Cloud of debt is hovering over Pickerington

Facing a 2008 budget burdened with debt, Pickerington City Council rejected a collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

The new agreement would have granted a 3.5 percent raise each of the next three years to city employees who are members of AFSCME Local 1822. The employees include workers for the water and street departments as well as police dispatchers.

Finance Director Linda Fersch said council could not table the issue until the next meeting because within 30 days the agreement would take effect unless council voted to reject it.

Pickerington has several million dollars in debt, said Councilman Brian Wisniewski, a large portion of which relates to the widening of Diley Road.

Fersch said the city owes between $4 million and $5 million for the Diley Road project with a yearly debt payment of $600,000 per year.

To avoid a defect in 2009, the city must either make cuts or find new revenue.  Pickerington receives most of its funding through income taxes. To cover the annual debt payments of the Diley Road expansion alone, the city would need to attract a business with a $60 million payroll, Wisniewski said.

Mayor David Shaver said the city may consider laying off employees.

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) agreed to fund a large portion of the DIley Road widening project.

"Diley was something we had to do," Wisniewski said. "The opportunity presented itself and we had to accept.  (The challenge is) how to pay for that in addition to the rest of the obligations to the city."

City Manager Judy Gilleland said that many contractors have shown an interest in the Diley project.  Bids are due to ODOT by Dec. 12. ODOT will award the contract within seven to 10 days.

Water and sewer lines are expected to begin in spring and if all goes well the city will have a groundbreaking ceremony in spring as well.

Council set a public hearing for Dec. 4 at 7:15 p.m. at city hall, 100 Lockville Road, to discuss the 2008 budget.

Other Pickerington news

•A mitten tree will be available in city hall for anyone wishing to donate mittens, hats or scarves to Fairfield County residents in need.

•City hall will also supply a mailbox for letters going to the North Pole. Gilleland said that every child and adult who posts a letter will receive a response.

•Dec. 7 from 5-9 p.m. downtown Pickerington will host the "Holiday in the Village Shop Hop" and the official tree lighting ceremony.

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