MOUNT VERNON — Those in attendance at the Mount Vernon-Knox County Chamber of Commerce Midday Matters luncheon Thursday afternoon at The Alcove heard from all three Knox County Commissioners and Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis about the current state of the county and city, from the points of view of those at the helm in city and county government.
Mavis spoke first, briefly touching on many subjects including the city income tax, streets and infrastructure projects the city has undertaken this year, belt-tightening in city government, and future projects in the planning stages.
Mavis said the $200,000 McKenzie and McArthur streets improvement project will be complete in about two weeks. He told the audience the city commits to at least one major brick street improvement project each year.
He also commended the jobs done earlier this year on the Gay Street and Blackjack Road projects, as well as the plaza garage which he said is now safe and in excellent shape after being worked on from top to bottom.
The mayor reminded the group that some of the financing for streets projects comes from the city’s 1.5 percent income tax, which he said is up 4.2 percent from last year.
However, the amount collected has been significantly less than was projected for this year. “We collected 82 percent of what we thought,” Mavis said. “Clearly we won’t achieve exactly what we had appropriated.”
Mavis said the city departments, which have reduced spending in compliance with the budget cuts made necessary by the struggling economy, have done so without cutting major services to the city residents.
“They’ve done a bang-up job,” he said of the department heads, including Safety- Service Director Dave Glass, who was at the luncheon. “I commend them all for being conservative in what they’ve done.”
The mayor gave a brief explanation to the audience of where much of the city’s revenue comes from, including the income tax, the water park, state and federal money for projects, fire and EMS contracts with neighboring townships, and EMS billing by the Mount Vernon Fire Department. Mavis said the MVFD generates about $500,000 in revenue for the city by billing only the insurance companies of residents who are transported by EMS. They do not bill residents.
Mavis said industry has kept the city budget from disaster, by supplying good jobs and income tax revenue. “Thank goodness for Rolls-Royce, Ariel, Jeld-Wen and other industries large and small,” Mavis told the group of chamber members. “Thank goodness for those jobs.”
Looking toward the future, the mayor said a road connecting Yauger Road and Coshocton Avenue, with access to the Knox Community Hospital complex, is in the planning stages, and an east end fire station is also currently being planned.
Commissioner Teresa Bemiller said her first year in office has been challenging. “It has not been a boring year,” Bemiller said of a year which has seen dramatic county budget cuts and negotiations between the commissioners and county department heads which have been tense at times.
“We’ve had to make some hard choices,” Bemiller said. “I feel we’ve accomplished our objective.” The newest commissioner said the year has had its difficult moments, but she feels confident the county is on the road to economic recovery, even if it is a slower journey than many had hoped. “I’m much more optimistic than I was mid-year,” she told the audience.
Commissioner Allen Stockberger updated the group on some projects he said are near to his heart, which involve “green” matters such as parks, scenic byways and scenic rivers, which Stockberger said benefit the county’s residents in many ways.
He said while some environmental projects such as the crossover bridge on Ohio 3/U.S.36 near Centerburg, which would have added a tunnel under the road for those using the Heart of Ohio Trail, have been eliminated or postponed due to the budget crunch, parks and outdoor spaces remain a priority and economically benefit the county because of the tourism they bring into the area.
Commissioner Bob Wise urged residents to make purchases, especially of large ticket items, locally. This will bring more sales tax into the county coffers to pay for county programs.
He said the commissioners had been “lobbied hard” to raise the sales tax this past year, and had stood unified against such a tax increase.
“When things are down economically that’s not the time to raise taxes,” Wise said. Raising the sales tax just one-quarter of a percent would raise about $1.3 million in tax revenue. The commissioners said the budget for next year does not include such an increase, but the subject would be revisited in the future if the economic downturn continues.
The commissioners said Knox County has weathered the economic storm better than neighboring counties due to sound fiscal management, and the cooperation of county departments in slashing county expenditures.
“We don’t want to be another Morrow County,” said Wise of our neighbors to the west, who have suffered deeper economic losses than Knox County. Wise pointed out Morrow County no longer has a new auto dealership, and again stressed the importance of keeping tax dollars in the county by buying from local businesses.