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.

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