A proposed 2019 Gahanna budget is expected to include reductions in resident services when it comes up for a city council vote Monday, Jan. 28.

Residents packed the Jan. 14 council meeting after Mayor Tom Kneeland recommended cuts including closure of the Gahanna Senior Center at an annual savings of $122,393, laying off about 10 part-time parks and recreation positions at a savings of $217,319 and laying off the deputy parks director at a savings of $97,159.

His recommendations also included eliminating parks and recreation camps, completely closing the Gahanna Swim Club and opening Hunters Ridge Pool only for private programs.

Gahanna City Council finance chairman Jamie Leeseberg said he and his colleagues are close to consensus regarding reductions to balance this year's budget.

The 2019 budget proposal presented to council in October includes $2.9 million in reductions throughout the city to cover a funding gap and allow a balanced budget.

"With the unfavorable outcome of the (November) election, we are now faced with long-term funding-shortage decisions," Kneeland said in a Jan. 9 email to council about budget reductions.

Council held a public hearing on a proposal to reduce the city's credit for income tax paid to another municipality from 83.3 percent to 50 percent. A third public hearing on that topic was scheduled Jan. 22.

The 83.33 percent credit is applied to whichever is smaller -- the tax paid to another municipality or the 1.5 percent tax paid to the city.

If the tax-credit amendment is approved, council member Brian Larick said, it would generate about $3.4 million after being in place for a full year, or about $2.5 million for three-quarters of a year.

The city had proposed an income tax increase from 1.5 to 2.5 percent that failed Nov. 6 by 8,886 to 8,741 votes, or 50.41 percent against to 49.59 percent in favor.

Had it been approved, it was estimated to have generated $2.7 million in additional revenue in the first year of collection, $6.4 million in the second year and $9 million when fully implemented in the third year.

Leeseberg said the finance committee had good conversations with council members and the mayor during an executive session Jan. 14.

"We are close to a path forward," he said.

Leeseberg said changes to operation of the senior center and pool are "on the table."

He said the reductions are expected to be a combination of Kneeland's and council's recommendations.

Attendees of the Jan. 14 meeting were ready to share their thoughts.

"I heard about some of the changes that might be made in Gahanna," said Elizabeth Champlin, a Middle School West sixth-grader and member of Girl Scout Troop 678. "I'm especially upset about the cuts in the parks department."

She said she would hate for parks programs to change because of funding.

Victoria Nye said she has worked with parks and rec since she was 15.

"I know the opportunities it has provided for me," she said. "What I know is the people and long-term investment in them through pools and programs are what needs to be invested in."

Nye said her work through parks and rec helped her get into athletic training at Otterbein University.

"I think we should choose people over potholes," she said, referring to city street maintenance.

Noelle Dennison said she's an employee of the pools who was born in Gahanna has lived in the community her entire 18 years.

"Since I was alive, I was brought to the pool by my mom," she said. "The pool is like a second home to me. It taught me how to make friends."

She said growing up with the pools and everything in Gahanna has shown her the meaning of community.

Edith Hall said she is a 45-year Gahanna resident and has been involved with the senior center for 35 years.

"I'm in my 90s," she said. "It seems every time there's a crisis in the budget ... the senior center gets thrown on the block."

Hall said programming already has been cut in past reductions.

"There are more and more older people," she said. "Please don't cut away from the senior center. I enjoy two of the programs being offered. When you make your cuts, and I know money is tight, don't cut the seniors out of the picture."

Lee Tucker, chairman of the Gahanna Parks and Recreation Foundation, said he voted for November's income tax issue.

"I think you need to do it again," he said. "I don't think it was communicated well. It's a tough thing. I think the cuts are more drastic than (residents) would've thought. I think doing it again is important. I think it's important to keep the parks and rec department going. That's why you live in community."

Tucker said he lives on a deteriorating road, and he could deal with that for another year or two.

Council member Michael Schnetzer said he worked tirelessly on November's campaign and asked the audience who would join him in getting the issue across the finish line.

Most of the audience stood to show they would support the issue if it were to go back on the ballot.

One audience member asked for signatures for a possible petition to place an issue on the ballot, but she said she wasn't yet ready to comment about any grassroots effort.

City attorney Shane Ewald said it's unlikely a tax issue could be placed on the May ballot by a citizen petition, due to time constraints.

Council clerk Kim Banning said any citizen-driven petition would have to be given to her by April 18 for an Aug. 6 special election.

Larick said public discussions on the budget reductions could come during a special finance meeting yet to be scheduled, or when council meets Monday to vote on the budget. That meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at Gahanna City Hall, 200 S. Hamilton Road.

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