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Lowell officials, residents talk over 2-mill levy

October 23, 2012
By Sharon Bopp ( , The Marietta Times

LOWELL-About 30 residents were in attendance at a town hall meeting held at the Lowell-Adams Volunteer Fire Department Monday to discuss the village of Lowell's financial issues and the 2-mill levy that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

"This is an overview of the last several years and how we have gotten here," said Rick Coley, village council member.

Coley called attention to a handout that offered four reasons to support the upcoming 2-mill levy-keeping the village's historical status, the village within local control and possession, and the street lights on, and maintaining the village's appearance via Buell Island Park, the pool, and village streets and buildings.

If the village of Lowell were to declare bankruptcy, "It would get absorbed into the township and Washington County takes control," Coley said.

"It's something we don't want to explore," said David Pitzer, Lowell mayor.

Lowell's general fund has been negatively impacted by an overpayment the Washington County Auditor's Office made to the village, plus a change in the methodology the auditor's office now uses for property tax allocation, noted Coley.

When the auditor's office found the error, the village of Lowell was told "We paid you too much money and we want it back," said Coley.

"How many (towns in Washington County) are having to pay that back?" asked David Chichester, 52, of Lowell.

"We are one of the hardest hit," said Pitzer. Other hard hit communities include New Matamoras, Macksburg and Lower Salem.

Chichester suggested getting a group of the communities affected by the overpayment error together and going to talk to the Washington County Auditor's Office.

Due to cuts to the local government funds Washington County will receive in 2013, the village of Lowell anticipates receiving $11,686.74 in those funds after repayment deductions, compared to the $45,709.47 it received in 2011.

To balance Lowell's general fund budget for 2013 would require an additional $44,873.63, Coley told the group of residents gathered for the meeting.

Lowell officials began addressing budget shortfalls this year, as the mayor and village clerk gave up their salaries from March 14 to year end and council members also contributed their salaries.

In addition, the police department and park budgets were cut and the village's one full-time employee was shared with the village's board of public affairs.

"The entire village is running on only $53,790.65 this year," Coley said.

Without further cost cutting and revenue generating measures, the village of Lowell will have a "cash balance going into 2014 of $394.81," said Coley. That figure compares to a $13,391.64 cash balance going into 2013.

Possible options for covering Lowell's 2013 budget shortfall were presented to town hall meeting attendees. Village clerk Taten Ayers called this combination of options a "reasonable, balanced approach."

First is a 2-mill levy on the approximately 325 homes in Lowell that, if passed on the Nov. 6 ballot, would bring in about $9,437.96 for the village. The Washington County Auditor's Office would take 3 percent of those levy monies for administrative fees, Coley said.

Chichester saw an advantage to the 2-mill levy.

"With the levy we can control 97 percent of our investment," he said.

Sharon Galati, 59, of Lowell also liked the fact that the village's "absentee landlords would have to pay" to help the village's budget shortfalls.

The village's balanced approach also includes seeking additional donations from community organizations and residents, as well as a review of all the general fund's line items to look for additional savings or cuts.

Oil and gas leases on town owned property could be sought too, said Coley.

The village might also pursue a change to the local government allocation methodology for municipalities.

A possible income tax ordinance was also presented to those at the town hall meeting.

"That would be a hit to the 10 working people in town," Galati said.

"Probably half the town is on some kind of assistance," she added.

John Paul, 72, of Lowell said he favored passage of the 2-mill levy over the idea of an income tax ordinance.

"That income tax would be here forever," he said.



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