By Angie Baldelomar
The Oberlin City Council discussed the proposed 2017 budget at a special meeting Monday and again during its regular meeting Thursday. They approved the budget for publication on the Thursday meeting.
The first drafts presented by City Treasurer Steve Zodrow suggested a 3 percent increase on franchise fees. However, council members said, with the possible hospital property-tax increase, that might be too much for Oberlin residents.
Mr. Zodrow said that the budget would only work if the city accepts the suggested increase and if the county helps with the airport.
Mr. Zodrow showed the council figures from other towns’ that are using a franchise fee to generate money for the general fund. Many towns use their utilities to get more revenue, he said.
Councilman Brandon Oien asked how long it had been since the city adjusted the electric rate, and Mr. Zodrow said that the city had lowered the rate from .1375 to .1355 cents per kilowatt-hour rate last year . This meant a revenue loss of $70,000, he said.
The members noted that that was the same amount they needed this year for the budget to work, especially with The Gateway building to maintain, so they started considering the option of bringing the electric rate up to last year’s level, which ultimately did not happen.
Councilman Josh Williby said that one of the future discussions should be about how to sustain The Gateway building. He posed the question of whether it was worth $70,000 to keep it open, especially with the budget getting tighter and tighter each year.
Councilman Jim Marchello suggested to look into whether it might be better to have electric power provided by a third party rather than by the city.
“We need to find a way to provide a cheaper service to the people,” he said, adding that he knows this won’t be possible to do for this year, but that it should be something to consider for later.
Mr. Oien reminded the others that the council still needs to hire a city administrator, which means they have to allocate a salary estimate in the budget for the position. Members agreed that taking money from the electric fund and moving it to the general fund was the best choice for now.
After a discussion, the council approved the publication of the budget without the 3 percent franchise fee increase and with the move of electric fund to the general fund.
The city has to publish the budget at least 10 days prior to the final budget hearing before the deadline on Aug. 15. This prompted the council to move the Aug. 4 meeting to Thursday, Aug. 11 to give time for the publication before the hearing.
The story was published on page 3A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on July 27, 2016.