Having decided to proceed with placing a street maintenance levy on the November ballot, Bexley City Council members and city officials have agreed to a hiring freeze for 2019, along with other budget-tightening measures.
Council voted unanimously at a July 10 special meeting to place a 3.5-mill levy on the ballot that, if approved, will replace an existing 2.5-mill permanent levy that voters passed in 2002.
According to the city's estimates, the replacement levy would generate approximately $780,000 in new funding per year, and would cost property owners an estimated additional $50 per $100,000 of property valuation.
If the replacement levy is approved, the city will not renew a 3.4-mill operating levy that voters approved in 1975 and which would come up for a vote to be renewed in 2020.
The 3.5-mill replacement levy would help the city keep up with the escalating costs of repairing and maintaining streets, Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler said.
The 2.5-mill levy generates $843,856 annually, but the cost of street maintenance is $1,480,000 each year, Kessler said.
The increase, he said, is due to inflation, rising construction costs and debt payments the city must make to cover the financing of previous street projects.
The replacement levy could also make up for the fact that the city is not guaranteed to continue to receive Ohio Public Works Commission funds that have been used for past street projects, said Bill Dorman, director of the city's Service Department.
OPWC funds often include loans the city must repay, he said.
"Every year when we apply for OPWC funds, we are also accruing more debt," Dorman said.
Councilman Tim Madison said during previous meetings held in May and June that he would not vote to place the levy on the ballot unless the city reined in its spending.
Madison said he is now comfortable with proposed budget-tightening measures for 2019 that he, Kessler and council finance committee Chairman Steve Keyes discussed during a June 29 meeting.
Madison said, however, that although he agreed to place the levy on the ballot, he has not made up his mind whether the measure is necessary.
"I am voting yes for it to go to the voters," Madison said. "I have not yet decided whether I, personally, will vote for it or against it."
In addition to no new city jobs being created in 2019, Kessler said the budget-tightening measures include not filling vacancies in existing city jobs unless they are essential to the city's operations. The city also will identify capital-improvement projects that can be delayed or scrapped altogether when the 2019 budgeting process gets underway later this year, Kessler said.
Madison, Keyes and council members Mary Gottesman, Monique Lampke, Troy Markham and Richard Sharp said they will closely scrutinize each budget item and suggest cuts to any excess spending. Council President Lori Ann Feibel said she will closely examine the budget, but believes council members have done so each year.
"I don't want it to appear as though we, as a council, have been irresponsible, because I really don't think that's the case," Feibel said.
Also at the July 10 special meeting, Kessler and council members discussed voting at a future date on a resolution that would require a certain amount of funds from the proposed replacement levy to be set aside for long-term street maintenance projects.
"There will be a cushion set aside," Kessler said, "and that cushion will help elongate and prolong the life of that levy."