(Posted June 12, 2016)
By Sandi Latimer, staff writer
Voters in West Jefferson are one step closer to potentially making a decision on whether or not the village gets a new community center.
Village council members, at their June 6 meeting, held a first reading of an ordinance that would allow the village to increase its current 1 percent income tax levy with voter approval. Currently, village law caps the income tax at 1 percent.
A committee charged with looking into the possibility of a new community center is proposing a quarter-percent income tax increase to fund the construction, equipping, maintenance and operation of a community center. Council cannot move forward with such a ballot request unless the law is changed to allow for an increase.
The ordinance now goes to the parks and recreation committee, which will hold a public hearing on the matter at 5 p.m. June 13 at the village administration building. A second reading and possible vote will come at the June 20 regular council meeting.
“One hundred percent of the people want a community center,” said Ron Garver, who leads the committee charged with looking into a possible community center. “How many will want to pay for it?”
He presented drawings to council of what such a center could look like, stressing that the drawings are only an idea and were created without using taxpayer money. The drawings showed room for expansion since the committee’s idea would be to build the center on 25 acres near Converse Park.
“It’s one of three sites we looked at and what we feel is the best,” Garver said. Other locations considered were at the old school property and along Route 40.
The committee approached council at this time about the potential income tax increase request because Aug. 10 is the deadline to submit issues to the Madison County Board of Elections for placement on the November ballot.
If council approves the ordinance to amend the law to allow for an increase, council would then have to approve legislation to put an issue on the ballot to let the voters decide if the 1 percent tax should be raised. If approved, the quarter-percent increase would be in effect for 25 years and could be renewed. Collections would start in January 2017.
The proposal Garver presented to council lists the cost to build a community center at $6 million to $7 million. He said now is a good time to build.
“Interest rates are 3 percent right now,” he said. “But what will they be next year?”
“Who will run it?” Mayor Ray Martin asked.
“Council can’t run it,” Garver said, adding that a full-time parks and recreation director would be needed. That position is currently part-time.
Additionally, membership fees would be required, with non-residents being charged more than residents.
Concerned, council member Lorie Cafagno noted that the existing municipal pool does not turn a profit on its $170 membership fee. She asked what would happen to the pool when a new pool is opened.
Council member Jennifer Warner wanted to know about interest coming from businesses along State Route 29.
Garver said some of those businesses are beginning to talk about offering to pay membership fees for their employees since health plans now offer wellness incentives. He also said Battelle is interested.
Newly seated council member Mike Conway said he is behind the idea of a community center. He previously sat on the community center committee. But he said he is not convinced about the proposed location. He also said the timing is not right, that other village projects might need to take priority.
At the conclusion of the presentation and discussion, council Vice President Doug Eakins assigned the ordinance to the parks and recreation committee. Eakins was presiding in the absence of President Steve Johnston.
Council also voted to send a $13,100 payment to the state treasurer for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency review of improvements at the water plant. Council also donated its usual $3,000 for West Jefferson’s July Fourth Street Fest.
Parks and Recreation Director Marci Darlington said several activities are on the summer schedule, including the Father’s Day fishing derby from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 18 at the Duke Realty pond.