|Portage existence depends on levy|
|Written by By JENISE FOUTS Sentinel Staff Writer|
|Wednesday, 07 October 2009 09:14|
PORTAGE - Residents have until May to decide if they want to double their income tax or dissolve the village.
On Tuesday, members of the Financial Planning and Supervision Commission unanimously approved council's five-year recovery plan which hinges on whether or not voters approve a 1 percent income tax on the ballot in May. Council previously instituted a 1 percent income tax in January to help increase revenue to the budget's General Fund, but the village is still expected to have a deficit of $128,822 by the end of the year.
Words such as "ugly" and "not a pretty picture" were used to describe the recovery plan by Chairman Paul Marshall with the Office of Budget and Management.
"Yeah it is," agreed Belinda Miller, financial supervisor for the village from the state auditor's office, noting the recovery plan's deficits and the actions needed to fix the budget. "We didn't have a lot of alternatives. If you're small and don't provide a lot of services, there aren't areas you can cut."
Two actions included in the plan to help fix the budget's deficits within five years are eliminating the Portage Police Department and Mayor's Court by Jan. 1, 2010 and hoping residents approve a 1 percent income tax next May.
During her summary of the plan's key points, Miller said major cuts in expenses have already been made to the General Fund, and "there are not a lot of fees and charges to increase. An income tax will generate significantly more revenue than a property tax, so that's why they went with an income tax."
Miller said if the town hall were sold, its sale would not alleviate the General Fund because any profit from it would have to go into a fund for capital improvements.
She added an attempt is being made to annex property north of the village. If that occurs it "would significantly impact revenue." But a lot of action needs to take place before that is accomplished - she said it is "remote" - so the annexation issue "won't have an impact on the recovery plan at this time."
When commission member Judith Amend asked what happens if the levy doesn't pass in May, Marshall replied, "The village goes out of business."
Ohio 25 divides the village in half. If the village dissolves, residents east of 25 would be governed by Portage Township, and those west of 25 would be under the governance of Liberty Township.
Commission member Ronald Amos said Liberty Township residents would keep fire service from the Central Joint Fire District, but their ambulance service would be Weston EMS.
"You need to let people know: This is what will happen to the village if it doesn't pass," stated Mayor Mark Wolford.
Several commission members expressed concern about the levy's passage. "I look at me, just myself," said Amend. "This year I'll pay an additional $700 to the village." She said she didn't see what she was getting for her $700, let alone paying more on top of that if the levy passes.
"It's going to be a tough sell," agreed Marshall. "It's a decision the village makes. If it doesn't work, you have to look at alternatives." He added, "You reach a point where you have to decide if the village continues or not. The commission doesn't make that decision."
"The handwriting is pretty much on the wall," said Amos.
Miller announced General Fund revenues coming in are lower than projected; at 54 percent of their estimate for the year instead of the hoped-for 67 percent. Several other areas of the budget are also lower than estimated.
"Part of the problem, the numbers we were working with, we didn't have any confidence in them. That's part of the problem," said Marshall. But he added it wasn't "all that unusual."
Miller said next year the commission will have more information on which to base budget estimates.
Commission members also approved a tax budget identical to the recovery plan which will be submitted to the county's budget commission to substantiate the tax dispersal to the village.
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