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Council rejects tax hike, OKs budget

June 04, 2014 - An attempt to increase the Oxford Village property tax rate failed last week as council voted to keep it at 10.62 mills for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth made a motion to raise the rate by a half-mill to 11.12 mills, so the village could fund the maintenance, repairs and improvement of infrastructure that, in her opinion, "we have let die."

"I just think we need to bump that millage rate back up," she said.

Council can levy, if it chooses, up to 14.257 mills without a vote of the people.

The proposed tax hike was shot down in a 3-2 vote with Helmuth and village president Dave Bailey voting in favor and councilmembers Elgin Nichols, Bryan Cloutier and Sue Bossardet voting against it.

Helmuth cited examples of work that needs to be done at Scripter Park's beach house, in downtown's Centennial Park and in the parking lot behind the village offices.

"This parking lot makes Burdick Street look brand new," she quipped. "These things need some work and we're not doing it."

A half-mill increase would have generated an additional $50,000 in revenue.

Nichols was vehemently opposed to any tax hike.

"I don't believe we need to have an increase in taxes, period," he said. "I don't think the residents want an increase in taxes. I don't care what minuscule amount it might be."

Nichols believes the current tax rate is enough to keep the village going in the coming year. "I feel comfortable that the 10.62 (mills) – it's going to work," he said. "I (feel) very strongly that we're moving in the right direction."

Cloutier was also opposed to raising taxes at this point, but he didn't rule it out for the future. "I agree wholeheartedly that we cannot neglect the infrastructure and that if it means raising the tax, I'm not in opposition to that," he said.

But before any tax increases are considered, Cloutier believes the village's budgeting process needs to be "totally reorganized and restructured."

"I'm not totally anti-tax, but . . . there's still room to go through this budget and there are areas that we need to make adjustments (to) before we do that," he said.

Ultimately, council voted 4-1 to keep the tax rate at 10.62 mills, which equals $10.62 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value.

Helmuth cast the lone dissenting vote.

Along with the tax rate, council also approved budgets for the 2014-15 fiscal year totalling $6.26 million.

Included in that was a general fund budget of $1.959 million, a police budget of $839,197 and a dispatch center budget of $304,581.

The general fund budget includes $700,000 that gets transferred to the police budget and the police budget includes $270,000 that gets transferred to the dispatch budget.

So, minus the dispatch transfer, the police budget is actually $569,197, which means village residents will pay a total of $873,778 to have their own police department and dispatch center.

The approved 2014-15 budget is projected to leave the three budgets (general fund, police and dispatch) with a combined fund balance of $355,887, which equals 16.7 percent of the village's expenses.

This represents a $46,293 decrease in the village's reserves as the projected fund balance for the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year is $402,180 or 18.7 percent of municipal expenses.

The new budget includes a 1 percent pay raise for all village employees, which will cost the municipality a total of $10,000. Village employees haven't had a wage increase since 2009, according to Young.

Council also approved a $358,779 budget for the Downtown Development Authority.

Included is $50,000 for construction of the new Edison/East Alley on the east side of M-24, $7,449 for facade and sign grants and $25,000 in the contingency fund for the potential hiring of a part-time (25 hours per week) DDA director/manager.

The amount the village charges the DDA for police and public works services was reduced by $31,750. As a result, the DDA will pay $91,500 for these services in the coming fiscal year. That's down quite a bit considering the village was charging the DDA a total of $145,000 two years ago.

The DDA budget leaves a fund balance (or reserves) of $49,464, which equals 13.8 percent of the entity's expenses.

Council members made it clear that it's up to them to approve the hiring of a DDA director/manager. Not having a DDA director/manager was one of several reasons Oxford lost its national accreditation as a Main Street community earlier this year.

Council noted that before the DDA starts interviewing for the position, it wants to see that board come up with a plan of action outlining how it's going to correct all the deficiencies that cost Oxford the accreditation.

Council also decided that instead of issuing capital improvement bonds to fund two road construction projects, it's going to borrow the money internally from village funds.

"Bond is a four-letter word," Nichols said.

"I definitely want to use our own money and not borrow anybody else's," Helmuth said.

Young noted by borrowing internally, the village can charge itself an interest rate of 1.5 percent, which is "far greater" than the current rate of return on the municipality's investments, but less than the 2.5 percent that it would be charged to pay off bond debt.

These road projects include reconstructing the 1,691-foot portion of W. Burdick St., commonly known as cemetery hill, and constructing the new Edison/East Alley.

Council last week approved budgets of $555,000 for the W. Burdick project and $250,000 for Edison/East Alley.

Included in those budgets was the allocation of $62,673 from the village's major street fund for the W. Burdick St. project and $50,000 from the DDA budget for the Edison/East Alley project. Oxford Township previously agreed to contribute up to $85,000 for its portion of the W. Burdick job.

The only council member who voted against funding these projects through internal borrowing was Bossardet.

"My concern is that we're going to be strapped (for cash) later on," she explained. "We don't know what a year down the road is going to bring us. We may have some big thing that comes along and then here we're sitting with nothing."

"I just feel that's a bad way to go," she continued. "If we were flush with money, I'd say fine, but we're not."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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