TIPP CITY — The Tipp City Council approved the city’s 2020 budget by a majority vote of 4-2 during its meeting on Monday night.
Council President Katelyn Berbach and council members John Kessler, Carrie Arblaster, and Logan Rogers voted in favor of the ordinance adopting the budget. Mayor Joseph Gibson and council member Tom Merritt voted against the ordinance. Council member Frank Scenna was absent.
The majority vote approving the budget came after a proposed amendment to the budget from Gibson, an amendment which the council members tied a vote on with Gibson, Merritt, and Rogers voting for the amendment and Berbach, Kessler, and Arblaster voting against the proposed amendment. Due to the tie vote, the proposed amendment failed.
The city’s general fund is approximately $7 million, and the city’s total budget, including enterprise funds like electric, is approximately $49 million.
“It is a surplus budget,” City Manager Timothy Eggleston said.
Gibson noted the surplus was approximately $60,000, while the city’s appropriations for 2020 totaled approximately $49 million.
“I have concerns about that,” Gibson said.
Gibson’s proposed amendment included a number of changes in the budget after saying he wanted to try to find more funds to save to increase the surplus. Gibson suggested deferring a water tower maintenance contract for one year, which is a budgeted cost of $200,000, saying the city has survived without a maintenance contract for a number of years and wanted to try without this contract for one year. Gibson said the contract would be a subscription-type service where the city would pay an annual contract to have its water towers inspected and maintained.
“We have not engaged in this or subscribed to this kind of service before,” Gibson said, adding the city’s maintenance of the water towers has been need-based.
City officials said that is not the exact amount of what the city expects the water tower maintenance contract to be. The city budgeted that amount as a placeholder on the budget. Eggleston noted that even if a contract is appropriated on the budget, any contract above $50,000 will need to go before the council again for final approval.
Other suggestions Gibson made included making the EMS billing in-house to try to remove the $26,000 budgeted cost; reducing contract mowing by $16,500; reducing the contingency fund by $10,000; and reducing the pool’s concession supply contract by $9,000. Gibson also suggested looking for someone to purchase naming rights to the Tippecanoe Family Aquatic Center.
When Gibson made the motion to consider this amendment to the budget, Rogers seconded the motion.
During the following discussion, Kessler disagreed with Gibson on removing the water tower maintenance contract, saying it was an important, proactive tool.
Finance Director John Green said the city had deferred maintenance on one of its water towers in the past, the one located near Menard’s, for 10-15 years, and that cost the city approximately $775,000 when it came time to make improvements to it. Green also noted the water tower near the high school is nearing 12 years old.
Gibson still advocated for deferring on the maintenance, saying the maintenance contract was “a great idea for the right time.”
In regard to EMS billing, Gibson suggested someone else within the city could take on that task with billing software rather than hiring and outside company to provide that service. Kessler responded to Gibson’s suggestion, saying, “It’s hiring another person to do that.” Kessler said the city would have to pay for a new hire to provide that service and pay for the new employee’s salary and benefits, exceeding the cost of outsourcing it.
The proposed amendment ultimately failed following the tied vote.
The council then approved a companion to the budget ordinance by a vote of 4-2. The council approved an ordinance to make appropriations for current expenses and other expenditures during the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2020. This ordinance establishes the specific appropriations called for in the 2020 fiscal year budget. The total funds appropriation amounted to approximately $49,545,970. Berbach, Kessler, Arblaster, and Rogers voted in favor of adopting the ordinance, and Gibson and Merritt voted against the ordinance.
At the end of the meeting during the council members’ comments portion of the meeting, Arblaster said she appreciated Gibson’s “thoroughness with looking through the budget,” but also suggested the council may have to have a conversation regarding city services and taxes in the future.
“For the past three years, I think we’ve watched our expenditures get narrowly close to maxing out our revenues,” Arblaster said. “That’s been a problem that we’ve all watched for the last three years.” Arblaster noted that while she will not be on the council next year, her opinion was that “the crux of the conversation isn’t deferring maintenance or getting rid of people cutting our grass,” but is having a conversation about the services the city wishes to offer, whether or not the city wants to increase revenue, or “shaving back staff.”
“I don’t think we cut staff. I think the city is growing, and I think providing quality service and quality of life costs money,” Arblaster said. “I just want to encourage all of you to not be afraid to have a conversation about the horrid dreaded word of ‘tax.’ It serves a purpose when its used well and with respect to taxpayers, but I certainly do not think that asking someone to come in and slap their name on our pool when the taxpayers of Tipp City have been paying for it for years is the way to avoid or fix a tough conversation.”
Arblaster said they could view this as a positive thing, going on to say, “We’re growing. That’s awesome. We have people here that expect a certain quality of life, and I think it’s our job to tackle those situations with integrity, and if that means having a frank conversation with taxpayers that we need more money to continue to provide this level of service for you, then that’s what we do.”
Merritt also addressed the budget, saying he agreed with Gibson on deferring the water tower maintenance contract.
“That was such a large number for something we haven’t done before, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it,” Merritt said. “It was the razor thin margin that we’re operating on and the expense of that amount that I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for it.”
Gibson also addressed the city’s budget during his comments, remarking on how they have a number of considerations they will have to think about in terms of city services and funding.
“We have to think about future stuff,” Gibson said. “We got to think about spending and staffing and do we want to cut back services, do we want to cut back people, and we have had the luxury of not having to face that at this point, but indeed, we will some day. Which, as a tax-hater I am, we have to start thinking about a renewal. We have to think about our 10-year capital improvement program that is ready to expire. We have to think about as has been discussed, not proposed, the credit that Tipp City gets for all other jurisdictions.”
Gibson suggested the council may have to consider reducing the city’s income tax credit the city gives for residents who live in Tipp City but work in other jurisdictions and pay their income taxes to those other jurisdictions.
Berbach also commented on the budget, saying the majority of it — approximately 70 percent — is staff.
“Tough conversations are meant to be had by community leaders,” Berbach said. Berbach also alluded to the city having to move toward a full-time fire and EMS department, saying, “It is coming.” Berbach said that was why she was in support of the city conducting a fire department operational study, which would examine the city’s fire and EMS needs and determine what level of staffing would be best for a city its size.
The council discussed an update to moving forward with that study during a study session earlier on Monday evening, during which Eggleston said a proposal from the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association, Inc. stated they would provide that study at a cost of approximately $17,600. The council requested other proposals to compare the costs.
In other news:
The council held the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the issuance of bond anticipation notes. The ordinance would authorize providing for the issuance and sale of notes in the maximum aggregate principal amount of $4,975,000 for the purpose of paying the costs of various public infrastructure projects.
The council also approved an ordinance the final plan/pat for phase two of the Fieldstone Place subdivision.
Public hearings were held after each ordinance’s second reading prior to the final votes being taken.
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