Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Amberley 101

In November, 2011, Council Member Ed Hattenbach and former Mayor Merrie Stillpass appointed fourteen residents to serve on a Village ad hoc Advisory Committee.  The committee was charged with examining the Village's finances in order to determine whether the Village's financial shortfall was due to a revenue shortfall or an expense surplus. The committee has been meeting for three months now, and I, along with other members of Council, have attended several of the meetings. There have been detailed presentations from Chief Richard Wallace, Public Works Supervisor Steve Rasfeld, and Village Manager Scot Lahrmer. Additionally, Mr. Lahrmer presented to the committee a theoretical look at what the Village would look like if the budget was cut by 30% in order to reflect current revenues. The presentations have been both educational and enlightening.

A few things I've learned by attending Ad Hoc Advisory Committee meetings (in no order):

  •  Amberley Village staff, from Village Manager Scot Lahrmer, Chief Rich Wallace, Maintenance Supervisor Steve Rasfeld, as well as every single part-time employee, are extremely capable at their jobs and will bend over backwards to fulfill anything they are asked to do by Council and/or the Ad Hoc committee of resident citizens.
  • Our excellent, full-time, fire department is possible because when the Village was incorporated, our "founding fathers" had the inspiration to initiate a combined police/fire department. Every single police officer is required to also be a certified fire-fighter and every one of our maintenance workers is also a certified fire-fighter. Because of this unique setup, our force is more efficient and costs well less than employing a separate police force and fire department. Additionally, to contract out the fire department to another jurisdiction would cost at least another $600,000, such is the efficiency of running a combined force. 

Chief Wallace and the Village Manager meet with the AHAC

  •  Amberley Village owns its own 911-PSAP  Dispatch service which means that if you call 911 from anywhere in Amberley's jurisdiction, your call goes directly to Amberley Village dispatchers. This means far quicker emergency response time than if the call went first to a Cincinnati dispatcher who then called Amberley Village dispatch. There are only four of these 911-PSAPs in Hamilton County and Amberley Village has one. This is also a source of income for the Village.  This can mean the difference between the police arriving within seconds or minutes to your house in an emergency. A terrific example of our police department's fast response time occurred just two days ago when resident Dave Dahlman arrived home exactly as his home was being burgled. Police Warn of Increase in Crimes in Amberley Village 
  •  Leaf pickup is NOT a luxury. One of the comments I heard from residents during the campaign was that they were surprised by the luxury of having their leaves picked up. Since I did not know any better at the time, I agreed and wondered why those with wooded lots couldn't just rake or blow their leaves into the woods. Well, now I know! Amberley is an old community, and we have lots of old trees and woods that generate A LOT of leaves. When residents think they are being helpful by carting their leaves to the back of their property, they are actually creating potential problems for the Village infrastructure. Many of our landscapes are bordered by creeks. These creeks lead to culverts and sewers. Imagine what happens when autumn leaves clog the culverts and sewers. What could have been an easy solution -- raking the leaves to the curb -- becomes a costly problem for the Village. In the future, I know that my family will be more diligent about getting our leaves to the curb. This is not a luxury, but is an important service necessary to running the Village.
  • Only 10% of the property tax we currently pay goes to Amberley Village. The majority of the property taxes we pay go to support the Cincinnati Public Schools. Granted, it is to our benefit as homeowners to support the public schools. Even if we never sent our children to public elementary school, there are a lot of residents who sing the praises of Walnut Hills High School, Clark Montessori High School, and the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA). However, the Village also needs revenue to function effectively. 
  • Village staff = Village cleaning service. If you go up to Village Hall and notice the cleanliness of the facility, do not ask what cleaning service the Village uses. The Village staff is the cleaning service. If Village Manager Scot Lahrmer wants his office vacuumed, he knows how to use a vacuum!
  •  The budget is extremely tight and efficient. A staff wage freeze has been in effect for two years, which, by the end of 2012 will have saved the village $140,000. Open positions, including that of a retiring police lieutenant were not filled. Seasonal help was not hired for maintenance work (you may have noticed this because of the halt of brush pickup during the Fall leaf pickup season). New cruisers have not been purchased in three years.

  •  The Village needs revenue. This is obvious. Residents of Amberley Village have not had the opportunity to vote for an increased property tax millage since 1955. It is conceivable that a resident has lived here their entire adult life and never been asked to pay more property tax to Amberley Village. When Gibson Greeting Cards was a major employer in the Village, Amberley had a steady stream of earnings tax revenue, but it has been nearly fifteen years since Gibson left. Our next principal source of revenue was the inheritance tax. This will be gone after this year. The 10 mil Police Levy will generate 1.6 million dollars for the police budget and will be the first time the department has had a dedicated revenue stream. In five years, when the levy terminates, we hope that there are contracts to develop the North Site as well as Amberley Green.

If you are interested in learning more about the way the Village is run, I strongly encourage you to attend meetings.  Every meeting is publicized on the Village website: and all meetings are open to the public. I have been tremendously impressed with the transparency with which the staff has opened themselves up to the residents. Subscribing to Village news is another way to stay informed.  Whichever way you choose -- by email or in person -- you can never know too much about your local government.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Amberley Women's Forum

Mary Lennard, Amy Rubenstein, Ilene Ross, Wendy Saunders
Monday evening was a first for Amberley Village. It was the inaugural meeting of the Amberley Women's Forum. The group was conceived in the week after November's election to address the needs of the women of Amberley Village that may not be served by virtue of women being a distinct minority on Council and all committees, especially the Ad Hoc Budget Advisory committee and the Board of Zoning Appeals. As stated by resident Abbie Youkilis, women often value things differently than our male counterparts. Also, I think we can all agree that the fall election brought to the foreground some of the bad feelings that still exist among residents that have fractured us in the past. We are a small community of less than 3400 residents - 1500 households - so it is essential that we try to get along with each other. My idea is to bring back the village feel to the Village.

Ilene Ross enjoys a cupcake
The meeting took place at the home of former councilmember, Peg Conway, and was hosted by Peg, Amy Rubenstein, Mary Lennard, former mayor Merrie Stillpass, and myself. About 25 women attended, from a cross-section of Amberley neighborhoods. The women also represented a cross-section of ages as well, from women with young children to one woman whose grandchild had just become engaged. What we had in common was a desire to meet other Amberley women and to become informed about the news of the Village. Because there is a tax levy coming up on the March 6th ballot, it was agreed that the group should meet again in about a month, perhaps after attending some of the informational meetings at Village Hall. By now, you should have received a postcard from the Village with the dates of the meetings. The first meeting is on January 24th and is a Town Hall meeting at the JCC beginning at 6:30. Additionally, if you will be out of town on election day, it is not too early to request your absentee ballot from the Board of Elections. You will need to download and print the form and mail it to the the BOA as they are still not as tech savvy as the rest of us.Board of Elections  . 

This Police Levy is extremely important to the Village because it will enable us to fund

our excellent police force. Amberley residents have been fortunate to have not had the need to vote for additional property taxes since 1955, but due to the change in economic conditions, loss in property values, and a severe loss in relied-upon revenue sources from the State of Ohio, it has become necessary to reevaluate that need. As Amberley residents, we have chosen to live in an idyllic community where we have virtually no commercial industry to mar our  views and landscapes. We are fortunate to live on large lots, often surrounded by woods, and receive excellent service from our police, fire, and maintenance departments. Because we only collect earnings tax and no income tax, many of our residents pay only property tax for the privilege of  this beautiful life. The tax levy is an equitable way for our residents to pay our fare share.

Please take a minute to click on the Village website and sign up to receive news and meeting notices. You are welcome to attend all committee meetings and see first-hand what is happening in your local government.

Elizabeth Kuresman and Nimet Jerusalami

Merrie Stillpass and Peg Conway

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The "Wolf" House

Susan and Paula. 
In my post earlier today, I mentioned Amberley residents who move back to Amberley. Sometimes buying and moving into the house they grew up in, and sometimes a different house. But the original house will always be known by the name of those families who lived there years ago. Such is the case of 7404 Willowbrook Lane, which will always be known as "the old Wolf house." Or "the house where all the parties were..."

Well, after 30 years, the Wolfs finally went back for a visit. Scott and I have been living in Amberley for 14 years, and have actually fantasized about owning the house ourselves, but we have our own "Wolf" house now and we like it just fine. But, while I was delivering campaign signs last fall, I happened to run into the current owner of Scott's old house and after I introduced myself and explained my relationship to the house (I had never actually been inside the house), I was graciously invited in for a tour. The current owners, John and Susan Briggs, have renovated the house and it is absolutely gorgeous. When I got back home, I was so excited that I called my mother-in-law right away and told her I had seen her old house and that she would have to come and see it for herself when she came to town.

So, a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I took his mom, Paula, over to tour her old house. Scott's brother Jeff (known to old Amberlyians as "Duffy") also joined us. I can tell you that Paula was thrilled with the care that John and Susan have taken with the house, and she was positively glowing from both the tour and the opportunity to regale us all with stories of raising five Wolf kids in Amberley!
Duffy and Paula outside the kitchen door. Paula wouldn't go in the front door because "no one ever went in that way."

Scott, John, and Duffy. Lots of stories!

This and That...

In follow up to the previous post regarding deer culling, the Health, Education, and Welfare committee voted to continue with the previous methodology of culling the deer in Amberley Village. One obstacle to the committee being able to examine other possible methods, such as bow hunting, was the issue of timing. Council was sworn in in December, the committee met in January, and this is a job that must be done in the winter. Next year, we agreed to start the process earlier, in order to have time to allow for other methods, should that be what the committee decides. All of this was reported at Monday's council meeting. By-the-way, all council meetings are open to the public and we welcome your coming to see your local government in action. Note the new starting time of 6:30PM. If you can't make it in person, all meetings are televised by the ICRC and can be watched at your leisure at Mind you, I don't guarantee that council meetings make for the most scintillating TV viewing, however, you can never be too informed.

I spoke at Monday's meeting about the importance of a village having a healthy quality of life in addition to having a healthy balance sheet. Amberley articulated this philosophy of government in the documents that were incorporated into the Long Range Plan, specifically the Vision Pillars for Amberley Village. The three Pillars -- environment, economy, and community -- are mutually supporting. As Council members, it is important for us to consider all three aspects of the Pillars, and to maintain a healthy balance between all three. So, when someone asks, "why are you accepting a grant from We Thrive!?" or "Why don't you spend more time parsing the budget and less time thinking about gardens and walking paths?" the answer is that in order to be a healthy, vibrant community where people want to move to and live, we need to focus on both. Of course, we could choose to buy a house here and never leave except to drive to our jobs in another community entirely, but I would guess that most of us would prefer to interact with our neighbors and look to our neighborhood amenities with a source of pride. Imagine you were trying to convince someone to move to Amberley. What features would you point to that make Amberley Village stand out from any other place? Why did you move here yourself? What is it that makes Amberley an attractive place to live? What is so special about Amberley that encourages so many of our residents who grew up here to move back here -- sometimes moving right back into the house where they were raised?

To that end, there will be a 10 mil Police Levy on the March 6th ballot. The last time Village residents voted on a property tax increase was in 1955. This is practically unprecedented in local government, but sadly, we cannot continue the trend. Our police and fire services, though run in an efficient, streamlined manner that is the envy of all other local fire departments, still consumes 50% of our Village budget. For more information on the levy and its impact on your own financial situation, please read the Village E-News where Manager Scot Lahrmer does an excellent job of explaining the levy in relation to the Village's financial situation.

Finally, I'd like to acknowledge that the JCC Early Childhood School has passed the We Thrive! Child Care Initiative. This is great news! Since Amberley is at the forefront of the We Thrive! movement, it only strengthens our commitment to fostering a healthy, active community when agencies within our Village share the same values.

Subscribe to Village news and alerts by clicking here:

Monday, January 2, 2012

Oh, Deer!

I knew this was coming.  It's January, and on January 1st, I got an email from Village Manager, Scot Lahrmer, advising that it's time for the Health, Education, and Welfare committee to start thinking about this year's deer cull.  As chair of the committee, I've now got to set a meeting, and of course there are some things for the committee to consider, but I've also been doing some thinking as well.

Like many of you, I've given up my garden because of the abundance of wildlife in Amberley Village.  Truly, as saddened as I was to succumb to the reality that the deer were getting more produce out of the garden than I was, I love nothing more than to have breakfast while looking out my full wall of kitchen windows at the deer and birds who make their home in my backyard.  Last June, we even had a fawn born in the backyard and that was very cool and exciting!

And yes, I am concerned about herds of deer nonchalantly crossing the street without a care for the driver of oncoming vehicles. In my own neighborhood, I worry about drivers who aren't as familiar with these beautiful animals who are also residents of Amberley Village.  Without our experience, they don't know that at any moment a deer, or most likely several deer, will cross the road in front of them while they are driving at a high rate of speed for the neighborhood.  My sons witnessed a car/deercollision on Ridge Road while driving to Walnut Hills early one morning, and it affected my son Adam deeply.

But, I don't know whether a deer cull actually has any real impact on the herd.  I do know that it's fairly expensive, coming in at over $3,500 for last year's cull. A cheaper method would certainly be welcome.  Currently, we pay $61 per deer for processing and the meat is donated to the Freestore.  Maybe a resident would like to pay for the processing, as it would be a tax-deductible donation.  Or, maybe we could allow hunters for a day.  I don't know the answer, but I am continuing to research the issue.  If you have a suggestion,  please leave it in the comments.  I'm definitely interested in your thoughts.

For more Village news, check out the e-news at Amberley