The City of London is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, there’s the reality that next year’s budget will not balance without cuts; on the other hand, there’s the need to continue to provide city services.
At the Dec. 4 council meeting, Mayor David Eades said the city should put a tax increase on the ballot by February. If a levy isn’t passed in 2009, the situation will be “terrible” in 2010, he said.
City Auditor James Slagle agreed that more income is needed, pointing out that the city’s savings have been dwindling steadily the last couple of years.
“I have no crystal ball where we’re going next year,” said Slagle, who was gloomy about the current economic situation, calling it the worst in “our lifetimes.”
Councilman Bill Beathard mentioned several options for raising more revenue, including additional income taxes and the possibility of charging fees to insurance companies when the fire department makes runs outside the city. Council also is looking at ideas such as charging licensing fees to operators of amusement rides or concessions in the city.
If the public is demanding more and better services, Beathard said he hopes they will look favorably at the options the city brings forward to increase income in 2009.
It appears some cuts will be made, including personnel layoffs, though Beathard noted that full-time and union positions would not be affected.
Police Chief Peter Tobin is grateful that police and fire jobs won’t be cut. He said his department would do its best to operate within any cutbacks.
Safety-Service Director Steve Hume said he wouldn’t have the personnel to clean snow off sidewalks downtown this winter. He also said there won’t be money for the hanging baskets around town next year.
Beathard said downtown merchants should take care of their own sidewalks; the city shouldn’t have to clean them so that customers can get into the stores. He said the flowers in the hanging baskets look nice, but shouldn’t be purchased instead of gas for police and fire cruisers.
Slagle said operations covered by the general fund would be reduced about 15 percent across the board. There might not be new tax income in the capital account, which pays for things like roadwork and city equipment. Normally, Slagle said, the city replaces one or two police cruisers a year and tries to pave some streets. That may not happen next year. The money that remains in the capital account likely will stay there, only to be used in cases of emergency.
In other business at the Dec. 4 meeting, council heard testimony on proposed changes to the city’s comprehensive plan. A public hearing on the plan will take place at council’s Dec. 18 meeting.
State and county representatives were on hand to comment on the portion of the plan that addresses stream setbacks, which are guidelines that regulate development near waterways.
John Mathews, an Ohio Department of Natural Resources storm water specialist, gave a presentation on the need for floodplains and vegetation to create healthy streams, elements with which development can interfere. As written, the plan proposes a 25-foot setback from the center of a stream. Instead, Mathews favors a system that bases the setback on the width of the stream, which would be more adjustable to the conditions of the stream.
Councilman Rodney Lauer said the plan is a guide that can be adjusted after being adopted. He suggested that the original language be kept as a framework that could be modified as city representatives learn more.
Hume said there is no question that waterways should be preserved, but it’s just a question of how to do it and how much money it’s going to cost.