Athens City Council finally resolved many of its standing issues during its meeting Monday, including the adoption of the new tax code and a new policy for unused vacation days for non-union employees.
The new tax code, which was criticized by the council when it was first proposed, was passed unanimously even after Mayor Paul Wiehl noted that it would likely produce a net loss in income for the city.
Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, told citizens in attendance that if they were unhappy with the new tax policy, they needed to tell their representatives at the state level because the policy was created to stay in compliance with state laws.
A new policy regarding unused vacation time for non-union employees did not get through as easily.
When Councilman Jeffrey Risner, D-2nd Ward, spoke about the ordinance, he proposed an amendment to clarify what the new policy would be, explaining during a brief discussion that employees who had accrued more than three-years’ worth of vacation time would have five years to use the time before it is forfeit.
The council then voted to suspend the rules in order to vote on it Monday because, in the words of Risner, the council was “running out of time to pass the legislation.”
The ordinance was adopted, but the vote was 6-1 in favor, with Councilwoman Jennifer Cochran, D-At Large, opposing it.
She later said she felt the ordinance would unfairly punish taxpayers who would end up having to pay employees for extra vacation days.
“This is a really generous benefits and vacations package,” Cochran said after the meeting. “We’re lucky to have such a dedicated workforce, and I recognize their right to use their vacations, but I also recognize the rights of taxpayers not to be taken advantage of when people are accruing so much extra vacation.”
The council also adopted a resolution requesting that Wayne National Forest hold back on leasing forest land to potential energy developers until it completes an Environmental Impact Statement.
The Bureau of Land Management Northeastern States District announced Nov. 2 that it would begin assessments on “approximately 31,900 acres of the Wayne National Forest for the purpose of potential oil and gas development,” according to a press release.
Through the council, the city of Athens requested that those working at Wayne National Forest consider all environmental impacts of such development, which would likely include fracking, and that they keep the city informed with their progress as they work to complete an Environmental Impact Statement.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Athens resident Abe Alassaf requested that city council not enforce policies that would prevent people such as he and his wife from hosting guests in their home through services such as Airbnb.
Alassaf, who announced late last month his plans to run for state legislature in Ohio’s 94th district, said that by renting out a spare bedroom in his home, he is paying off his mortgage.
He later estimated that Airbnb can bring in as much as $60 a night on weekends, but if the city were to enforce the restrictions against such rentals, he would have to stop because he wouldn’t be willing to “become a criminal for something so petty.”
In response, Councilman Jeffrey Risner later said that restrictions on bed and breakfasts were in place, and that it is easy enough to set up a recognized service on the specific streets where the city has permitted them.
“We have to keep in mind that neighbors often don’t love people renting out their homes like this because it brings strangers and more traffic to quiet neighborhoods,” Risner said. “We have restrictions because bed and breakfasts are required to be subjected to the transient guest tax and some other restrictions. We can’t just break the rules for this kind of thing.”