SIDNEY — A “No Parking” zone near Northwood Intermediate School was established Monday when Sidney City Council adopted an ordinance to amend the traffic control map. Council also began discussing the next steps for the fire levy.
The “No Parking Zone” is along both sides of Brookburn Street between St. Marys and Wapakoneta Avenue between 2-4 p.m. on school days Northwood School is in session. Northwood experienced a change in student population this school year, and it has caused traffic issues, City Manager Mark Cundiff said, on Wapakoneta Avenue, St. Marys Avenue and some streets south of the school, particularly Brookburn Street.
Council passed the ordinance as an emergency so it would take effect immediately.
After Sidney voters rejected the city’s 0.15 percent municipal income tax fire levy on Nov. 5, intended to provide permanent funding for fire department operations, council began discussing the next steps Monday.
Cundiff said the levy was defeated by a vote of 1,493 in favor (40.1 percent), to 2,140 against, (58.9 percent), which was very similar to the defeated combined levy in May. There were 41.9 percent of voters in favor and 58.1 percent opposed in May. Areas of the community not in support of the May combined levy, again did not support the fire levy earlier this month.
Although he said no decision was necessary at Monday’s meeting, Cundiff proposed the following questions to get the conversation going:
• What would the city need to do to pay for the cost of operating a third station without asking for funds from the voters? Would the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) be an option? How to do this without impacting other general fund supported departments and/or capital improvements? If needed, what other general fund expenditures could be reduced to offset the additional cost?
It was noted about $1.7 million annually would be needed to accomplish the city’s goals the fire levy was expected to fund.
A brief discussion ensued about hiring someone to do both of Assistant City Manager/Public Works Director Gary Clough’s two positions, after he retires, to free up some money.
Fire Chief Brad Jones explained the AFG is a three-year grant that only pays for new firefighters and personal costs, such as uniforms and training expenses. He said it is not a guarantee to be approved, and after the three years the city would need a new source of funds.
Several council members expressed apprehension with taking excess funds currently available in budget balances.
• Are there other options available? An expansion of Station No. 1; expansion/relocation of Station #No. 2? Perhaps a smaller “satellite” station at the Wapakoneta Avenue property?
Cundiff noted there would still be a hefty cost involved with bringing a type of satellite apparatus to the Wapakoneta Avenue property.
• Is an income tax still preferable to a real estate tax? Council members agreed an income tax was the preference.
• Is a permanent levy still preferable to a temporary levy? Members also agreed the levy should be permanent.
• Does council wish to place this matter back before the voters? If that answer is “Yes,” then when do you place it on the ballot? Next spring, next fall, or later?
The consensus among council members was to put the levy on the ballot again in November 2020.
Jones expressed frustration with waiting until a levy passes and suggested finding another way to pay for the need city leaders have identified with fire and emergency services, including looking at excessive fund balances. He shared his concern for firefighters handling the next catastrophic event without the city yet addressing that need.
“It’s at a tipping point. We need to address it now,” Jones said. “We cannot sit back, as leaders, and I cannot sit back, and allow these 25- or 30-year-old firefighters, or 30-year-member firefighter in the organization, go into a house fire that is 8 minutes more involved, let alone the citizen we are trying to serve. Every day, we are that much closer to the next catastrophic event.”
Some discussion then ensued about whether or not to use the excess funds. The city of Sidney’s policy is for its general fund’s cash reserve to be at or above the 20 percent of expenditures for each year. It provides 73 days of cash for the city.
Mayor Mike Barhorst and Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan both felt touching fund balances, which are currently above the 20 percent city policy, is not the solution. They both shared a fear of not having a cushion in the event of another recession.
Jones said he was not suggesting to change the city’s policy, but questioned why, if the city’s policy is to have a certain number of days of cash on hand, does it hold a much greater amount than is the policy.
Finance Officer Ginger Adams said the current excess funds are only available to be spent once, and is the reason the city’s finance department has such a high national rating. She noted the only reason the funds have grown is because there has not been a recession.
Council will continue the discussion at a future meeting.
The following two other ordinances were also introduced to council Monday:
• To amend certain sections of an ordinances regarding water, sewer, stormwater and solid waste collection rates, sewer tap fees and the reconnection charge.
Low volume users’ will see an increase in their monthly utility bill from $56.50 in 2019 to $58.15 in 2020. An average family of four can expect to see an increase in their monthly bill from $113.77 in 2019 to $117.37 in 2020. The utility and sanitation rates increase approximately 5 percent for water flow rate, 3.5 percent for refuse, 1 percent for sewer flow rate, 1 percent for EPA compliance fee, 1 percent for the operating stormwater fee and 15 percent for the capital stormwater fee.
The after-hours reconnection fee will increase from $100 to $145, in order to cover staffing cost for the late call. Call-out work is paid at the time and a half rate, with a guaranteed minimum of three hours paid. The $100 fee was established in 2009 and has not been increased in the interim. This reconnect fee is charged when water service has previously been disconnected due to non-payment, violation of finance department regulations or where the water meter has been removed for a period of time to eliminate minimum charges. The fee charged during the work hours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday remains $25.
• To revise an ordinance to add the 0.15 percent tax, passed by voters on Nov. 5, for purposes of providing funds for the construction, reconstruction, resurfacing, and maintenance of streets, alleys, bridges, curbs and gutters in the city for the period from Jan. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2024.
Council member Darryl Thurber was absent Monday and was excused by council.
Cundiff reminded the public city offices will be closed on Thursday, Nov. 28 in observance of Thanksgiving. Trash collection will be delayed on Nov. 28 and 29 that week.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.