Bexley City Council, in a 6-1 vote, approved the city's 2020 budget Dec. 10, slightly increasing the general fund over the current year.

Council members approved a $15.5 million general-fund budget, an increase over the 2019 budget of $14.8 million.

The budget earmarks $8.5 million for public health and safety, including $5.6 million in operating expenses for the Bexley Police Department and $2.5 million for Bexley's contract with the city of Columbus for fire and emergency medical services; and $1.3 million for building and parks maintenance.

Mayor Ben Kessler said the budget includes $221,122 for an overhaul of the Commonwealth Park West athletics fields, in north Bexley, east of North Parkview and west of North Drexel, and bordered by Commonwealth Park North and Commonwealth Park South streets. Approximately a third of the park's area on both the east and west sides is used as practice and playing fields for youth sports programs, according to the website

The overhaul of Commonwealth Park West "includes removal of 16 inches of soil, installation of under-drainage, irrigation, new soil, plantings and associated improvements and then equipment necessary to maintain the fields to a higher level," Kessler said. "Mostly, that consists of a different mower bed, overseeding equipment and a tractor to accommodate those, as well as some other miscellaneous supplies."

The parks budget includes $20,000 allotted for the purchase of two golf carts to provide transportation to and from parking near Jeffrey Mansion, 165 N. Parkview Ave., when the expansion of the facility gets underway next year, Kessler said. Although the money has been set aside for the golf carts, he said he does not anticipate having to make the purchase.

"Our feeling is that it remains to be seen whether or not that is a necessary purchase," he said. "We intend to, as we said we would, create policy around the parking lots adjacent to the mansion to allow them to be used for people who have less mobility. We think that should be sufficient."

Kessler said he and recreation director Michael Price would return to council and inform members if the demand for additional parking increases and the golf carts need to be purchased.

The budget also includes funding for four new part-time positions, which have yet to be filled, at the following hourly pay rates: volunteer coordinator, $16 to $22; code-enforcement officer, $17 to $23; front-desk operations, $15 to $20; and secretary of minutes, $13 to $17.

"The part-time code-enforcement (officer) has been called for in past budgets, but we never filled it, so it's not new money, but it's a new position," Kessler said.

Although the front-desk operations job would be for a new employee, Kessler said, the secretary of minutes is a current independent contractor who already does work for the city. The secretary of minutes keeps records of proceedings and votes at board and commission meetings.

The contractor "has requested that they be paid as a standard employee so taxes are withheld and they don't have a hardship dealing with taxes and reporting and all of that at the end of the year," Kessler said.

Kessler said the part-time volunteer coordinator would help administer a new pilot program in which the city would contract with Jewish Family Services to assist older adults and their caretakers with social service needs. Council approved a $21,000 expenditure in 2020 for the program.

The budget also includes $30,000 for the city to study whether a site near the Bexley Historical Society, 2080 Clifton Ave., can accommodate a center dedicated to recreation programming for senior citizens. Kessler said he and Price have analyzed the current cost of providing senior-citizen programming at various locations in and near Bexley because of the limited space at Jeffrey Mansion and have determined a dedicated space would save money in rental fees at external sites.

Council member Tim Madison cast the sole dissenting vote against the budget. Madison said he doesn't support a $90,000 transfer from the general fund to the recreation fund to cover costs not covered by revenue generated by recreation programming. Madison said he also opposes the hiring of additional city employees.

"Every time we hire a new employee, it affects lots of parts of our budget, including health care," Madison said.

In other business Dec. 10, council voted to table Ordinance 44-19, which would create the Lifelong Bexley Advisory Committee to recommend programs and initiatives to address the needs of residents ages 55 and older. Council member Mary Gottesman, chairwoman of council's strategic committee, said she decided not to make a motion for council to approve the legislation after Kessler, council members and residents raised concerns at the legislation's previous two readings. Among the concerns were that the proposed committee could place an administrative burden on city staff and duplicate services provided by Jewish Family Services, the Bexley Activities Club and other organizations.

"If the mayor decides later on that he wants an official group, he has a template to follow," Gottesman said.