MOUNT VERNON — Finances and personnel topped Mount Vernon City Council's agenda on Monday night.
Auditor Terry Scott's financial update was glum. Through Oct. 26, the city faces a $2.3 million shortfall between estimated revenues and actual collections.
“There isn't much to be done to diminish this number by the end of the year,” he said. “It likely will go up.”
Looking ahead to 2021, Scott said that a local reliable source says the financial picture will not get any better.
“2021 won't be worse, but it won't get us out of the hole,” he said.
In July, council passed a modified tax budget estimating 2021 revenue from the city's tax levies. Scott said that he will take a look at those estimates and might end up revising them, something he has never had to do.
“Where we are is where we should consider charting ourselves for next year,” he said, adding that he did not want to set up the city to be in an unsustainable position.
Positive financial news came in the appropriation of $604,283 received from Round 3 of CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) money. Council allocated $504,283 toward personnel costs; the remaining $100,000 will go toward assisting small businesses hit by COVID-19.
Unlike the previous $10,000 that council contributed to the Area Development Foundation's emergency business loan program, Scott said the city will retain and distribute the $100,000. The ADF will continue to handle the paperwork and screening of applications.
In explaining the decision to retain the money, Scott said, “When you sub-grant to other entities, you have to be the policeman to make sure they handle and distribute the money correctly.”
The city cannot use CARES money to offset lost revenue. It can use it to offset COVID-related expenses such as personal protective equipment, safety forces' personnel cost, erecting protective shields at work stations, and small-business economic relief. The city must return any unused money at the end of the year.
In the area of personnel, council members again discussed Law Director Rob Broeren's request to hire another assistant law director. Broeren previously said that another assistant will free him up to do more civil work for the city and save money by reducing outside legal contracts.
Council member Julia Warga did not question the need for the additional assistant, but she was concerned about whether the city can afford the position. She questioned whether the city could get by with two assistant foremen rather than three under the planned departmental restructure, freeing up that money for the assistant law director.
Scott said the makeup of the funding depends on which foreman position is put on hold. He also said that eliminating a foreman position “may not necessarily get you to where you want to go.”
Council ultimately gave a second reading to legislation authorizing a second assistant law director at a salary of $50,000 a year.
Council also waived the third reading on two pieces of legislation relating to the departmental restructuring and adopted both pieces after removing the emergency clause. Removing the emergency clause means the legislation takes effect 30 days after the mayor signs it.
Safety-service Director Richard Dzik said the 30 days gives the administration time to go through the Civil Service Commission process and allow a sunset period for positions.
The resolutions reorganize the streets, cemetery, buildings and land, and parks departments into the Department of Public Works and set compensation for supervisory personnel. A director, paid 25% each from the cemetery and street funds and 50% from the general fund, will head the department at a salary of $70,000. Three assistant directors will each receive $58,000 a year:
— The streets/stormwater assistant director will be paid from the street fund.
— The parks/recreation assistant director will be paid from the general fund.
— The buildings/cemetery assistant director will be paid 25% from the cemetery fund and 75% from the general fund.
Other council business conducted on Monday includes:
— Accepting a proclamation declaring November as National Epilepsy Awareness Month
— Approving fund transfers, bill payment, and appropriations. In addition to the CARES money, appropriations include $338,476 in grant money from the Ohio Public Works Commission for the East Chestnut/North Main Street intersection improvement and $1,064.01 Paul Acitelli raised for COVID-19 relief. Of the $1,064.01, $500 will go to Food for the Hungry; the remainder will go to the Foundation at Knox Community Hospital to assist with COVID-related medical costs.
— Approved the appointment of Ernest “EJ” Pido Jr. to the Knox County General Health District
— A second reading of a resolution appointing Emily Morrison to the Civil Service Commission
— Adopting legislation paying Kenyon College engineering interns $10 an hour
— Approving a settlement agreement for a grievance filed by the firefighters and paramedics bargaining unit
In recognition of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, representatives from the law director's domestic violence unit presented information on the city's domestic violence cases. Assistant Law Director Brittany Whitney, who heads up the city's Domestic Violence Special Prosecution Unit, said that if there's one thing she wanted council to know, it's that “at it's core, domestic violence is about power and control.”
Mount Vernon Police Chief Robert Morgan told council that he has met with representatives from the Knox County Sheriff's Office, the Knox County Emergency Management Agency, and law director Broren to discuss potential problems with the Nov. 3 General Election.
Noting that the consensus is that Knox County will not see problems on Election Day like big cities might see, Morgan said there will be extra patrol officers walking the city and showing a presence in polling places. He said a bigger concern is the aftermath of the election and possible protests.
“Again, the consensus is that the odds of things getting extremely out of hand are low, but we are going to be vigilant,” he said, adding that thus far, no groups have said they are coming to Mount Vernon to create a disturbance if their candidate does/does not win.