Council continues tax levy discussion

By Sheryl Roadcap -

SIDNEY — Sidney City Council members continued their discussion about the city’s next steps concerning the 0.30 percent municipal income tax levy, which was defeated in May.

City Manager Mark Cundiff led the discussion during Tuesday’s meeting and provided voter statistics, along with a map that illustrated coordinating precincts. He noted less than 17 percent of registered Sidney voters turned out on Election Day. The issue failed with 894 votes for and 1,241 votes against the levy, Cundiff said.

The levy was to provide permanent funding for street maintenance and for fire department operations. It would have replaced the five-year 0.25 percent levy for street maintenance that will expire Dec. 31, 2019. The new levy was to have been split evenly between street maintenance and fire department operations, with half of the proceeds permanently designated for street maintenance and half for fire department operations.

City Council began discussing what the next steps should be for a continuing 0.3 percent levy at the May 13 meeting. It was agreed to present the levy again to voters in November. Members were encouraged to obtain feedback from the community and to focus upon educating residents why fire and streets are both important needs for Sidney.

The city has until July 22 to take action to place the levy on the November ballot, Cundiff said.

As was stated during the last discussion, Cundiff said he has learned many residents were misinformed about the levy.

Council member Ed Hamaker said about 10 of the 15 residents who have approached him prefer to see the issues split into two levies, mainly to get the streets repaired. Some people told him they didn’t vote because they either forgot or expected the levy to pass. He repeated his call to bring forth election signs to educate and remind the public about the levy.

Council member Janet Born said she was “floored” by a resident’s claim to her the city didn’t use the money for the streets, but instead city officials used the money to give themselves a raise. He told her he would never vote for the street levy again.

Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan said she also heard from people who thought the city did not use the current levy funds properly for the streets. They also told her they don’t think there is a need for a third fire station.

Council member Steve Wagner said he spoke with a number of people who were in support of both the streets and a new fire station getting funded, and were very disappointed the levy did not pass, especially for the fire department. He learned they prefer the issues be placed separately on the ballot. Wagner also learned residents had a misconception about the levy. Some people thought the city was trying to slip something by them by putting the two issues on one ballot, he said. Half of the people Wagner spoke to felt strongly there is a need for both fire and streets to be addressed.

“There was so much misconception out there. It’s incumbent upon us to educate, as Mark said, to get out and do as much of it as we can, internally, externally, social media. Some people thought there was going to be a fire training academy there, and that is totally wrong,” Wagner said. “And I sure hope the people behind the anonymous hit piece that we all got in the mail around here — at least anybody with a Sidney address — I wish they would come forward so we can give the dollar figures as well as the percentages, which anybody can take percentages and mislead. I wish they would come out so we can try and convince them.”

Mayor Mike Barhorst said he has asked more people about their thoughts and learned some people were shocked the levy did not pass. He heard a mix of opinions of some who said to put the issues together and others who want them separated on the November ballot. Some people said they will not vote for the levy because their road has already been paved, Barhorst said. He told council he also knows of others who are for improving the community as a whole. Barhorst suggested conducting a door to door education campaign on the levy issues.

Council member Darryl Thurber commented he heard a lot of the same things already mentioned. He felt the only thing the city should do differently is to better educate residents. He noted many people do not read the paper, become informed through social media or even read their utility bill. Thurber further stressed that if people do not believe the city has used the current levy funds properly for street repairs, they are not looking around and just want to complain.

Near the end of the discussion, Wagner thanked Fire Chief Brad Jones for his hard work leading up the May election.

Barhorst directed council members to continue to speak with and inform their constituents about the topic. Council intends to continue the discussion at the June 3 workshop session.

In other business during the end of meeting comments, Duane Gaier, parks and recreation director, reminded all Sidney Water Park (SWP) opens Saturday and season tickets are now on sale. When asked for an update on the lifeguard shortage situation, he said currently SWP has 14 lifeguards and a manager and assistant manager who can fill in as guards if needed. He also shared that the city’s Summer food program, that helps feed area children when school is out, begins Monday.

Milligan briefly spoke about the recent Sidney Pilots Association meeting. She said a pilot asked about the city’s plans for maintaining Sidney Airport’s hangars. Cundiff said city staff is planning how to routinely upgrade the hangars with funds in Sidney’s five year plan.

A brief discussion ensued after Hamaker asked about recycling and how much it costs to sort inappropriate material mixed in with items to be recycled. Assistant City Manager/Public Works Director Gary Clough said he did not have that number off hand, but Sidney is not as high as other communities. The acceptable standard, he said, was less than 10 percent of recyclable materials contaminated. Clough said Sidney is probably higher than the acceptable standard. He noted that because of international issues, the acceptable standard has been now reduced to 2 percent. Clough said they are working on an educational campaign to tell people if they are putting stuff that should not be in recycling bins, they are not recycling and that it is actually going to the landfill and therefore they are not protecting the environment.

Born shared the Shelby County Family Children First Council is launching a new program for at-risk children ages 10-14 that takes them to a farm where they learn responsibility of caring for the animals. The program is set to begin in September, she said.

Clough said the Russell Road improvements set to begin Saturday will be delayed by a week to June 8. The project will close the Russell Road and Wapakoneta Avenue intersection to replace a sanitary sewer system.

By Sheryl Roadcap

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.