate-payer support--is currently operating at a small loss. (That's our solid waste budget--which we will need to address). They all have some level of "reserve" balance, including solid waste, and the others all seem to be doing reasonably well, although we'll be having rate studies for several of these areas this year.

(Additionally, we are hoping to get some federal stimulus package monies for a few of our "shovel ready" projects--particularly the WWTP. Mark, once again, has done a tremendous job of applying for those grant monies in a timely fashion.)

Obviously, these are very uncertain days. But I have emerged from these meetings feeling that, while we are not "rich" and must remain vigilant about spending, we are in a position to be reasonably proactive about our future, as opposed to simply hunkered down in a survival posture--which can feel "prudent" but can be extremely detrimental in the long run.

That's why I've supported the small additional appropriations for the green space fund (which represent a commitment to our identity as small, vibrant community with a clear village center, and, when expended for worthwhile projects, can bring federal and other matching grants into our area) and for energy efficiency for our buildings.

If you agree with this stance, the priorities represented in this budget, letters to Council thanking us, and staff, for making these commitments and urging us to stand firm on them, would be welcome, because there is so much fear and some misinformation out there. (Questions, constructive critique, concerns, of course, are also welcome.)

VC on MONDAY: On our agenda are the following:
  • No legislation
  • SPECIAL REPORT from VILLAGE SOLICITOR re: how to understand the issue of "Conflict of Interest" in a small village, and his advice on Guidelines for the Bryan Center with respect to religious/spiritual organizations
  • "New" ESTF: Next Steps: The ESTF-Phase II report suggests working to improve our energy efficiency and create energy-related jobs in the village. We'll be discussing how to move forward.
  • Verizon "Flag Pole" Tower: Selecting a site. We have pictures of similar towers. The two places under consideration are next to the skate park and near the Bryan Center building.
  • 2009 Goals Kathryn Van Der Heiden and I have been working on streamlining our goals over the last's still a little messy.
  • Visioning/Planning Update we have narrowed the field of contractors and have tasked the Visioning Task Force with helping us move forward with interviews, etc.
There's no NEW BUSINESS, but in the MANAGER'S REPORT are the following:
  • An excellent plan for Gaunt Park Pool fees--small changes in daily fees ($.25 to make even $ figures: $4 for youth 4-18; $5 for adults, with a proposal for seniors, over 62, to pay youth fees). Season pass fees would not change, and grandparents taking care of children for the summer could buy season passes at resident rates.
  • Employee compensation report: confirms that a 3% hike is reasonable.
Finally, we will be going into executive session with our village solicitor regarding pending litigation.

HEADS UP: The MARCH 16th meeting will be molto importante
because we'll be approving the budget. If you can come to that meeting or write a letter to Council about your views on the budget before that meeting, I will be most grateful. The more villagers make it clear where your priorities are, the better we can represent you.

Enjoy the sun, love each other, pet a dog, ponder a cat. Be strong.


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