By Dan Woodlock
Times-Junction Sports Editor
In response to council concerns at the previous meeting over the Police Levy Tax and the overall numbers on the staff, Willard Finance Director, Sue Johnson, presented a closer look at the ordinance language at Monday night's council meeting.She noted that the original tax levy in 2007 stated that funds were to be used to hire additional personnel for the police department. While nothing stated that the personnel had to be officers, nor how many were to be hired, Johnson indicated that based on the tax money available, the city would be able to hire three new employees, to get to a full staff of 19, with four dispatchers and 15 officers. Fluctuating between 16 and 20 staff members over the five-year run of the levy, the next levy was passed in 2013 and collections began in January of 2014, according to Johnson. She stated that the current levy cost 'is in relation to the continued employment of personnel pursuant of the original ordinance'. Johnson said the city added an officer and dispatcher in 2015 and had one officer resign, putting the staff at 18. "We will be replacing that staff position," she stated. "We gave the test last week. Filling that position will take us to 19, which is the intent of the original ordinance." She did not speak solely on the police numbers, as she stated that city-wide, full-time city employees, even with adding a new officer, will be down by 10 (56) from back in 2003, when the city stood at its highest level with 66 full-time employees. She shared that the average totals of full-time city employees from 1994 to 2012 were over 63. "Of those seven positions we have lost, two are contracted positions and one is filled by a part-time employee," she said. "That leaves four unfilled positions. It's not in this year's budget to replace them. We did the budget based on he funding levels we had." State funding hits have taken their toll on flexibility. "I received word at the end of June that the state had redirected revenue that was dedicated for Ohio municipalities through the Local Government Fund Distribution," said Johnson. "That amount is roughly $39,000 a year. That not only effects cities like Willard, but also villages and townships across the state. "Our general fund resources have been dropping since our economic recession in 2008, and with the lower interest rates and the state cutting funding, we really need a way to replace that lost revenue." Council approved a finance meeting for August 4. In spite of the cuts, City Manager Shawn Tappel remains encouraged by the Willard's economic status. "When you think about what's gone on and what the state has done the last two years, we have rebounded well in our economy here in Willard," said Tappel. "But the state has really smacked us down with taking this money away. We're still a little worse than pre-recession dollars, even with the economy doing well in the city. "We need to really look at how we want ourselves to move forward, staff-wise, to accomplish these things." Johnson did note that the number of Willard residents has had an impact, as well. "Willard's population has decreased by about 1,000 from back in 1994," she said. "While there are fewer to serve and protect, there are also fewer tax dollars coming in." Tappel also spoke on how the 224 widening project was moving along, although not on the original schedule. "If all goes well, I'm hoping they'll be out of there by September," he said. "One of the problems they've had is that the utility relocation has been slow. They were supposed to be done by July 1st, so they're running severely behind." Tappel also noted that a letter was sent out to all city residents that would be effected by the paving projects taking place within the city. "The letter states when the project will happen," he said, "with the milling and paving beginning July 22nd. That will include Crestwood, Woodbine, a portion of Woodland, Kennedy and a smaller portion of Howard and High. "The letter also lets the residents know what issues they may be dealing with due to the construction and it specifies that the workers will be working 7 am. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday." Tappel added that residents in the milling and paving areas will need to keep their vehicles off the road during that time frame. "It will be nice if they can park outside of the construction areas," he said. "But there will be accommodations for people that need it and they can contact the city." He also noted that the city's other road project on Woodland would not start until August 17. Councilman Josh Gerber recommended with the 2015 high school fall sports season approaching that the city inform Willard High School on the project details, as the starting point of the work will run between Earl and Dean streets, with Dean serving as the entrance drive to the Willard Athletic Complex. Council adopted the final reading on the ordinance to vacate the East-West and North-South alleys located within the St. Joseph Cemetery in the city. They also gave first reading to the ordinance accepting the annexation of 20.7897 acres of land to the City of Willard, and authorizing the Clerk of Council to file a transcript of the proceedings to the Huron County Auditor, Huron County Recorder and Secretary of State. Tappel reminded council that next week will be the city's Business Appreciation week. "We will be visiting all of our businesses, looking for input from them on how to better our community and what we can do for them to help them flourish." He also complemented the maintenance department on replacing numerous concrete panels on Cottonwood Drive, an effort he said would continue as time allows.