By Ris Twigg
The coronavirus pandemic has created record unemployment and a host of other economic problems that caused Obetz’s two main sources of funding — income tax and event revenue — to dramatically decrease for the remainder of the year.
Obetz officials estimate at least a 10 percent drop in income tax revenue, and this, coupled with additional expenses the village took on to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, are what lead to the $2.1 million cuts in village funding.
“Our council essentially put a pause button on any non-essential spending. And it will remain that way until the fall,” said Obetz Village Administrator Rod Davisson. “We’re taking our resources and we’re centralizing those to keep the heart and the brain of Obetz alive so we can function.”
Davisson said fundamental services – including but not limited to police, fire, water, streets, groundskeeping and facilities management – are still operating and have continued to operate throughout the pandemic.
Major cuts were made in spending areas such as printing, training, advertising and community events.
“Everything’s working just like normal. We just honestly had to shut down some of the fun stuff until we figure it out, and that’s because we spend so much money on fun stuff,” Davisson said. “(We spend) $1.5 million on fun stuff.”
Many of those events are free to residents, but actually create a profit loss for the village. For example, Davisson said the annual Zucchinifest generates limited to no revenue for the village and costs about $300,000 per year to host. Community events and programming cost the village more than $1.5 million per year in total.
“Loss has a negative connotation. That’s $1.5 million that our residents didn’t have to pay to use those amenities,” he said. “Our responsibility to the community is to make sure that we are operating these things at the right level.”
Because of these major cuts and the ongoing uncertainty the coronavirus pandemic brings with it, Obetz Village Council will begin considering a parking or entrance fee for major events later this year to make up for lost funding. Currently, only non-residents are charged for some events in the village.
Zucchinifest, Fortress Obetz, and increased rates for the Obetz Athletic Club were all potential amenities council discussed charging more for.
Budgets have yet to affect any village personnel, Davisson noted, but he added that village staff members “should be worried” because of the ongoing uncertainty with the coronavirus.
Frequent changes to public health orders issued by Dr. Amy Acton and Governor Mike DeWine put the village in a difficult situation, Davisson said. He estimates the coronavirus could cost the village millions by the time the pandemic reaches its end, which could result in further budget cuts that would potentially affect employees.
Building services was the only spending category to increase. Davisson attributes the $80,000 in additional spending to the continued development efforts of companies throughout the pandemic.
“It’s an increase for money that we get right back,” he said, adding the money is spent on building inspection services and is paid back by a third-party inspector after the work has been completed.
But Davisson said most areas are feeling the effects of the budget cuts.
“We made cuts. Everybody’s feeling the cuts, we want to be responsible with the taxpayers’ money. To the extent that I can squirrel away money for hard times, as bad as this time is, it could be worse and I don’t know what’s coming next,” Davisson said. “I want to make sure we are prepared for whatever the worst eventuality is and so that we can be supportive of those people in the hardest of times.”