GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis City Commission gathered with a roughly full public attendance Tuesday in order to hear concerns with the city’s 2017 operating budget before passing its first reading of the budget.
Members of the public have asked why the city has seemingly lost so much money over the years. According to city officials, much of the funding has been lost due to cuts in state funding and tax law changes. According to budget records, in 2011, the city had access to $3.97 million to operate departments. Funding dropped to roughly $3.93 million in 2012. It fell further to about $3.55 million in 2013.
Officials anticipate the city will bring in its lowest revenues in 2017 at roughly $3.008 million if something does not soon change with revenue generation. Currently, with municipal income taxes, the city brought in roughly $1.5 million from individuals working in Gallipolis for the 2016 year. That number has remained arguably steady with a total of $1.59 million being tallied in 2011. The city estimates its general fund revenue will be $3.008 million for 2017.
City officials expressed what they felt is a necessity to pass a one percent income tax for the coming 2018 year in order to continue maintaining city services.
“The avenues for the city are very limited in what they can do,” said Steven Wallis, city commissioner.
The city is able to enact a property tax and income tax in order to collect revenue. It is not able to enact a sales tax as per Ohio law. City commissioners in the past have felt that a property tax would be too heavy upon the public so they moved forward with income tax efforts.
The city officials, including the city manager and auditor, have cut pay in order to accommodate budget concerns.
“Our police department is working at half staff,” said Wallis. “Doing more work than they have in the past. That’s not the only department doing that. It’s across the board. We’re at the lowest staff our employees have ever been to my knowledge ever in my lifetime and I would say everyone’s lifetime that’s in this room. We are asking more from them (workers) and they are giving it to us. It’s the job of the commission to get the revenues in that is necessary for the city to operate. We’re stuck with this avenue.”
An area resident named Nick Morgan asked why the city had taken so many cuts in the past and Wallis answered much of that was due to state cuts. The city had attempted to blend and cut part-time workers throughout the years in order to make up for expenditure losses.
Morgan answered that if funding was returned to the city he would like to see the city invest money in marketing the community to attract further business. City officials agreed and said they were working with the county government in order to do so and looking at other options.
In order to cut down on expenses, the county over the last year had instilled programs where low level crime offenders would work off sentencing to the city through maintenance projects. The city has also been cracking down on dilapidated structures in the municipality by enacting law that would penalize property owners which did not keep properties up to code in order to attract more businesses.
The tax issue has previously failed twice. Gallipolis residents voted down the municipal income one percent tax increase, 598 to 303, during the May primary last year, and again, 725 to 652, during the 2016 November election. City commissioners are still discussing whether a potential special election will be held for the tax issue as a primary will not be held due to lack of community candidates to vie for spots in a county-wide primary.
Reportedly, the city will no longer be putting funding towards ball programs in the parks in favor of maintaining the city pool. City commissioners also said during the meeting that city police calls were beginning to stack up due to workloads and rising crime.
“When someone calls for an officer we expect that you expect there to be one to answer,” said Wallis. “That is starting to get a lot harder to do … We have nine full-time officers and that includes a chief and detective.”
Officials have said they are concerned that they are unsure they can make further cuts to policing equipment and personnel without a drop in “services” to city residents. The income tax money would be placed in a special fund solely for Gallipolis Police Department spending, according to past city commission meetings.
Gallipolis City Commissioners previously voted to amend the ballot language earlier which would have said “A majority affirmative vote is necessary for passage. Shall the Ordinance providing for a one percent (1%) increase on income for public safety operations and capital expenses … be passed?” Capital expenses was struck from the language of previous passage attempts.
Officials said in the meeting that any money accrued from the tax would be spent on safety issues for the city and that would hopefully free up other money in the general fund to be used for other services.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.