DELPHOS — A public forum turned out a large crowd as Delphos City Council members answered several questions submitted by the public Wednesday at City Hall.
Council President Kim Riddell read a list of 50 questions submitted to the city, and Delphos Mayor Mike Gallmeier gave brief, concise answers to most questions. Many of the questions eventually led back to what seemed to be the major concerns of residents, the number of police staff the city plans to maintain, and the possible closing or reduction of hours committed to recreation, primarily closing the municipal pool.
The city has already made several cuts to its budget, including a reduction of 31 percent of city personnel since 2012. However, the council has been faced with the dilemma of a water and wastewater budgets going into the red in 2015. The city has proposed a 0.25 percent income tax on the May ballot. With a levy failure, current projections have both the water and sewer funds drifting into the red by 2015. The sewer balance is at $1.2 million and the water balance is at $474,000.
City auditor Thomas Jettinghoff said projections have them falling to $259,000 and $202,000 before finally going into the red at $501,000 and $44,000 in 2015. Much of the problem was created when Orval Kent went bankrupt in the community in 2012. Reser Foods bought the business out of bankruptcy but closed the doors in July. Jettinghoff said the business was a major customer, and the city lost a lot of revenue when it closed.
Riddell told residents the city had also lost about $280,000 in state cuts to local funds and elimination of estate taxes.
Talk heavily revolved around hiring at the Police Department. The city, once staffed with 14 full-time officers, had dwindled down to nine officers in 2013 because of retirements and resignations. A 10th officer was recently hired and the council has approved the hiring of an 11th officer if the income tax passes in May.
Police Chief Kyle Fittro said that 14 is the guideline for considering a full staff and added that 11 officers were needed to maintain two officers on duty full-time in the village. Several residents took offense to the 14 number, despite the council’s insistence that they realize there will not be 14 police officers in the near future. Council also has postponed the hiring of the 11th officer pending the outcome of the May vote.
Ridell told those in attendance that in addition to maintaining 10 officers, residents would be looking at a 23 percent increase in wastewater and a 15 percent increase in water bills. While they will face hikes regardless, residents will see those percentage cut by two-thirds with a levy passage. Other possible cuts include closing or reducing hours at the pool, reduction or elimination of income tax credits, changing to a volunteer fire department, eliminating sewer and water adjustments for leaks, increase in utilities and increasing pool revenue.
One resident at the meeting, Tim Honingford, was especially vocal in some of his concerns. He said that he felt Fittro was looking out for the Police Department needs over the needs of the whole community, and he addressed his disgruntlement that three councilors were not present at the meeting. At one point, Gallmeier threatened to have Fittro remove Honingford from the meeting. Honingford also expressed that he felt the closing of the pool was being used as a scare tactic to pass the levy and that the police force should remain at 10 officers.