Saturday, March 6, 2004

Norwood budget deficit may lead to fees, levy

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NORWOOD - Faced with a $3.5 million budget deficit, Norwood officials are considering options to boost city revenue - including imposing a fee for trash pick-up and placing a safety services levy on the ballot.

"It's going to boil down to finding out from the people of Norwood what they're willing to pay for," said City Councilman Joe Sanker, Finance Committee chairman. "We can't offer the same level of service at the price we're paying now."

In recent weeks, Norwood officials have been conferring with the Ohio Auditor's Office to explore possible options for reducing the deficit.

One of the most unpalatable options is for the city to be declared in a state of fiscal emergency. That would give the state control over Norwood's finances.

"If we submitted our financial forms to the state right now, they would put us in fiscal emergency right now," Sanker said. "We're trying to find a way to avoid getting to that point."

City officials have blamed the financial problems on years of overspending and on delays in commercial property development.

The situation is so serious that the city is on track to run out of money by August, Sanker said.

He stressed that the city will not pursue trash pick-up fees, levies or other options without extensive discussions with residents.

Mayor Tom Williams, in office since January, said the city must do everything possible to cut costs before reaching into residents' wallets.

"We have to gain the citizens' confidence to trust us with their money," he said.

The notion of a trash pick-up fee and a safety services levy in Norwood provoked a strong reaction from resident Charles Cullop, 70.

"Forget it," he said. "They got enough of our money as it is. These politicians - I don't know."

Veronica Mullins, a Norwood resident for 15 years, said she would oppose trash pick-up fees and any levies because her landlord would have little choice but to raise her rent.

Instituting trash pick-up fees to cover the cost of its contract with Rumpke would save the city about $900,000 a year, Sanker said.

Besides raising revenue, Norwood also is examining ways to reduce expenses. But Sanker said there isn't much left to cut.

"We don't want to just push the debt to next year," he said. "We have to do something that will have long-term effect."


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