PORTAGE - Last week, council and the mayor realized deep cuts, including eliminating the police department, and an additional income tax are needed to save the village.
This week, it was time to try to convince the public.
About 20, mostly upset, residents attended Monday's council meeting. They asked Mayor Mark Wolford and council to consider other steps besides a tax and cutting police protection.
Before opening the meeting to public comment, Wolford - near tears - said he had done everything he could to try to make cuts. He had proposed about $300,000 in reductions over five years, but keeping the police department.
"It wasn't quite enough," the mayor said. "I'm going to need help. I can't do it on my own."
At last week's special workshop meeting, council and Wolford asked representatives from the state auditor's office to draw up a five-year financial recovery plan for Portage that includes cutting the police department and a 1 percent income tax on the May ballot.
The village was put into fiscal emergency by the state in April. Facing a $196,411 deficit at the end of this year, council has until Oct. 5 to come up with a five-year recovery plan. If spending continues and revenues don't change, the deficit is expected to balloon to $448,796 by 2013.
"No matter what happens in the next couple years, Portage will always be my home," Wolford said.
Mike Brinkman, who will be on council in January, said the recovery plan essentially disbands the village.
"You expect that to actually fly?" he said of an income tax increase. "This village is being sent straight to the end."
Mike Stacklin agreed, saying with the 1 percent income tax already enacted by council in January, the taxes would be too high. Some Portage residents, he said, also pay income tax to Bowling Green, if they work there.
"That's a lot of money," Stacklin said. "I don't think the income tax is the way to go."
The two income taxes will generate around $120,000 annually.
Stacklin said he would be willing to pay a 3-mill levy to support the police department, which worked out to about an additional $114 a year for him. "That's doable. I hate taxes but I would vote for this."
Council President Jay Sockman pointed out that 12 mills - not three - were needed to operate the police department.
Sue Kepling, who is mayor's court clerk and will lose her job when the police department ceases operations in December, was also near tears. She said utility expenses were unfairly charged to her department and the police.
"My job's in jeopardy. I want to know how does this money get divided the way it gets divided," she said, specifically mentioning the phone bill. "The numbers are just so wrong."
Wolford said the phone charges are very high and that they need to be researched.
"The phone bill's an issue, but it's not going to save us," he said.
Mike Schmitz reiterated that selling the village's main asset - the town hall - would be a way to make immediate cash.
After some discussion, council agreed to include it in the five-year recovery plan. In the plan, with the passage of the 1 percent income tax and elimination of police, the village emerges in the black with a small balance in the general fund by the end of 2014.
Council will meet again Monday, possibly to approve the plan. It then goes before a financial planning and supervision commission.
If council fails to approve a recovery plan, it could receive a 30-day extension, according to Belinda Miller, chief project manager of the local government services division with the Ohio auditor. If nothing's done by then, the village's budget is automatically slashed to 85 percent of the prior year's budget.
Miller said the village only has two options to recover: generate more money and cut expenses.
"If you are unable to do either that means the village is unable to fix its financial situation," she said.
At that point, Portage could be dissolved and revert back to the township control.
Above Caption: Howard Brown (left) and Mike Stacklin listen to Portage council. (Photos: Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune)
Portage mayor Mark Wolford talks to the assembled crowd.