Tough decisions pending to balance city budget

by Peter Jakey-Managing Editor

It’s budget time in the city of Onaway and members of the Onaway City Commission are working with city staff to approve a balanced budget by April 1.

They met in workshop session Wednesday morning, and with a projected deficit of $50,000 for the fiscal year 2013-14, they will be seeking the input of taxpayers to assist in making what will probably be some very tough decisions.

Residential and commercial taxpayers are going to be receiving surveys in the mail next week detailing the current state of city finances and asking for input in the direction and steps that need to be made in the coming months.

The city is reporting a loss of $80,000 in operating capital since 2008. The majority of general fund revenue comes from property taxes, “collected locally, and sales tax, provided by the state,” the Jan. 14 letter states.

Five years ago, the city brought in more than $420,000 from those revenue sources. They are projected to total just $340,000 in the upcoming fiscal year.

The city has no reason to believe the figures will bounce back to pre-2008 levels. “This is not sustainable,” the letter authored by the city commission states.

Hence, the tough questions and decisions facing taxpayers, and the spotlight is on the Onaway Police Department again. Last year The city spent between $75,000 to $80,000 on the one-man police department, “and next to nothing on the preservation and maintenance of its 11-plus miles of roads.”

The police department has faced the budget-cutting ax several times over the years, but there was strong public support to keep a law enforcement presence.

Included with the letter are three survey questions, and are as follows:

• Keep the Onaway Police Department, even if doing so means allowing some of the city streets to return to gravel. Do not raise taxes.

• Eliminate the Onaway Police Department, eliminate the budget deficit, and invest remaining dollars in streets. Do not raise taxes.

• I would support a tax increase of up to four mills that would allow the city to both keep the Onaway Police Department and invest in streets.

The commission wants taxpayers to check one of the questions and return the survey by Feb. 1.

“The survey is no way binding, but will provide valuable input as we prepare to make these tough decisions,” the letter states. “The surveys can be returned anonymously in the envelope provided, but only the originals (which feature the city seal) will be considered.”

If there is a tax increase, it would cost $50 annually for a property worth $25,000 and $150 annually for property work $75,000, and so on.

In other business:

• Commission appointments will remain the same, and are as follows:

Deputy mayor: Bernie Schmeltzer.

Board of review: Schmeltzer, Chuck Abshagen and Jessie Horrocks.

Onaway Area Fire Department joint administrative board: Gary Wregglesworth and Abshagen.

Onaway Area Ambulance Service joint administrative board: Schmeltzer.

Contract negotiations: Wregglesworth and Abshagen.

Planning commission: Ron Horrocks.

•Residential garbage collection bids were due to city hall Wednesday. As of Wednesday’s morning city commission meeting, only two bids had been received.

• The city has placed “no snowmobiles on the sidewalks” signs out on the west end of town to hopefully curtail snowmobiling on the sidewalks.

• The board dismissed to closed session for the purpose of collective bargaining.