Street fund deficit paid off
By Matt Echelberry
Galion City Council held a regular meeting on Aug. 28. Several community improvement projects were approved and the remaining street fund deficit was paid off.
First, Stephen Knapp was sworn in as a police officer for the Galion Police Department by City Manager Gene Toy. Knapp was formerly an auxiliary officer in Crestline from 2004-12.In legislation, Ord. 2012–65 approved a project to improve the storm sewer system on North Market Street, in the area near the intersection with Hetrick Street. Toy explained that the sewer in that area is old and some houses sit directly on top of it. Residents there experience flooding problems regularly and the project would fix it.
This is one of three projects the city applied for last year to receive a State Capital Improvement Grant from the Ohio Public Works Commission. OPWC has awarded the city $105,000 for the project, estimated to cost a total of $761,536 ($656,536 in local funds will cover the remainder of the project).
Ord. 2012–66 was a reimbursement agreement between Galion and the Ohio Department of Transportation. The state will reimburse the city for costs associated with recently moving the water line under the bridge on State Route 61, just north of Jen Cor. ODOT will be replacing that bridge in the near future and the water line needed to be moved so it did not interfere with the project.
Ord. 2012–67 accepted a FEMA grant that the fire department received last week. The $70,300 grant, combined with the local Galion share of $3,700, will be used for the purchase of reflective house address signs, new smoke detectors and other fire safety initiatives. Ord. 2012–68 appropriated $7,000 to the airport fund. Toy said it would be used to design new airport runway lighting and safety features, and some of the older hangers will be removed.
Ord. 2012–69 transferred $800,000 from the general fund to the street fund, thus eliminating the remaining debt in the account. Toy emphasized that it does not eliminate ALL of Galion’s outstanding deficits, but all of the deficits that the state auditor saw as fiscal emergency criteria are now paid.
An audience member asked where the $800,000 came from and if the city would now have money in the street fund to use for paving projects.
Toy responded that the general fund has had a stable upward climb in its balance for several years due to good financial planning and spending, and is therefore stable enough to make such a transfer without harming the general fund. “In theory, with the deficit eliminated…we can look at starting paving projects,” he stated.
Ord. 2012–70 used $100,000 from the street fund to pay the remaining amount owed for an urban paving project (originally approved last year through Ord. 2011–95). This was unrelated to the previous ordinance because this money was used to pay an outstanding debt.
Council member Cathy George thanked the city departments for operating under budget in order to allow the leftover money to be used for the transfer, as well as building the general fund to be able to pay off the remaining city deficit.
Galion resident Don Faulds commented, “The citizens have helped pay this back as well. The community should be thanked.”
“Your point is well-taken. We wouldn’t be a community without the citizens and they deserve credit,” George responded.All of those ordinances passed as emergencies. The final piece of legislation was a second reading for Ord. 2011–80, regarding an alley vacation. The ordinance died for lack of a motion to vote on it. Later in the meeting, Council member Tom Fellner set a date for a second public hearing about the alley vacation for Oct. 9. It will begin at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers.
In other business, Council member Walter Keib presented some financial statistics in response to Council member Paul Flannery’s concerns about city finances at a previous meeting. The information was from Keib’s time as chairman of the finance committee that showed income and expenditures for every year since 2004.
“Over that seven year period, it is staggering that [the city] spent $82 million less that the budget of 2004…Two years in there—2010 and 2011—we spent $15 million less than in 2004,” Keib stated.
Keib also brought up another point regarding a recent article that appeared in the Columbus Dispatch in which Council member Roberta Wade was quoted about Galion’s investment in Prairie State.
Keib asked for clarification on her quote, which he read: “‘Now the red flags are flying,’ said Roberta Wade, a Galion City Council member. She was on a panel when it approved the investment, although she doesn’t remember any briefing about the risks. She is the only council person now asking for more scrutiny of electricity contracts.”
He argued that the statement was incorrect, citing a 40-slide power point presentation about Prairie State given during a Council meeting two years ago. According to Keib, Wade attended the meeting, which was presented by R.W. Becks. “You can hardly say that you weren’t briefed,” he concluded.
“I was not aware of the risks involved in this…We have a bill for $1.2 million in stranded costs but no power. We now have three months of $100,000 payments and no power. If that’s not red flags I don’t know what is,” Wade responded.
Keib pointed out that ‘unaware’ and ‘not briefed’ are two different concepts. “The other things is,” Keib added, “you’re the only council member? So the rest of us are chopped liver. I’ve been to Columbus three times to look into this…You’re not the only person on this council concerned about electricity.”
In another item of new business, George announced that on Nov. 3, the Opiate Taskforce is having a walk from 9–11 a.m. It begins at the Square and ends at Heise Park, where some speakers will address participants. She asked the community to come out and support the effort to make people more aware of the drug problem.
Wade then brought up the stranded costs the city owes for the cancelled coal plant project in Meigs County, which Galion entered into several years ago. “The city received a memo from AMP in February 2011 saying the city had stranded costs of close to $1.3 million. If we participated in the AMP Fremont Energy Center, there would be a credit…and stranded costs would be reduced to $920,000. Then at the end of May , we entered into the Fremont Energy Center…but AMP later notified the city that stranded costs were around $1.3 million and the credit was now only going to be $233,000.”
She asked Law Director Reese Mills to look over that contract and see if the original deal of a larger credit can be enforced to reduce the stranded costs.
Council President Gail Baldinger then asked Wade, “Can you describe to me exactly what a ‘stranded cost’ is?”
Wade said stranded costs entail the startup costs of entering into a project like land purchase or engineering fees, but they should ask AMP what it considers stranded costs to be. Discussion about stranded costs went on for several minutes and Baldinger eventually asked Toy for clarification.
Council member Ken Bodkins expressed his concern that Council members need to “quit bickering” over the details of energy contracts. He also had another item of business, saying a resident in his ward was still not getting electric bills.
Finance Director Karen Walters iterated what she said at the last council meeting, which is that citizens still not getting bills mailed to them need to contact her office. The number of the Finance Department is 419–468-1823.
In city manager’s comments, Toy mentioned that he attended a dedication ceremony for Daughmer Savannah on Aug. 27. He encouraged people to go there and check out the new state preserve, located at 786 Marion-Melmore Road (15 miles west of Galion and 9 miles southwest of Bucyrus). Also, he announced that Trick-or-treat in Galion will be Oct. 28 from 2–4 p.m.
With no citizen comments that evening, the meeting was adjourned. Council will meet next on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers.