|It started TUESDAY NIGHT at 7:48, 12 minutes ahead of schedule, in the filled to capacity City Chambers, City Council and Administrators explained Monroe's current financial circumstance.
Mayor Mike Morris was the first to speak. He said, "We need to put an end to hearsay. Enough of he said, she said. We are here to ask for help from the community in helping decide which way we need to go financially. There are options."
Councilman Steve Tannreuther was next to speak. He said all City Council share in fiscal responsibility. We have not spent the money frivolously. We have the best streets, fire and police services. "But we have failed to be fiscally responsible and for that I take full responsibility."
Councilman Steven Campbell spoke next. "I would like to see this many people at all of our council meetings!"
He went on to speak about how some in the media had mislead readers by using giving the impression that money was misused, mishandled or theft was involved. This is not the case. All money is accounted for. Some funds were used to pay other bills. No money was stolen, this is not a legal issue. BKD's most recent reports finds no missing funds. The State of Ohio Auditor has confirmed the Audit Report and finds no money was stolen.
Councilman Campbell went on to speak about how the city had recently fixed the water fund issue. We were selling water for $1.15 and it was costing us $2.38. The city has not raised water rates in 11 years. The water budget is fixed.
Future improvements to the budget:
Mr. Campbell spoke about the city's upgrading of zoning requirements and passing additional costs on to developers.
Monroe is well positioned for the future for services and personnel.
Bill Brock, Acting City Manager reviewed the city cash flows. He detailed all major revenue and expenses. Discussed the various funds the city had and talked about budget cuts currently in place. This year we have cut street maintenance by $255,000. Without new revenues and expense reduction the city would have resulted in a $1.2m deficit.
Jay Stewart, City Finance Director reviewed proposals for new revenue. He discussed police and fire operations and revenues. Lemon Township pays fees to the city and buys 2 new police cruisers per year. Police cost $1.4m/yr and Fire costs the city $2.6m/yr for a total cost of $4.2m. Total Revenues are $3.3m so the city has to pay $892k for its share of police and fire services.
Tax Options - Property, Income
To balance our budget and maintain our current level of services the following Tax Options are available:
9.51-mil Property Tax -$437.04 per year for a $150k home
1.5% Income Tax- Current 1/2% emergency tax would be repealed.
The Monroe Community Speaks
Michael Joinen (SP) - Had many suggestions for increasing city revenues since sales taxes were going up in Ohio on July 1, he didn't want to see any more taxes if he didn't have to. Suggestions for revenue included increase residential impact fees, charged to the builder, to $1500. Charge a connect fee of $1200 to $1400 per family to tap into city water/sewer services. Increase Motel Tax and charge a Commercial Impact Fee based on $1000 per 10,000 square feet of building space.
Steve Posey, an area developer who has been outspoken about difficulty in working with Middletown, was next to speak. Mr. Posey said he had dealt with Monroe for 20 years. He felt that the city had some bad information and was not cheated. The city had overspent the budget and don't pass all costs on to developers only. Taxpayers too should be involved in this issue. He went on to say that Monroe is a good city with good people and good leadership. He asked the residents to support the leadership we have now.
Peter Mengel told council he was concerned as a senior citizen. This is the 'Biggest Mess in the City's History." He lived in Monroe for 28 years and wanted to know what was going on. Monroe spends on average 2.6 Mills more than surrounding communities. He said that tonight's full disclosure was right on track and wanted to know how we were going to keep it from happening in the future.
Patrick McKnight thanked Mr. Tannruether for taking accountability and was concerned for a lack of financial responsibility. "If we can't trust the past, how can we trust that future funds will be handled properly?" Now is the time for action.
Dave Neu, from the city fire department announced his retirement at the meeting! Mr. Neu emotionally spoke of city mismanagement, he questioned EMS funding and said "I think there was a misuse of money and funds should go to where they are supposed to."
Thomas Kidd, who is leading the effort to get the 1/2% tax credit restored by putting the issue on the ballot, also was emotionally charged. He said, "I am shocked by your arrogance to ask the citizens for more money when there is no control of money." Mr. Kidd had public city financial reports for 2001, he slammed them around and said, "Did any of you even look at it? The general fund is not in trouble. There is a 10% Year over year growth in the general fund. The city had $567k in positive money. The city is not on fiscal watch, there is no emergency. He went on to say, "its like asking my four-year old son to guard the cookie jar."
Don Maltalka spoke in support of the city after advising council to stop finger pointing. He said, "If you have to point fingers, make sure you have seven of them and point them all back at yourselves." Don addressed the residents by taking about the value of city services. Children have been saved and will be saved by our excellent fire department. I don't want any shortcuts on city services, police or fire. And we should all be willing to pay for having fulltime, professional police and fire staff. Stop whining and offer solutions and help.
Jeff Caron, a Bridle Creek Trustee said he loved this city. "Monroe means allot to me. We elected these officials, if we don't like them, vote them out." We fixed Monroe crossing, we can fix this together. I would like to see more people get together on city issues. And not only when the issue affects your pocketbook.
Karen Johnson said, "The fire and police are not the problem." She then volunteered to be on the Citizen committee.
Two retired gentlemen spoke. They said with fixed income they could not afford another property tax increase and would have to move. The city should try to live on a fixed income like me. Only spend it if you got it. Run this city like a bus.
Brian Black was upset because council interpreted a no vote on Property Tax as meaning a yes vote on Income Tax. He said to get that idea out of you minds.
Kelly Meyers said she ran a small business in Monroe. She wanted to know what would happen if we don't pass a tax or levy. She was assured that there was no fluff left in the budget and if we did not pass a tax, services would be cut.
Ms. Betty, who formerly worked in an office said she was astounded that there were no PO's issued for purchasing. Amazed by the auditors and confident of change. She does not like to see the city scandalized. "Please watch your accounting."
At the conclusion, Mayor Mike Morris gave his opinion. Council was remiss in its duty. Council should have come to the people in Year 2000 (when Police and Fire Unionized) and asked the people "How do you want to pay for the huge increase in Police and Fire costs.?" At the time there was a huge school bond issue coming up for ballot. The city felt it was important to not compete with the school issue.
We will survive with or without the new taxes. But things will operate differently.