FORT SHAWNEE — Not so fast, says a group of Fort Shawnee residents opposed to a petition drive to dissolve the financially distressed village.
“They’re doing a knee-jerk reaction,” said Dottie Kaiser, a member of the newly formed group, Our Village, Our Future. “We say slow down, figure it out, get the facts; and then, if we need to do it, do it in a slow, correct process that will be for the best future of our village.”
The group called a news conference Monday afternoon to spread its message and dispute some of the points raised by the petition group.
The petition organizers fired back, accusing opponents of using scare tactics to keep the dissolution question off the ballot.
If successful, the petition drive will place a dissolution question on the Nov. 6 ballot, alongside a 3.25-mill property tax levy, a centerpiece of Mayor Pete Mariotti’s plan to restore Fort Shawnee to solvency by 2015.
At a special meeting Monday evening, Village Council approved a second reading of the resolution to place the levy. The vote was 4 to 2, with councilors Dan Henry and Mark Bishop voting “no.” Ronald Hesseling was absent. Another special meeting for the third reading of the resolution is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Craig Bradford, who organized the Voice and a Choice petition drive, said opponents don’t want the ballot question side-by-side with the levy question.
“They don’t want it opposite their tax increase,” Bradford said.
Fort Shawnee was put on fiscal emergency in 2010, requiring oversight from the state Auditor’s Office. At the time, audits showed a deficit of roughly $150,000 and a projected deficit by 2016 of as much as $800,000.
In a written statement, the anti-petition group said they back efforts by Mariotti and the Village Council to tighten spending and increase revenue. They said the effort should be given more time to work.
“If in 18 months things are not better, then a decision to dissolve the Fort would be worth considering — but not now,” they said. “They’re trying to play on the fears of the residents, and the hope is they can get enough people not to sign so it doesn’t hit the ballot when the tax does.”
Bradford said they intend to present the signed petition to council on Aug. 8. They need a minimum of 507 valid signatures of residents who are registered to vote.
Kaiser, a retired hospital chaplain, said disbanding Fort Shawnee and merging with Shawnee Township wouldn’t necessarily solve residents’ problems.
“I am very concerned after reading the article in The Lima News on July 10 where it stated the township has a significant shortfall of funds for 2013, and they will be using money in their reserve to meet budget for 2013,” Kaiser said. “Where does that leave the township for 2014? How will they raise $1 million? That is too big an unknown for me personally.”
The anti-petition group urged residents to attend a town hall meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 16 at the Apollo Career Center. Handouts will be available with current fiscal information validated by the Ohio Auditor of State. That meeting takes place a week after Bradford intends to present the petitions.