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All of proposed 1/2 % income tax increase will fund police, fire and EMS

MOUNT VERNON - Below are introductory comments made by City Council Finance Committee Chair Sam Barone at Wednesday's meeting on the proposed one-half percent increase in the city income tax rate. This statement lays out why, in Barone's opinion, the tax should be earmarked for police, fire and emergency services.

"Council, we are meeting here tonight to consider an amended version of Resolution 2017-52, which seeks to place on the November ballot a request for a one-half percent increase in the City income tax rate, and for which I will request a suspension of the rules to approve at next Monday’s legislative session. Council, if you will indulge me for just a few minutes, I would like to recap for all, including the audience with us in chambers and those viewing the session by electronic means, the road we have traveled to this meeting of the Finance Committee.

Serious consideration about asking voters to approve additional operating revenue began at year-end 2016, when lower than anticipated profits were reported by major businesses in our community. The resulting shortfall in 2016 tax receipts, and the prospect of continued diminished tax collections in 2017, had a profound and sobering impact on our appropriations process last January.

In fact, as we consider this time-sensitive legislation tonight, the City’s administrative team is confronted with a $1.2 million budget deficit that must be dealt with by the end of the calendar year. Most likely we will be forced to borrow from our own segregated TIFF district reserves sufficient funds to meet the City’s current obligations, and we will need to repay this loan with interest.

While the chickens have come home to roost sooner than expected, the fact is all of us knew they were on the way. It was never a matter of if, but rather when, they would arrive. Speaking as a member of this Council for the past five and one-half years, I have witnessed a valiant effort by Mavor Mavis, former Safety Service Director Dave Glass and current Safety Service Director Joel Daniels, our City Auditor Terry Scott, and every one of our City Department Heads, to stretch available revenues to the limit in a concerted effort to shield City taxpayers from an increase.

But with each passing year it became painfully clear that the one-half percent increase voters approved in 1983 to fully fund, and guarantee, police, fire and emergency medical services, was falling farther and farther short of meeting the expenses of those vital services. Council had no choice but to subsidize safety services from its General Fund, at great expense to every other City department.

Sadly the brunt of this financial burden, more than $3 million this fiscal year, has been borne by our capital replacement and improvement program, which has become alarmingly anemic. Whereas this Council, even five years ago, had the opportunity to prioritize and authorize several capital projects, be they related to equipment replacement, surface water management, or road and bridge repair, this year there were precious few dollars remaining to address a growing list of deferred maintenance items, let alone capital projects that are essential to keeping our city attractive to job-creators and prospective tax-paying residents.

Policies pursued by the Ohio Legislature to cut state income tax rates have been enacted at the expense local government entities throughout the state, including, of course, the City of Mount Vernon which has experienced collective losses of up to $1 million per year as a result of legislators’ abolition of the estate tax, personal property tax, and the majority of local revenue sharing funds, which represented a significant portion of our city’s revenues.

In anticipation of looming budget shortfalls, but well before the full impact of reduced business income tax revenue was known, the Mayor engaged a blue ribbon panel of local businessmen and businesswomen to take a deep dive into the City’s financial condition. Meeting for the first time in the fall of 2016, the City Finance Study Group began analyzing the City’s revenue cycle, dating back to the last income tax increase in 1983 – 34 years ago. Their mission was to advise Administration and this Council on appropriate measures to re-balance the City’s expenditures with available and potential new tax revenues.

The Study Group, together with members of this Council, and a host of elected and non-elected officials, pored over City budgets past and present, as well as projected budgets going out as far as the year 2020. Equally important was the attention given to the City’s equipment, facility, and critical infrastructure needs estimated to cost up to $90 million over this same timeframe. It was the unanimous conclusion of these private citizen businessmen and women that the City’s needs are real, and that without an enhancement of revenues, the prospects for preserving the quality of life we expect today, and for building the community we want for tomorrow, would be bleak.

After vigorous discussion about the relative merits of income tax vs. property tax increases, it was the consensus view of the Committee, Administration, and Council Representatives, that a modest increase in the City’s income tax rate, aligning our rate with those of many surrounding municipalities would be the most effective path toward solvency. It was also the path that would shield those living solely on pensions, social security, or investment income from any additional tax burden, since the tax is levied only on earned income.

That issue having been resolved, it remained for Council and Administration to determine, if and how, additional projected revenue of a little over $3 million per year should earmarked. The resolution given its first reading at Council’s June meeting would have allocated the new funds 40% to roads and bridges, 20% to Equipment and other Capital needs, and 40% to the general fund, with the majority of the general fund’s portion presumably covering (a portion of) the annual subsidy to safety services.

That brings us to last week’s public hearing on the resolution, at which Council heard loudly and clearly from those speaking that more clarity and certainty was needed concerning expenditure of the new revenues for voters to embrace the ballot issue. Importantly, the ranking chair of this committee, Mrs. Vail, also raised the possibility of pledging 10 percent each from the general fund’s 40 percent share to the fire and police departments. To some Council members, including myself, though the idea of pledging some funds to safety service had merit, the proposed percentages were inadequate for our current safety service needs, and introduced a complexity to the distribution formula that threatened to confuse the voting public.

Responding to what we heard at last week’s illuminating public hearing, the Mayor, Auditor, Safety Service Director, and I, as Chair of Council’s Finance Committee, met to identify a more direct and understandable path forward. We had in mind the following two goals:

1. Restore to fire, police and ems services the guaranteed funding source for the vast majority of their needs, which they had in 1983 at the time of the last income tax increase; and
2. Free the City’s general fund from the burden of subsidizing safety services, enabling the City to once again undertake critical capital projects, which have languished in this environment of increased costs and diminished revenues.

It is our considered opinion that by dedicating 100% of the proposed new revenue stream from a one-half percent income tax (to police, fire and emergency services) that we can accomplish these two important goals.

Most importantly, we can make a strong, simple and direct case to our electorate that our most important service needs – police, fire and emergency medical services – will have the financial resources they require."

Council will take a vote on whether to place the issue before the voters this November when they meet next Monday, July 24th at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. All council meetings are open to the public.  

 

Police serve search warrant on Plaza Drive, arrest made

MOUNT VERNON - On 7-17-17, a search warrant was obtained for a residence on Plaza Drive by the Knox County Sheriff's Office. The KCSO requested the MVPD Emergency Services Unit to execute the warrant. The Emergency Services Unit arrived on the scene and forcibly entered the residence. One male, later identified as Allen Wheeler ran out of a rear door and was secured by an MVPD officer.

The resident of the apartment - Chase Sherman - as well as Mitchell Billman, Samuel Divine and Wayne Reynolds were located within the residence, handcuffed and escorted out of the apartment. Billman and Wheeler were found to have outstanding warrants unrelated to the incident and were transported to jail. The ESU cleared the scene without further incident and the scene was released to Mount Vernon Police and Knox County Sheriff's Detectives.

Sherman Chase

Chase Sherman - Knox County Jail photo

According to jail records, Sherman is charged with drug trafficking and is being held on a $50,000 bond. 

Federal Grant awarded to help launch Makerspace in downtown Mount Vernon

MOUNT VERNON – Knox Labs, Inc., President Nick Clark has announced the organization's success in landing a substantial planning grant from the US Dept. of Agriculture to pay for developing a strategic plan and business concept for a "makerspace" to occupy the main floor of the former Farley & Moore/JC Penney building at 104 South Main Street in downtown Mount Vernon.

Clark was part of the Knox Labs board that successfully wrote an application to the USDA seeking $81,000 to cover the cost of hiring Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-affiliated The Fab Foundation to perform a complete strategic planning and community assessment of Knox County's needs and desires for a makerspace in downtown Mount Vernon.

Clark said, "As the first President of the Knox Labs, Inc. Board, I am helping lead what is, in many ways, a start-up business. During the past year, our Board has sought to best understand how our organization will function, what need it will serve in the community, and how to ensure Knox Labs is sustainable well into the future. This grant, which allows us to hire an MIT-related makerspace consultant, will provide Knox Labs with a rigorous and well-defined business plan. It will also allow us to gauge the community's interests in a makerspace as well as which equipment, programs and membership benefits we need to offer. This is a game changer for our organization."

In the grant application, the Knox Labs team described its intention to occupy the entire first-floor of the former JC Penney's building for a so-called makerspace. This makerspace would be co-located with the Mount Vernon Nazarene University's Engineering Department and create a completely integrated learning community among members of the Knox County community and the University. Further, this makerspace will be located on the newly resurgent South Main Street corridor in downtown Mount Vernon, which has experienced more than $30 million in private investment since 2010.

The MIT-affiliated Fab Foundation will assess the needs and desires of the Knox County community as to what equipment to place in the downtown makerspace, and which programs and curriculum to offer the community. The Cleveland-based Fab Foundation consulting team, led by a Kenyon College alumna who is a nationally recognized expert in makerspaces, will produce a business plan / strategic vision to guide the Knox Labs Board and its volunteers in creating a maker movement within Knox County.
Regarding this grant award, the Knox Labs Inc.'s Secretary, Jeffry Harris, said, "Creating a makerspace in Knox County, with its ability to incubate small businesses from 3D printer concepts or rough designs to possibly launching new businesses, is a key element of our community's economic development efforts. And the gold standard in creating makerspaces in the country is the MIT-affiliated Fab Foundation; this is the group that essentially helped launch the makerspace movement across the country during the past decade."

Makerspaces, like the one Knox Labs will create with the MVNU Engineering Department in downtown Mount Vernon, are work-shop focused co-working centers that function with dues-paying members. The spaces are equipped with programmable prototyping tools such as milling machines; 3-D printers; and CNC laser cutters; these spaces feature ready access to the Internet, regional tech incubator resources, and crowdfunding tie-ins. The MIT-funded Fab Lab concept (link: http://fab.cba.mit.edu/) is a precursor to the general makerspace movement, keyed to attract woodworkers, sculptors and machinists, engineers, and printmakers. Dues-paying members of such makerspaces benefit from the stimulation, collaboration, encouragement and competition of fellow participants. They also benefit from economy-of-scale through shared equipment and space.

Knox Labs, Inc. was created in 2016 with the vision of three "makers," educators and tech entrepreneurs, Mark Furman, Nate Thomas and Ryan Bailey. Since its inception, a governance structure has been adopted and a complete board has been created with representation by MVNU's Engineering Department and Kenyon College, senior staff leaders at local manufacturers, K – 12 educators, experienced non-profit administrators and passionate "makers" who seek to create cool stuff on community-shared equipment. The board is collaborating with MVNU to open the makerspace during fall 2018.

Suspected Heroin discovered at Gambier P.O.

GAMBIER - Knox County Sheriff's Office deputies, in a joint investigation with the United States Postal Service, have arrested 32 year old Megan Miller of Gambier. In a news release Sheriff David Shaffer said the arrest took place Monday afternoon at the Gambier Post Office after the discovery of suspected heroin that was being shipped via mail.

Charges are pending and the incident remains under investigation.

 

 

Kiwanis wins Babe Ruth League Championship

By Luke Trese, KnoxPages.com Sports Reporter

MOUNT VERNON - Kiwanis took the hard way to win the 2017 Knox County Babe Ruth League championship. After losing early in the tournament, they had to play seven games in seven days and had to beat Elks twice in order to hoist the hardware.

On Sunday, a high-scoring and hard fought game was on display between Kiwanis and Elks. After two innings the score was 13-10 in favor of Kiwanis. The game went an extra frame, with the final score being 18-19.

Elks started the top of the first with a five run inning with the big 2 RBI hit coming from Brice Dobbs. Power was on full display in the game with two home runs being hit by Chris Mahoney and Ben Williams. R.T. Troyer went 4-5 with two singles and two doubles, being one of the biggest pieces to the championship effort.

Another source of runs was Owen Baughman, although not having any hits he had a perfect on base percentage by being hit by the pitch three times and walked twice, he scored 4 out of the 5 times on base. In the bottom of the seventh inning with one out, after a 3 run inning by Elks, Rene Joris stepped up to the plate with Owen Baughman at third and hit a deep sacrifice fly to center field to score the tying run and sending the game into extra innings.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Lance Matthews dug into the batter's box with bases loaded and one out to work a full count, and smacked the walk-off single into left field winning the game for Kiwanis.

Kiwanis wins BRL 2017

Kiwanis became 2017 Babe Ruth League Champs Sunday at Memorial Park by defeating Elks - KP Photo by Luke Trese

 

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