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Independence Day fireworks spark debate in Pickerington
"This little city's hard times are going to get worse," resident Carol Carter told Pickerington City Council.
At its May 19 meeting, Carter advised the council not to allocate money from the city budget for a $12,000 Independence Day celebration, an $18,500 phone survey and a $6,000 council retreat.
"You can't say the city needs more money then proceed to blow $12,000 for entertainment," Carter said. "My advice is to hold onto (the money) instead of spending it on a pretty picture in the sky."
Councilman Keith Smith said the money spent on the Independence Day celebration could cover snow removal instead.
Councilman Brian Wisniewski said the money for all three projects could be spent on a part-time code enforcement officer. With 70 vacant homes, the current full-time code enforcement officer receives 15 to 20 calls per day and is unable to respond to all reports.
"There is not a direct correlation between a community celebration with us and the township and code enforcement," Councilman Michael Sabatino said. "This time of year you're going to get a lot of calls."
Last fall, council voted to cancel the Independence Day festivities this year, but Councilman Brian Sauer refused to accept the decision. He combed through the budget and found $12,000 by reducing staff training.
The 2008 celebration cost the city $28,000, but Sauer was able to reduce the price to $24,000 and split the financial burden with Violet Township.
"It's a community celebration of our nation's birthday," Sauer said. "Some may not see that as important, but from my point of view it is extremely important. I grew up in Violet Township and every year I attended the celebration myself. This is an important first step for both communities to contribute. I feel it is a small thing to do to give back to those who have paid taxes."
But Sabatino disagreed.
"I personally think the township looked to help (the city) maintain a quality of life that each entity by itself could not do," Sabatino said.
The $18,500 phone survey will ask 300 residents to answer a 20-minute questionnaire, and then an expert will explain the results at the $6,000 council retreat, Wisniewski said.
Last November, voters rejected a proposal that would have increased the income tax of people who work in Pickerington. The survey would help council understand what form of tax increase (if any) that citizens would accept to help the cash-strapped city.
The survey would also inform the council members about what issues the community feels most strongly.
Wisniewski said he originally favored the survey, but now he believes the information would be used to benefit the campaigns of the members of council seeking re-election this fall.
If the survey finds that citizens would be willing to accept a tax to save their city, his fellow council members "would drag their feet" rather than place the issue on the same ballot as their candidacy, Wisniewski said.
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