Funding change closer to happening

WELLSVILLE – Village council is one reading away from amending the distribution of funds from its voter-approved half-percent income tax levy as the village looks to get out of fiscal emergency.

The second reading of the ordinance to change the distribution from its current 50/50 split between the police department and pavement of roads to a 75/25 split with more for the police department was approved by council during Tuesday’s meeting. The first reading was approved two weeks prior during the March 6 meeting.

The vote again was 4-2 with council president Randy Allmon and councilmen John Morrow, Bill Taft and Pinky Gill each voting in favor, and councilwomen Karen Dash and Rosie Gibson opposed.

The discussion continued as Allmon stated he had never stated or promised “50/50” during any finance-related meeting, also clarifying the 50/50 split was never mentioned on the ballot, which had also been mentioned in previous meetings. He expressed concern that, had no changes been made, the village would have to lay off employees.

“I don’t want the mayor to have to lay off anybody,” Allmon said. “If we don’t change this, in my opinion, I think we might have layoffs. … That is the last thing in the world that I want. These people have families, and we could always change that back.”

Dash, however, re-emphasized her stance that the 50/50 split is what the village campaigned for, saying she believes the 50/50 split should remain.

“We had the confidence of 299 people that wanted to vote for it, and we’re making a difference in the deficit,” Dash said. “It might take us a little bit longer, but we are making a difference. We need to think of the people that voted for it that we took their vote in confidence that we would make it 50/50.”

Gibson, who also voted against the change, expressed her support for Murray and council’s attempts to get out of fiscal emergency, but added she was not comfortable with the change.

“I don’t feel bad that I voted no because I think about what my father, God rest his soul, always said: ‘Let your word be your bond,'” Gibson said. “I’m sitting up here, and I’ve even gone to church and said ‘If you vote for this levy, I’ll do everything that I can,’ and now these figures have changes, and I just couldn’t rightfully do that because I keep going to back to your word is your bond.”

Allmon has encouraged residents to attend meetings and ask questions or express concerns about council’s plans to change the allocation of funds, and on Tuesday, some residents provided feedback.

The first to speak during public comment was 18th Street resident Judy Saracco, who asked for clarification on how the change is going to work and why it needs done.

Saracco’s concern was residents may not want to vote for another levy after it had been campaigned as a 50/50 split, but now will be changed to 75/25.

“My thing is, if you do it and switch it back, I didn’t know about that, that it could be switched back,” Saracco said. “I’m just worried that no one is going to vote for a levy again. The mistrust is, like, rampant. Everybody is really upset about, and it wasn’t how it was presented.”

Mayor Nancy Murray explained as the village is under fiscal emergency, representatives from the governor’s office, state treasurer’s office, state attorney general’s office and state auditor’s office visit the village periodically to see how the village is working to get out of the emergency, and officials appear during the village’s Financial Planning and Supervision Commission meetings on a monthly basis.

As she had stated two weeks prior, Murray said the change was at the auditors’ recommendation since the two police salary levy funds are paid out of the general fund, which are in deficits. The street funds are not. The split could be changed back to 50/50 at the discretion of council in the future.

“The auditors recommended as temporary, so that we can fix the five-year forecast, with that and selling some properties, it’s going to bring the general fund out of the deficit,” Murray said. “It doesn’t have to be a permanent 75/25. It’s just to help us get out of fiscal emergency for the time being.”

Murray also explained the commission reduced the village’s spending to 85 percent from compared to a year ago until the village can present a financial recovery plan that will be approved by the commission.

Murray also stated the village is continuing to work companies at the Wellsville Intermodal Facility to see if they would be able to help pay for the replacement of the village roads damaged by truck traffic, whether it’s possibly by donating money for five years or the possibility of going to court over the fines.

“In most other communities, the industrial companies will come forward and help their community,” Murray said. “They’ll build parks, they’ll build pools, they’ll fix roads that their trucks come in that they destroy. We absolutely get no help.”

Murray also said the nine companies at the facility collectively paid $30,000, all of which went to the village as a result of an ordinance passed in a previous administration. She added that each concrete pad that had been damaged or destroyed cost the village about $200,000, meaning the intersection would cost $600,000.

She said that county engineer Bert Dawson will be in the village Friday to assess the road conditions to see if the load limits need to be lowered.

Also expressing concern was Nevada Avenue resident Kenny Grimm, who was against the funding change.

“We elected you to work with this village, but just be warned that if you go behind your word on what’s going on now, it’s not going to look good come any other levies, come election time or anything else,” Grimm said.

Grimm also asked about the village obtaining a SIB loan to help fund the pavement of the roads, but Murray explained as long as the village is in fiscal emergency, it will not qualify for any loans.

Murray also defended council and fiscal officer Hoi Black, who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, calling these village officials fiscal-minded.

“I don’t want us to be in fiscal emergency five to ten years,” the mayor said. “We can’t even get a loan until we get out of it.”

Maple Avenue resident Gary Adkins also voiced his opinion regarding lowering weight limits on the streets.

“If you drop that, how many more do you think are going to come in? A lot more than that,” Adkins said.

Murray had also stated that a recent survey conducted by the state showed 617 trucks went through the state route, and that replacing the route would cost $1.2 million.

Council has one final reading remaining, which if approved at the next council meeting will result in the ordinance’s adoption. That meeting is scheduled 6 p.m. April 3 at Village Hall.