December 11, 2003



When dollars become potholes

Village Council is facing a financial challenge and it’s not limited to dollars and cents. It has just as much to do with potholes and sewer lines as it does with apathy and busy citizens.

Council, of course, knows this. Council members have been saying for some time that they have to get the community involved in a discussion on the Village budget and core Village services — and that means getting people interested. Council also must know that sparking the interest of citizens in things like budget issues is a daunting task.

After all, few members of the public ever attend the workshops in which Council, Village Manager Rob Hillard and Village staffers discuss in detail the budget each year. Council recently held two of these workshops to review the 2004 Village budget, and just one local resident and a representative of the News took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the Village books. These workshops offer the public a chance to have a hands-on learning experience, to ask questions about specific spending options and understand Village staffers’ approach to budgeting and capital planning.

Though there are no more workshops planned for the 2004 budget (the third scheduled session was canceled since Council and Mr. Hillard finished their review in two workshops), villagers interested in budget issues can attend the next two Council meetings, Dec. 15 and Jan. 5, when Council will vote on next year’s budget. The budget review and discussion will not be as thorough as the less formal workshops, but local residents would still have an opportunity to ask questions and better understand how the Village puts together a budget. More important, Council’s discussion on the budget offers villagers a chance to learn how their tax dollars are being used.

By taking this advice, local residents would grasp that the Village faces fiscal constraints: flat revenue in the Village five primary funds —the multi-fund, or general fund, and the four utilities — increasing expenses and a long, sobering list of capital projects and needs that total $13 million.

Council is going to have to help people grasp the extent of the Village’s budgetary challenges. The key is not to drown people in numbers, but instead to convert the budget into things people understand: potholes, the Gaunt Park Pool, utility rates and fees for some Village services. The Village could also make the 2004 budget and other documents like the reports on the Village’s capital needs more accessible by placing them on the Village’s Web site, That, of course, leaves it up to Yellow Springers to read these documents.

— Robert Mihalek