Village Square, October 2012

Submitted by John Starcher, President Pro Tem, Village Council

It’s hard to believe the Presidential Election is just around the corner. And it can’t get here soon enough. 

It seems like this election season is just about the worst ever. I can’t remember an election so divisive as this one. Lifelong friends are becoming enemies; “unfriending” each other on Facebook because of differences in political opinions; refusing to speak to each other on the street, and even more bizarre actions – it’s crazy. Not to wish my life away, but November 7th cannot get here quickly enough.

In the midst of all this vitriol, I was very blessed this past week to witness a contrasting set of behaviors. I was privileged to watch our community come together in support of our own Jackie Bird as she mourned the loss of her brother Tom. 

Tom’s memorial service was beautiful. The church was packed, and Denny Bird delivered a eulogy that resulted in more than a few tears. Also more than a few laughs, in typical Denny Bird fashion. After the service, we all went and stood in the cold rain for the graveside ceremony. The thermometer had topped 80 a mere twenty-four hours prior, so this was a stunning contrast of weather as we huddled together in the bone-chilling rain to offer Tom one final farewell. After the ceremony we gathered in the welcoming comfort of St. Joseph Church basement, and broke bread together as a community. I was warmed – not only by the delicious food, but also by the comfort of being reminded once again what a wonderful area in which we live. It was a bittersweet combination of sadness over the loss of Tom, and appreciation of my community. This town is special, and it is the people here who make it that way - people who always come together in time of need to help and support each other, and it’s beautiful. 

If you are a resident of the Village, your Village Council works pretty hard to support you as well. In order for us to continue to do our jobs effectively, we need a little help from you, though. When you enter the voting booth next week, you will be asked to approve a replacement 2-mil property tax levy. I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how I was going to “sell” this to you via this article. I have decided to just to give it to you straight, present the facts, let you decide, and hope for your support.

The residents of the Village of Marblehead approved a 2-mil levy sometime in the mid-to-late sixties. It generated around $14,000 per year at the time, and the money went into the general fund to help with everyday expenses. It was not a continuing levy, so it had to be renewed every five years. The Village residents have supported its renewal on a regular basis. Taxes are complicated things, and can be very hard to understand. To put it simply, a tax levy generates a fixed dollar amount of revenue each year, based on the tax valuation of the area at the time of passage of the tax. When property values escalate, each individual’s contribution to the overall levy amount can actually get smaller.

In 2003, your Village Council asked for your approval of a replacement levy. The Village’s finances were in pretty rough shape at the time. The new levy was still 2-mils, but replacement would yield around $120,000 annually, based on the tax valuations of property in the Village at the time. Thankfully the levy was approved by the voters, and the Village saw an immediate improvement of its financial health. In 2008 we asked you to renew the levy, and you were kind enough to do so. The levy continued generating around $120,000 each year because the revenues were still based on the 2003 tax valuation.   

This year, we are asking to once again replace the levy. If you agree to do so, the levy will generate a little over $200,000 each year. “Why do you need more money?” you may ask.  It’s simple.  Things keep getting more expensive. The Village faces the same challenges that all businesses do:  rising insurance premiums, higher utility costs, fuel prices, labor costs, and even office supplies keep getting more expensive every year.  Because we are a government entity, we are required by law to have a balanced budget.  (Insert joke of choice about the federal deficit here, please. The Fed plays by a completely different set of rules) 

Along with rising costs, we are staring down some potential losses in other areas of income. Local Government Funds – money we get from the State of Ohio – are, and have been on the chopping block for the past several years at the state level. To date we have not seen a major decrease, but the threat hangs constantly and ominously over our heads each year like the sword of Damocles. Submerged land lease revenues may substantially decrease, or disappear altogether as the courts sort out the waterfront property ownership issue. Those two items alone have accounted for $40,000 to $50,000 of our annual monies received each year for the past five years. This year, together, they have generated just $26,000 so far – a good example of what an unpredictable source of money they can be.

We have tried our best to be good stewards of your money, and I think overall we’ve done a pretty good job. Drive through our town and you’ll see plenty of evidence of the work we’ve done with it – the improvements at Radar Park (the rear portion of the building will house all Village records by the end of next year) James Park looks as good or better than ever; the ambitious road paving projects undertaken in the past five years; the new fence at the Village cemetery; snow plows; a new backhoe; late model police cruisers, and even the maintenance and upkeep of our buildings. 

We have also worked very hard to bring our salary levels up to par with similar job positions in our surrounding areas. I’ll be honest – our wages were a joke for a very long time. I’m actually amazed sometimes at the high level of quality of many of the employees we maintained over the years. I was also never shocked to see a good employee leave for a similar job elsewhere that paid much better. We have slowly been upgrading pay scales over the past several years to become more competitive, and I think it shows in our current employee retention rates. We’re not quite there yet, but we are certainly on the right path.

We have quite a few projects on our wish list, and one of the biggest is to finally repair Alexander Pike. We’re still waiting on a long-range plan decision for a potential water line installation on this road, but we are anxious to finally make this much-needed improvement.

Your approval of the replacement levy will help us to get where we want to be, and where we need to be financially. It will help us to maintain what we feel is an excellent level of service to our community. As the chairman of the village finance committee, I welcome your questions. As the President Pro-Tem of Council, I encourage your support of this levy. And here’s the best part:  if the tax valuation of your property hasn’t changed, then the amount you contribute towards this levy won’t change. Replacing the levy simply allows us to have the benefit of all the new or improved properties in the Village paying their fair share. Please help us to continue serving you by supporting the levy. 

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