MAYOR  OF ATHENS CITY

1) 2013 will bring a 10% cut to the City’s General Fund, the Governor’s budget eliminates the Local Government Funds and the Inheritance Tax. Given this serious loss in funds, how will you meet the challenge of these cuts?

Randy E. Morris:  I will propose a zero-based budget after an initial assessment of all city programs to identify any that are failing to provide adequate levels of service to the taxpayers. Thus, the first step will be to discover and eliminate wasteful spending. If further reductions prove necessary, I’ll work with staff to establish priorities based on the core responsibilities of local government. In addition, I will actively encourage small business development and establish a predictable business climate.  This new focus should result in employers hiring new employees with higher income tax revenues for the city, reducing the budget shortfall.

Paul Wiehl:  Our budget is fairly resilient due to efficiencies I implemented over the past four years. I will continue to work with Council to maintain our soft hiring freeze and use increased operational efficiencies, including controlling employee overtime costs, expanding our new green fleet policies, and implementing Phase Two of facility energy efficiency upgrades. I will evaluate possible reorganizations similar to the successful consolidation of Water and Streets departments into Engineering & Public Works. We will continue leveraging local dollars with grants for capital projects. We will look at workforce attrition and increased fees for services only as a last resort. 

 

2) What projects do you see as essential in lean economic times?

Randy E. Morris:   Lean economic times require leaders to set priorities and make tough decisions so essential services such as first responders; water, sewer and street maintenance; and snow removal continue at adequate levels. Matching funds must continue for major infrastructure projects, such as the Oxbow Bridge repairs, to avoid the loss of outside funds. In other areas the mayor must ensure the city is providing excellent service in the most efficient way possible. Under my leadership I believe belt tightening in appropriate areas will allow us to retain what makes Athens great, while developing a new attitude of fiscal responsibility. 

Paul Wiehl:   Because of their importance to economic development and our quality of life, Water and Wastewater Treatment plant upgrades, the upper Richland Avenue (Oxbow) bridge replacement, and South Richland Avenue renovations are essential projects. Future projects should also include implementing planned infrastructure for storm-water management, Columbus Road repaving, redesign of southside water storage and city-wide water line improvements. Since Water and Sewer operate on a fee structure, they are somewhat insulated from state-mandated reductions. We have set significant project money aside in anticipation of forced reductions. Our energy efficiency upgrade project is cost effective and will also continue.

 

3) Should local governments explore sharing services with other local governmental units? Please explain.

Randy E. Morris:  Yes, there are opportunities for economies of scale with some governmental services. The offer by the county to combine planning functions, for example, should not have been rejected out of hand. The county planning office included clerical services which could have freed our planner to perform more important tasks. Other such arrangements, such as obtaining GIS data from the county rather than a contractor, should be seriously considered to improve efficiency and reduce pressure on our budget. Our goal should be to not only keep the city running, but to help it flourish in these difficult financial times.

Paul Wiehl:  Most local jurisdictions, municipal and others, have been doing this already, both formally, through contract agreements or Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), and informally.  Two years ago the Mayors’ Partnership for Progress conducted a grant-funded study documenting this. Examples of shared services include cooperative agreements among local police and fire agencies, consolidated bidding for purchases of road salt, donations of vehicles by Athens, and Athens City’s gasoline purchases through OU. Shared equipment and services occur in emergencies, but the decision to establish long-tem agreements must be determined by cost-savings to Athens as well as to our partners.

 

ATHENS CITY COUNCIL – 3RD WARD

1) 2013 will bring a 10% cut to the City’s General Fund, the Governor’s budget eliminates the Local Government Funds and the Inheritance Tax. Given this serious loss in funds, how will you meet the challenge of these cuts?

Michele Papai:  When reviewing the budget and assessing need, the members of council must be aware of all revenue streams.  The majority of our city’s budget goes to staffing.  Preserving the essential services is top priority.  Reprioritizing will have to be faced with the possible loss of $1m affecting how the monies are divided.  The elected representatives should aggressively seek external grant opportunities.  As a community it is important to problem solve these issues locally with strong citizen input, which I will actively seek.

RJ Sumney:  With constituent input, along with my council colleagues, I would review the city budget for inefficiencies and redundant costs. In the meantime, let’s look at the situation as an opportunity. City council needs more proactive engagement with local small business owners planning to generate jobs and revenue that will substitute for lost state funding and create a more diversified Athens economy. I would also explore working with other Ohio college towns in developing a comprehensive state lobby effort restoring more service and safety funds marked for small communities with sizable college populations.

 

2) What projects do you see as essential in lean economic times?

Michele Papai:  I live in a neighborhood where infrastructure issues have been a concern for many years.  As our community’s budget gets tighter, we must preserve what makes Athens special and unique.  This is economically wise and says to potential students, businesses and visitors that we believe in this community and are prepared for the future.  People are moving into the city looking for viability and vitality.  We were recently included in the list of best college towns in America.  That is something to embrace and preserve!

RJ Sumney:  Council needs to develop a strategic business plan. We need to partner the tremendous brain power we have in Athens with local economic agencies to create an innovative business infrastructure. By pulling the different strands of our local economy together such as tourism, art, technology, food production, recreation and business start-up, we can maximize our growth. In addition, council should also take the lead in bettering relations with students and non-students. Providing Ohio University students a stake in Athens' future creates more loyal consumers for locally produced goods and services.

 

3) Should local governments explore sharing services with other local governmental units? Please explain.

Michele Papai:  In a community where slightly under 55% of the land is taxable, we have no choice but to share services.  A positive development is the purchase of a new ladder truck with some funds received from Ohio University.   Currently the Solid Waste Plan is being finalized and several entities have to follow rules established by Ohio Revised Code, EPA etc.  Negotiations are underway with several different localities and businesses.  Our city and county residents have much in common and sharing resources, such as public transportation, is a benefit that adds to the livability of this area.

RJ Sumney:  Athens already shares services with neighboring government units, such as Athens County and Ohio University. One project deserving further exploration is the proposed Route 50 Corridor Project, a sanitary sewer system from outside the city that would generate added revenue for Athens, eliminate the need for a separate county sewage treatment plant, direct economic growth in an area preferred by the city comprehensive plan, while protecting our environment. The proposed system would upgrade portions of the city sewage system. Exploring other shared services that are mutually beneficial, that reduce costs and generate revenue would be positive for our community.

 

 

NELSONVILLE AUDITOR

1) What are the biggest challenges to the office of City Auditor?

Garry Dickerson:  The greatest challenges will be the estimating of receipts and appropriation of those receipts coupled with the increase of expenditures growing in today’s economy.  My education and experience will be very helpful in executing the auditor’s responsibilities. To help in this area, I have multiple years managing Kroger stores in Ohio and Food Lion stores in the South.   At Goodyear I was purchasing assembly parts and scheduling production of those parts for Ford Motor Co.  I have two college degrees, one in Accounting and the other in Business Management, which will assist me in my success.

Sue Powell:  I believe there are two major challenges that face the Auditor and they both hold equal importance.  The first is to make every effort to understand the economic climate we are in at the present time both locally and at the State level and apply this knowledge to continuously project the financial outlook for our City.  The second challenge is to effectively communicate the way governmental accounting works to our residents and Council members, and how this relates to our City’s financial picture as it affects current and future projects.  This allows Council to make educated decisions.

 

2) How essential is a city auditor?

Garry Dickerson:    A city auditor is vital to any city.  Without checks and balances there could be utter fiscal chaos as well as complete breakdown in financial conditions and controls.  The Auditor’s office “fine-tunes” the fiscal condition of the city and is responsible for being the watchdog of accuracy, fairness, and honesty for the community and its money. 

Sue Powell:   The Auditor position is critical to a “city”.  This person is responsible for ALL financial transactions including but not limited to balancing the various funds that a City is legally required to maintain.  Additionally, the Auditor is responsible for preparing the annual budget for approval and keeping the city within the constraints of this budget.  This is the only person that will, and should, have the City’s financial picture available at all times to provide answers and direction to Management and Council members.  In these uncertain times, an Auditor must have the experience necessary to perform and manage these tasks. 

 

3) Could the city auditor position be consolidated with other positions in city government?  Please explain.

Garry Dickerson:  NO. It needs to be an entity of its own with no bias opinions or motives.  If in other hands there may not be effectiveness due to personal objectives, favoritism, or lack of accuracies.  There needs to be only one department to oversee financial responsibilities when dealing with authentication of records and documents, as well as dealing with payroll, bills, and other claims to the monies and receipts taken into the city funds.

Sue Powell:   No. Consolidation of this function happens generally in Townships and Villages, but not within a “City”.  Nelsonville City Charter establishes this as an independent elected position.  Nelsonville has maintained a minimum staffing level for years, so I do not see this function being consolidated. This office maintains a heavy workload.  I have discussed the staffing level with a State Auditor’s representative and have been advised that (1) a full time auditor is needed, and (2) our staffing level would be considered at the minimum.