Athens City Council mulled over budget cuts, the future of the Economic Development Council and the details of the community pool at its Monday meeting.
The Finance and Personnel Committee started the meeting with a presentation by the city auditor on appropriations for the 2017 city budget. The auditor said budgets will be decreased or increased based on the estimated revenue for this year and last year’s financial carryover. The amount of carryover was not specified.
The decreases stem from a reduction in the carryover funds, which were $2 million in 2015 and only $1.4 million in 2016.
“I have talked to the mayor, and we are going to work on where the decreases will come,” City Auditor Kathy Hecht said. “We’ll have those numbers by next Monday because they’ll have to come out of different department funds.”
Since the pool study is over, there will be an approximately $500,000 decrease in the recreation budget, as that $500,000 was specifically added to the budget for the pool study last year. The law enforcement trust fund and the general fund are also expected to see decreases. The law enforcement fund was $2,900 last year and is yet to be determined for 2017. The general fund, according to the auditor, “needs to be cut by at least $600,000.”
The only budget segment that was named as receiving an increase was the Economic Development Council (EDC). The city, Ohio University and Athens County currently pay $55,000 a year for the EDC’s economic planning service. Late in 2016, the EDC Director Sarah Mars asked for an increase to $60,000 for the 2017 budget as the EDC seeks not only public partners but also private partners.
“The EDC is critical,” Mayor Steve Patterson said, reminding Council that it was responsible for coordinating and guiding the Athens Mold & Machine and the Stimson Round-about project.
The addition of private partners, which would increase the budget an additional $15,000 for a total of $75,000, was met with aversive curiosity from Planning and Economic Committee Chairwoman Rep. Chris Fahl, D-Fourth Ward.
“The private partners … part of me sends up a warning signal,” she said, expressing concern over the lack of transparency in past experiences with private partnerships.
City Council President Chris Knisely asked for the discussion to be postponed as the meeting was primarily focused on finances, not other specifics.
Moving to a lighter topic, Council, MSA Sports and residents discussed details of the community pool. MSA Sports, which is assisting with the strategic planning of the aquatics facility, introduced a tentative schedule to Council.
The final design of the pool is currently underway and is scheduled to be done by Feb. 24. The next step will be design development, which will take place Feb. 27-March 24, followed by the selection of a general contractor June 27-June 30.
Construction is expected to begin Aug. 25 when its predecessor, the current outdoor community pool, closes.
As MSA Sports moved to the details of the pool’s layout, residents, Council and the company discussed whether the shallow end of the pool should be 3.6 feet or 5 feet and whether to have eight or six lap lanes and an open section for other activities like water volleyball. The main concerns were children and taller individuals harming themselves when doing flip turns in the 3.6 feet of water and if the pool is large enough to incorporate eight lap lanes with the open section or if only six would work better.
Council also brought up the city’s contract with Park Mobile, which is up for renewal. Most members leaned toward going through with the renewal due to the financial benefits and efficiency of the mobile device. Council members also discussed the International Street Fair and Athens Beautification Day (ABD). ABD Director Selena Snyder informed Council the event will take place April 9 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and registration is now available for participants.
City Council will not convene Jan. 30. The next meeting will instead be Feb. 6.