February 6, 2003
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Talking about Village finances

It’s time to talk.

What we have to discuss is, admittedly, about as exciting as wood, but it’s still important. And it affects everyone who lives or works in Yellow Springs.

It’s time to talk about the Village’s financial situation. Like we said, not too exciting, but still important. In fact, the state of the Village’s fiscal house certainly will be one of the most important local issues of the year.

Here’s a basic assessment: the Village, for at least the third year in a row, has a tight budget; operational costs are expected to rise over the next several years; the Village has a serious need to find new revenue sources, especially since Vernay Laboratories, one of the largest utilities users and employers in town, will shut down one of its manufacturing plants this year (the second plant will eventually close, too); the Village has a mountain of capital needs, which include vital projects like paving the streets, repairing the public pool and replacing water and sewer lines around town. The list of capital items goes on and on, adding up to approximately $11.7 million. Like we said, it’s a mountain of a list.

Now Village Council is set to dig in and evaluate the services the Village provides and discuss how the Village can continue to pay for them. Though this effort really started in recent years, when Village staff and Council began closely reviewing operational costs and revenue sources, Council will give it even more attention. Two documents will receive a lot of scrutiny: the 2003 Village budget, which Council will likely approve on Feb. 18, and a report by the blue ribbon finance committee, which spent four months reviewing the Village services, capital needs and revenue sources.

What Council plans to do is pick apart the finance committee’s report, which includes a number of options the Village has to either increase revenue or cut costs. The report is significant because it lists many items that are important to the community that could be eliminated. These include Gaunt Park Pool, channel 13, the Village Mediation Program and the Police Department’s dispatching service. The report says the Village could increase recreation fees or utility rates to generate more revenue. It also says the Village could consider selling its utility services or reducing some local garbage services. This is just a small accounting of the report. To get a fuller picture, read it, as well as the 2003 Village budget, which are available on the Village’s Web site at www.yso.com/budget03.asp.

A challenge for Council will be to engage the public in the coming debate and allow for maximum participation. The public, however, needs to get involved. The problem is budget issues and Village finances are not likely to generate passionate interest from most community members. Nevertheless, because local services affect local residents, this really is a community-wide debate.

As a member of the blue ribbon finance committee said, the Village is not in a crisis today. But that mountain of capital needs is real. The big question is, how to pay for them. Answering that question through a broad-based discussion is in the best interest of the Village and Yellow Springs.

That’s why we need to talk.

—Robert Mihalek