What kind of city should Gahanna be and how much are its residents willing to pay for it?
That was the bottom line Mayor Becky Stinchcomb posed during a Nov. 20 special meeting of Gahanna City Council that was meant to give the public an opportunity to discuss the 2013 appropriations.
"There are a lot of things citizens would like to have, but no one wants to pay any more," she said. "A lot of expenses have gone up, but our tax rate hasn't changed. It's a decision we have to make."
Gahanna has a city income tax of 1.5 percent that hasn't changed since voters first approved it in 1977.
Stinchcomb said the city could operate on funds it currently generates, but Gahanna wouldn't be able to offer the amenities its residents expect.
"We have to address the revenue question," she said. "It's a conversation we have to continue to have."
Two residents addressed council about various concerns, and another provided a written letter.
Thirty-year Gahanna resident Ed Toney said he has seen the population increase from 12,000 people to about 34,000. He said he's concerned about speeding on Hamilton Road, deteriorating roads and traffic signs that are so old the speed limits can't be read.
"I'm concerned about the price of water," Toney said. "Eventually, it will force retired people like me to find water elsewhere."
Resident Eric Anderson, who lives in the Brentwood subdivision of west Gahanna, said he's also concerned about road improvements in his neighborhood and traffic patterns. He said his curbs have gone from 6 inches to 2 to 3 inches in some places.
"The traffic patterns coming into Gahanna from Stygler still stink," he said.
Anderson questioned the reason behind the arched "G" on road signs and how much that cost.
"The city is concerned about finances," he said. "How much does it cost to put the arch 'G' rather than the old generic?"
Council collectively said the reason for the arched "G" is "branding."
Stinchcomb said it didn't cost much.
"The biggest cost is in the labor," she said.
Anderson asked if the speed limit could be lowered on U.S. Route 62, between Stygler and Ridenour roads.
"Forty to 45 miles per hour is way too fast for a section (of road) that clogs horribly," he said.
Council president Brian Larick read a letter from resident Charles "Tom" Liszkay, who said parks and recreational services are essential to a functioning community.
"Our parks and recreation programs are on the front lines to promoting physical activity critical to a recruitment pool for the armed forces and for overall good health," he said. "Our swimming pools are critical assets which encourage our youth and adults to get away from their TV sets, computer screens and video games during the summer months."
Liszkay wrote that senior-citizen programs are critical for social interaction for those who are no longer in the workplace.
"Please continue the commitment to robust construction of our bike and leisure trails, infrastructure improvements in our parks and continued recreational programming," he said.
Council member Ryan Jolley said he agrees with residents about traffic problems.
"That's the No. 1 concern I have," he said.
Jolley said the city needs to look at innovative ways to improve traffic patterns.
"I'm very concerned about entryways to the city, particularly the west side," he said. "The Stygler-Agler-62 intersection needs to be studied, and alternatives (need to be) considered to improve traffic. It's a significant bottleneck coming into the city. I hope traffic patterns are something we can focus on."
Council member Beryl Anderson encouraged more residents to get involved in the process of helping define what kind of Gahanna they want.
"What are the priorities and what are the best ways to utilize and invest our monies?" she asked. "I encourage you to tap into your neighbors. The process isn't over."
Council member Brandon Wright said everyone wants a lot, but not a whole lot of money is available. He said he hopes communication could improve with the community.
"This is not the forum I thought it would be," Wright said. "We as council can look at establishing a community-relations committee."
Council member David Samuel said he lives in Hunters Ridge, where signs are worn out.
"There are plans to eliminate the problem," he said. "We have a preventative maintenance staff."
Because of the poor economy, Samuel said, capital maintenance and equipment improvements have been delayed.
"We have a mandatory reserve fund for the purpose of providing government services," he said. "We'll probably tap into that."
Council member Karen Angelou said senior citizens receive a 10-percent discount on refuse, and service director Dottie Franey said a low-income senior-citizen credit also is offered for water.
Angelou said this is a time to be fiscally conservative and that the future isn't looking bright.
"Cities and states are in desperate financial need," she said. "I think we should have more than a 25-percent reserve."
Council member Stephen Renner, who also is the director of Franklin County's sanitary engineering department, said Columbus owns the bulk of the infrastructure in central Ohio for all water and sewer.
"So he who holds the infrastructure controls the price," he said. "We don't have the density, like the city of Columbus has 288,000 customers and the city of Gahanna doesn't have that many. We still have the high cost of taking care of water-sewer infrastructure. ... Cities like Gahanna and Hilliard do the best they can."
Renner said he has seen speeders in places he never thought he would in Gahanna.
"Stygler/Agler/62 is a mess, and it's a tricky place to deal with," he said.
Larick said he hasn't deter mine what he thinks the appropriate funding reserve should be for the city. He said a 25-percent reserve is required, which is $5.6 million, and the current reserve balance is $13.5 million. Over the years, he said, the low has been $10.9 million (about two years ago), and the high has been $15.2 million. He said an objective is to debate and define what's appropriate.
Larick said he would like to minimize supplemental requests as council proceeds.
"I appreciate council's time in the process," he said. "The hard work remains in front of us. I'm sure we'll have lively conversations."
Council is scheduled to vote on the 2013 appropriations during the Jan. 2, 2013, council meeting.