Council member Gerri Harbison

By Gerri Harbison

May 8 has come and gone, and a huge THANK YOU to those who voted for the Fire Levy. As has been discussed, the levy was needed to continue with our Montgomery mission of “Providing Superior Services” for our residents. There were a number of comments heard from residents, and I would like to address a few here in this column.

“Why don’t we just use money in the General Fund? There is plenty in the fund.”

While it may seem like the City has “a lot of money,” the fund is constantly and carefully evaluated, both by staff and Council. There are placeholders in the General Fund for The Vintage Club North (VCN), the Gateway Redevelopment Area (GRA) and a number of other projects coming up in the very near future. The GRA will almost be a small city in itself. Also, as these projects become reality, the City will need to add additional staffing to our Public Works Department, Police Department, tax office and other positions as well. Just as the private sector plans for future hiring, Montgomery must as well.

“How about using the fund balances? The City doesn’t need to keep nine to 12 months for an emergency/rainy day fund.”

The Council has long held to the commitment of additional months to buffer the harsh realities. A few years back, we lost Cincinnati Eye Institute, one of our major employers with a number of higher-end salaries. Because of our reserves, and until another employer could be found, the City was able to continue to provide the same high-quality services without cutting out those special services that mean something different to each of us. We did not miss a beat. As we all learned during the recession, six months’ savings is fine, but the more you have in reserve, the better off you are. Also, the City’s reserves keep its bond rating high, equal to us as consumers having excellent credit, and the best credit rating.

The State of Ohio has slashed money the City use to receive from the Local Government Fund, the Tangible Property Tax and more. There is even a movement at the state level to have residents in municipalities pay their local taxes to the State of Ohio, and it would then be sent to the cities on a “regular basis”.  Who knows how long it would take to receive that money if passed? We would need money to keep us afloat until our fair share is distributed.

The issue of a tax levy of any kind is always a hot topic. No one wants to pay higher taxes. Your council members live here, too, and do not want to see taxes raised. However, the fact is, we have had the smallest number of full-time Fire/EMS personnel than any other surrounding community. We have nine full-time positions which include the chief and assistant chief, and 35 part-time positions. To best serve our community, we must add more full-time positions.

Did we discuss lower cost solutions?

Absolutely! There were a number of ideas and plans discussed by Council and staff for months and months leading up to the decision to put this particular levy on the ballot. The larger levy was decided on so that we would not have to come back to the ballot in a few short years, asking for more. While the levy passed, it was indeed by a small margin. This clearly indicates we need to continue open and frank dialogue as to what money is available and where it can be spent. Whether you voted for or against it, we appreciate your involvement in our community. Thank you again for your commitment to keeping Montgomery the premier place it is to live, work and play!