Members of Jackson City Council, specifically the members of the city's Budget and Finance Committee, have met on numerous occasions recently in an effort to close a projected hole in the general fund ranging from $1.2 to $1.4 million. This shortage comes from a State Auditor's Office finding stating the city can no longer use right-of-way utility rental fees to fund the Jackson Police Department (JPD).
The Budget and Finance Committee was set to meet once again at 6 p.m. Monday evening, Feb. 12 prior to the start of the regular council meeting at 7 p.m. Though that meeting was ultimately cancelled, one was held in the morning hours Monday, which makes the second such meeting in a matter of days, with the other having been held Thursday evening, Feb. 8.
During the regular council meeting Monday night, Budget and Finance Committee Chair Jeff Elliott stated the meeting held earlier that morning built a bit more on the one held last week, chiefly with regard to three choices currently on the table for the city. The first choice, Elliott said, involves no city income tax with numerous layoffs, which would mainly affect the JPD. This option, he said, "amounts to an absolute disaster for our police department." The second option mentioned by Elliott would include both a one-percent income tax and layoffs, and the third would involve an income tax and a severance incentive plan for qualified employees.
Elliott described the second option as "the cheapest" but perhaps "not the wisest," while he said the third option was conversely "not cheap" but "maybe the wisest."
Overall, Elliott said the third option is preferred by a majority of council and by members of the JPD, which he said presents a dilemma.
"The problem is, how do you justify paying more for the more expensive plan when you're using public funds?" Elliott asked.
As this option has proven to be the most popular amongst all involved, Elliott said a resolution was on Monday night's agenda which pertained to hiring the Columbus-based law firm of Fishel, Hass, Kim, Albrecht and Downey, LLP in order to consult with the city and help develop a severance incentive plan for those qualifying general fund employees. The first question that must be answered, however, is whether or not such an incentive plan is legal and whether or not it would need to be offered to all city employees.
Monday morning's meeting, Elliott said, resulted in "a very good discussion," and even generated several new ideas, though these were not elaborated upon. Though he said he recognizes the importance of taking action quickly to remedy the financial woes of the city, Elliott also stated it is equally important for the city to "get this right."
Though the area is still very much in the thick of winter, Mayor Randy Heath took the time Monday night to address a concern on the minds of many parents in the city in the face of the ongoing financial crisis - that of the city's summer recreation program.
"As long as I can remember, the City of Jackson has sponsored the summer recreation program for our kids," Heath said. "Because of our current financial situation, there have been concerns raised regarding whether or not we could continue to do that this summer."
Heath said there is a group of parents in the city that do not want to see the program fail and would like to carry on in the event of the city being unable to. On average, Heath said the program serves around 300 boys and girls. As interest has been expressed by this group of parents, the mayor explained advertisements have been released as per usual in an attempt to get area youth to sign up for the summer program. On the flip side, Heath also said he has been asked by others how the city is even considering funding recreation given the current budget issues.
For what it's worth
In addressing the troubles facing the city, specifically with regard to the JPD, Heath said there was a situation that weighed heavily on him over this past weekend. While in Columbus this past Saturday, Heath said he learned about the shooting death of two Westerville police officers during a radio news broadcast.
"I found out that three to four miles from where I was, two brave and valiant police officers had been gunned down in cold blood," he stated. "I just sat there frozen and empty. The lead story on the national news was right there beside me."
Heath said residents of larger areas such as Franklin County are aware that such tragic events can happen.
"You say, 'that happens in Columbus, not here'," he stated. "They can't say that anymore."
Next, Heath told council his focus shifted to Jackson and its current plight involving the JPD.
"Here we are trying to decide if our police officers are worth anything at all," he said. "Maybe we don't think about these dangers, only what is best for us."
Since 1911, Heath said the local police force has been present to protect the community. He questioned whether the community can "be just as safe without them." Regarding the income tax issue, the revenue from which would be used to fund the city's police force, Heath said the matter at hand equates to one penny out of every dollar, a rate which is higher for 87 percent of the state's population and a rate which is 33 percent lower, on average, than the other 73 cities in Ohio with less than 10,000 residents.
"This is an amount in which every penny will almost assuredly be matched one-for-one, if not more, by non-residential income," Heath said. "Meaning, the citizens will get more than twice as much police coverage than they actually pay for."
In the end, Heath said the issue comes down to one question: What are the men and women of the JPD worth?
Following his comments, Councilman Jon Hensler addressed Heath and said, while he shares the same sympathy for the Westerville police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty, he did not agree with tying that situation into the one currently facing Jackson.
"Personally, I kind of feel that it is a little shallow and beyond the pale for you to use the death of those two officers to try to drive your point home on the city income tax," Hensler said.
Heath offered an apology if his comments were misconstrued or out of line.
The discussion regarding the city's finances is set to continue Thursday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m., when the Budget and Finance Committee will meet again.
Posted: Monday, February 19, 2018
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Wow, the Mayor apologized! Truth is, he knew exactly what he was doing and was called on it! What the mayor should do if he was serious about being sorry is resign. This city deserves a Mayor that is not callous and calculating while trying to get his own way. True Democrat, tax and spend!