Bexley's $14.2 million 2018 municipal budget was approved Dec. 19 but not without some debate over a pair of issues.

Prior to City Council's 6-1 vote, members debated the necessity of contributing to a regional special-improvement district and hiring an additional arborist to maintain the city's trees.

Council President Tim Madison, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said hiring an arborist is not a good use of taxpayer money because the city already has three full-time arborists in the service department.

"I think there are shared responsibilities that could happen within (the recreation and parks department) and within service," he said. "Our biggest expense is always employees."

The arborist will be hired at an annual salary of $55,000 to $65,000, depending on how the position's benefits are structured, Mayor Ben Kessler said.

"The logic behind it is to maintain our parks at a higher standard than they're currently being maintained," Kessler said. "You take a stroll through Commonwealth or Jeffrey or Havenwood, you'll see that we're maintaining our parks to a very utilitarian standard. It's very basic -- hacking off broken limbs. Our guys are very good at what they do, but they're stretched."

Service director Bill Dorman said the additional arborist is needed to assist in emergency situations when the city must call in staff to attend to fallen trees and limbs at all hours of the day and night, to work with residents on a city program that encourages property owners to plant more trees and for educational programs at the Bexley Public Library.

"They're the ones who are taking trees off houses, wherever they've fallen," he said. "It happens in summer and spring quite a bit."

Deneese Owen, chairwoman of council's finance committee, said she's concerned about the cost of hiring an arborist but thinks the position is necessary.

"The only reason that I am OK with this position is faith in what Bill Dorman is telling us is that his existing staff of arborists has more work than they can feasibly manage," she said.

Steve Keyes, chairman of council's zoning and development committee, said he's in favor of hiring an arborist to maintain Bexley's quality of life.

"We are one of the only urban arboretums in the country," he said. "If you do not invest to protect that investment, to protect that competitive advantage, you're going to fall behind."

Council member Richard Sharp said although an additional arborist is not a necessity, the money to fund the position could be well-spent.

"Electrical issues have been problems in the past for a lot of residents, and by having an extra arborist, (the city) can be on top of the tree health in our community," Sharp said. "Those measures can reduce potential (power) outages during storms in the future."

Council members also debated the return on investment of allotting $18,000 in the 2018 budget to participate in the East Main Street special-improvement district, which extends from Gould Road on the west and Barnett Road on the east. The SID is an initiative of the Eastmoor Civic Association and Bexley Block Watch and will provide civilian employees to canvass the area, remove litter and identify criminal activity and report it to police.

Council member Mary Gottesman said she has heard frequent complaints from residents about the city joining the SID.

"That's the most common negative comment I get," she said. "Residents say they don't understand why that much money is given to another organization."

The purpose of the SID is to reduce crime and enhance the business community along the East Main Street corridor, especially the area to the east of Gould Road, Kessler said.

"The cost of $18,000 is roughly a ratio-correct cost per street mile being covered," he said. "So we're paying a proportionate share of the amount of service that we're receiving."

Bexley police Chief Larry Rinehart said he has concerns about how the SID employees would be vetted and trained, but he's interested to see how the program will turn out.

"We're going to take a wait-and-see attitude," he said. "They have offered to include me in that (training) process."

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