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Pickerington spars over Fourth of July costs
In today's economy, $12,000 can be better spent than on Fourth of July festivities, Councilman Brian Wisniewski argues.
"There are far more important things this $12,000 can be spent on outside of a one-day event and literally sending the majority of the money up in smoke," Wisniewski said at the May 5 Pickerington city council meeting.
It would cost the city $12,000 to contribute to a joint Independence Day celebration with Violet Township.
Last fall, after voters rejected a proposed income tax increase, the council nixed the festivities to balance the budget, but Councilman Brian Sauer never agreed with the decision.
Sauer asked the Violet Township trustees to donate half of the $24,000 cost for fireworks, a parade and a carnival. By reducing the amount of money budgeted for staff training, Sauer found the funding for the city's portion.
The council approved the first of three readings to reinstate the celebration with Council Members Cristie Hammond and Keith Smith joining Wisniewski's opposition.
"Priorities were set and we simply could not fund everything that we had in the past, so to say 'we can afford to pay for the Fourth of July celebration' is in fact robbing Peter to pay Paul," Wisniewski said.
In addition to the Independence Day festivities, the council cut many other items from the budget including snow plowing and support for the Violet Festival.
"Now we find ourselves revisiting these decisions because one council member wasn't willing to let his pet project die," Wisniewski said. "And just because the budget was re-worked and staff training was cut by $12,000 does not mean we have to have the 'spend it if we've got it' mentality."
Smith said the city must prioritize its decisions.
"It is short-sighted to cherry-pick the budget and not look for other (items to support such as) snow plows and police," Smith said. "These are hard decisions and we made our priorities."
Hammond argued the future is uncertain.
"We are not going to know what will happen at the end of the year," Hammond said. "Grants (may become available that require matching funds). We all know the strings that are attached."
But Sauer said the city would get a good deal for the money spent.
"Number one, most important - the total cost is reduced over 50 percent for the same show as last year and partnering with Violet Township adds up to a community Fourth of July celebration," Sauer said. "I would venture a guess that more than just Pickerington residents show up."
Sauer also argued that the council spent $1,200 to upgrade its Chamber of Commerce membership with money outside the budget. The money that he found was already in the budget.
Sauer objected to the term "pet project."
"Yeah, it kinda bothers me," he said. "It implies I will solely benefit in some way, shape or form. How am I going to benefit? It is important to celebrate our heritage and our country. This is not entertainment. This is solely for patriotic reasons and that's why I push it."
Councilwoman Tricia Sanders voiced her support.
"Brian, I am behind you 100 percent," she said.
But Smith said it's not about patriotism.
"It's a very patriotic thing to do. I agree, but I don't see it as important," Smith said. "I served in the army 28 years. None of you may be more patriotic than me. I am certainly not less patriotic than anybody else. (The extra budget money) is a good thing, really good thing. In three years time that $12,000 may be very important for something else."
Wisniewski suggested that council reduce the funding for the celebration to $1,500.
"My reasoning behind the $1,500 is to allow for a scaled-back celebration in the form of a parade," Wisniewski said. "This funding is to pay for any police overtime as well as the parade coordinator, shirts, trophies, etc. Since our city manager already informed the schools that the parade is going to occur and they are making plans to march, I feel we shouldn't rescind this."
With the remaining $10,500, the council could purchase a new police dog, Wisniewski said.
The department's previous dog, Zar, retired in September 2006 after nearly nine years of service and 550 investigations, Wisniewski said. A police dog can find a hidden suspect without placing the human officers in danger.
"I totally agree a drug dog is a high priority," Councilman Jeff Fix said. "(However) I think celebrating our country's birthday is a pretty big deal. Our situation is different, (the city's budget is) $100,000 ahead of what was projected last year. Things change. We need to support the Fourth of July."
Councilman Michael Sabatino said the police department expected to cover the cost of the drug dog through community donations.
Police commander Steve Annetts said Chief Michael Taylor was "still actively looking to get donations for a dog. He's just scratched the surface. I know people come up to me and ask how to give money to the dog. He is waiting to see how much the primary donor is going to donate (before accepting smaller donations), but nothing is guaranteed to come through."
The expense would include the animal, plus training and equipping the K-9 patrol car.
Local veterinarian Jennifer Schoenfeld of All Pets, 573 Hill Road North, will donate her services, plus half of the dog's food, but the department would still be responsible for $300 per year, Annetts said.
"Any number of businesses would adopt that $300 per year," Sabatino said. "If no one else, my coffee business (Coffee Man Beverages) will."
"It's pretty sad to have the police chief out begging for money rather than doing his job," Wisniewski said.
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