Sunday, December 30, 2012

Neighborhood Networking

At a recent meeting of the Amberley Women's Forum, the topic of an Amberley Village neighborhood directory was discussed. One resident who had moved here from Terrace Park, told and showed us the great Terrace Park directory that she had kept when she moved to Amberley. It contained lists of babysitters, referrals for roofers, lawn care, mechanics, and other local businesses that had actually been used by residents. If you were looking for someone to check on your house while you were on vacation, it was easy to see who your neighbors were. Rollman Estates used to publish a  neighborhood directory and Brookwood has a neighborhood listing. Wouldn't it be nice, we thought, if Amberley could do this? And wouldn't it be even cooler if it could be done online, without incurring any printing costs?

Shortly after, Peg Conway read an article about a local Cincinnati community that was using an online "closed" networking website to do exactly what we envisioned. It is called "Nextdoor." Verified residents of a community who live within the specified boundaries are invited to join and to invite their neighbors to join. Members can create subgroups within the larger group, such as bookclubs and garden groups. Members can make referrals for local businesses and babysitters. Best of all, it makes it easy to figure out who our neighbors are.  CNet reviewed Nextdoor when it first launched in October 2011 and The New York Times also gave it a positive review in May of 2012.

When you receive your invitation to join Nextdoor, we hope you will join! It is just one more way to keep Amberley residents connnected.  If you don't live in Amberley, you can set up your own Nextdoor community here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Budget Time

Last week the Finance Committee of Council met to discuss and make recommendations to Council for the 2013 budget. Thanks to the culture of austerity that pervades the Amberley Village administrative offices, very nearly every single line item of the 2012 budget is coming in significantly under budget for the year. Under the leadership of Village Manager Scot Lahrmer, Chief Rich Wallace, and Public Works Supervisor Steve Rasfeld, village staff has worked hard to reduce expenses in every area of the Village. Even Council is making the move to go completely paperless, for which I am extremely grateful! Our staff is to be commended for the seriousness and creativity with which they have tackled our expenses -- all while their own salaries have been frozen since 2010 and their compensation and benefits are under continual review by Council.

In the proposed budget, 2013 expenses are projected at $4.8 million, with estimated revenues of $5.5 million.  While at first glance this looks like a surplus (called a positive fund balance in municipal finance), the real significance lies in what is NOT appropriated.  Margin notations in the proposed budget showed more than $1 million in equipment purchases and capital improvements that are being deferred.  These unfunded items include police cruisers, fire hoses, upgraded traffic signals and lights at the intersection of Ridge and Section, maintenance vehicles, and repairs to Village Hall. Additionally, the 2013 budget included a contingency of $250,000, which will be reduced to $5,000 to $25,000.

While the budgeted appropriations going into 2013 are less than last year, we still face a deficit of $1.3 million in the General Fund balance. Also, we face significant capital expenses in the future, which the Finance committee will begin planning for in the near future.  Passing the Police Levy in the spring and, most recently, paying off the debt on Amberley Green which we were able to do because of a once-in-a-lifetime estate tax windfall, are positive steps in a process that must continue to move forward toward re-establishing Amberley's sound financial footing. As a Council, we must continue to work with village staff to find ways to sustain a healthy balance sheet in all areas.