Finances dominate City Council meeting

By David J. Coehrs -

Wauseon City Council member Jeff Stiriz on Monday questioned why Law Director Tom McWatters III is costing the city additional monies by attending committee meetings.

Wauseon City Council member Jeff Stiriz on Monday questioned why Law Director Tom McWatters III is costing the city additional monies by attending committee meetings.

Declining tax revenue was the impetus behind several discussions held Monday by Wauseon City Council.

They began during a city Finance Committee report delivered by Councilor Steve Schneider. He submitted a proposal by Finance Director Jamie Giguere to raise city revenue beginning in January of 2021 by collecting a half-percent in income tax from city residents who work outside Wauseon and pay another municipality. Those residents are currently allowed a 100% credit from the city.

“A lot of communities don’t give as much as we do,” Giguere said.

She said the other option to increase city revenue is to raise the income tax percentage, but that would require a ballot issue.

Schneider also presented a request Public Service Director Keith Torbet made during a Feb. 17 committee meeting for a $10,000 amendment to his budget from the city capital fund for an upgrade to a $24,000 fuel monitoring system. A system upgrade was originally budgeted at $14,000, but Torbet said the more expensive upgrade would be more efficient.

“The $14,000 (system) was not going to do the job,” Schneider said.

He said the committee approved recommending the request, although members expressed concern about spending in light of declining income tax revenue brought on by decreased employment levels at local businesses.

Following discussion, Council approved both the system upgrade and the income tax change.

Schneider also reported that the Wauseon Recreation Association donated $16,000 for new baseball dugout tops at Dorothy B. Biddle Park. He said, however, that the city has issues to resolve with the organization regarding city expenditures on overtime, lighting, and field readiness, especially pertaining to sports tournaments the city hosts.

“I think it’s important we support our own local youth, but when it comes to tournaments that generate quite a bit of money we’d like to see Wauseon get some return for it to help cover the expenses of getting the fields ready and lighting,” he said.

Wages and benefits total $4,200 for softball tournaments and $7,400 for baseball tournaments, and that doesn’t include utilities and supplies, Schneider said. “So there’s still, I think, a lot of work to be done with the WRA – an agreement on how we can best serve the community,” he said.

Later in the meeting, Council President Shane Chamberlin renewed his interest in moving the city’s recreational programming duties from the WRA to the city’s Park Board. He said he will convene a Committee of the Whole meeting for further discussion.

Schneider also reported that the snack shack at the community swimming pool will likely be remodeled at some point to make hot food accessible to customers.

At one point Councilor Jeff Stiriz interrupted the Finance Committee report to question why Law Director Tom McWatters III has attended committee meetings at an hourly rate of $135, beyond his accrued hours to represent the city for $2,000 per month. Stiriz said to his knowledge the city law director only becomes involved in committee decisions after their approval.

“Usually the law director doesn’t come to most committee meetings…I didn’t know what the reasoning was,” he said.

McWatters replied that he has attended meetings only at the request of committee members or if questions arise over pending legislation.

“It’s proven helpful through the years to be present when there might be questions about what particular statute or ordinance needs to be revised,” he said. “But we’re happy to be sensitive to your budgetary concerns. If you don’t want us involved, that’s certainly you guys’ decision, the mayor’s decision. We’ve tried to be cost-conscious in terms of the work we do for the city.”

Chamberlin, who oversaw the Council meeting in the absence of Mayor Kathy Huner, added, “With our revenue consistently going down, unfortunately, I think we have to be careful with our spending.”

In a Safety and Code Committee report, Councilor Scott Stiriz said a joint meeting was held Feb. 20 with Clinton Township trustees regarding how to bill for fire services extended to York, Chesterfield, and Pike townships, which are no longer contracted with the city fire department.

No action was taken; however, Council members approved the first draft of a letter written by McWatters that explains the city’s and township’s position regarding current fire services to those townships.

“It’s well-written, and provides a very clear path, and it’s totally within those townships to choose what path they venture down,” Chamberlin said.

Tree Commission member Patrick Griggs gave a brief report, saying the members discussed this year’s Arbor Day and the city hosting the 2021 Tree City USA conference.

In department reports:

• Police Chief Kevin Chittenden named Auxiliary Chief Kevin Knierim as 2019 Officer of the Year. “He’s gone, I guess, a little under-appreciated for a few years,” Chittenden said.

• Public Service Director Keith Torbet said the city opened a water line between Wauseon and Delta on Feb. 18 after the village suffered a 12-inch water main break that depleted its water supply. He said the village ultimately did not have to utilize the water line.

Torbet said the city will host the annual Wabash Cannonball Trail Committee meeting March 5 at the Wabash Park shelter house, and will hold a pre-construction meeting March 25 for the impending South Shoop Avenue water line.

He said a new HVAC system will be installed in the city municipal building by Thursday this week, and the Environmental Protection Agency will conduct an inspection of the city water plant March 11. Torbet also noted that the Water Reclamation Plant was issued a five-year license Feb. 28.

And he reported that a Wood County representative will conduct sessions for local contractors each Wednesday from 8:30-11:30 a.m. in Council chambers at 230 Clinton St. The sessions will provide information and answers about permits and residential zoning.

• Finance Director Jamie Giguere said income tax revenue for the first two months of 2020 is ahead .26% from the same time last year.

In new business, Council approved a $59,989.34 Violence Against Women Act grant for the police department. The grant assists with the cost of the department’s victim advocates.

And McWatters said the Wauseon Rotary Club’s Indian Hill Trail committee is working toward a transition date to turn the trail over to the city.

In legislation, Council members approved the first reading of an ordinance to increase the city water rate by five percent. The anticipated implementation date is June 1. The increase, the first since 2013, was approved at a Feb. 20 City Council meeting.

The council also approved a resolution authorizing the finance director to increase or decrease certain line account appropriations within various funds within 2020.

Wauseon City Council member Jeff Stiriz on Monday questioned why Law Director Tom McWatters III is costing the city additional monies by attending committee meetings. City Council member Jeff Stiriz on Monday questioned why Law Director Tom McWatters III is costing the city additional monies by attending committee meetings.

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.