Published: Tuesday, 30 May 2017 10:57
ByThe Diversified Diner
MOUNT VERNON - Kosovo immigrant Kujtim (Tim) operates an eclectic restaurant at 1558 Coshocton Avenue, Bombay Garden & Greek Eats, serving Indian and Greek cuisine. The diminutive restaurant is nestled in a lower-level shopping strip close to Staples and a rental store.
Entering the quaint location, I’m greeted by a server. Tim stands in the kitchen prep area looking out through the square pass-through window.
I order one of the May lunch specials – a GYRO (pronounced Yee Row) with lamb as take-out. My mouth waters as I anticipate the seasoned, flaming French fries that accompany the lamb, lettuce, tomato, and onion stuffed wrap. While waiting I chat briefly with Tim and the server. She makes my fountain drink while he slices lamb and assembles my Greek fare. I like the informal, friendly atmosphere.
Another customer strolls in. With a foreign accent, he orders another lunch special. I like this varied cultural mood.
Shortly the server hands me a to-go bag along with my drink. The mixed aroma of fries and Greek spices invade my car. I can’t resist reaching in the bag and munching on a few of the steaming sticks on my drive home. The messier gyro must be eaten at a table with plenty of napkins. Don’t care for lamb? Order your meal with chicken.
Other times I’ve eaten the Indian fare. Curry and Naan bread are always winners. I can order it spiced from a mild 1 to a robust taste bud blowing 15. I usually go with a conservative 4 on the kick ladder.
Vegetarians will enjoy the cheese, nuts, grains, and sauces mingled with veggies in the Greek cuisine. Equally, Naan dipped in hummus is a tasty choice.
Mount Vernon locals, Kenyon students, and even out of towners frequent this curious intermingling of ethnic offerings. Bombay Garden & Greek Eats opens daily at 11:00 A.M.
Atmosphere: 4 Forks
Fare: 4 Forks
Service: 4 Forks
Value: 4 Forks
Overall: 4 Forks
Published: Friday, 26 May 2017 09:27
By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter
MOUNT VERNON — Five citizens attended a public hearing held Thursday morning to learn about a proposed ½ percent increase in the county sales tax. The tax will affect all retail sales, including motor vehicles, water craft and outboard motors. The tax is now 6.75 percent, 5.75 percent of which goes to the state.
“The increase is for the specific purpose of stabilizing the Knox County General Fund and to provide needed funding for capital improvement projects,” said Commissioner Teresa Bemiller, president of the Knox County Board of Commissioners.
She explained that, unlike cities that have local self-government, counties operate under state law and are mandated to provide specific services in the way the state dictates. “Many times we have a new mandate coming down and there's no funding,” she said.
When the recession hit in 2009, the county's general fund did not have enough money to cover the shortfall. Bemiller said the commissioners cut budgets by 9 percent and another 11 percent in 2010, furloughs were put in effect and general fund employees went without raises for several years. “We were urged at that time to enact a sales tax increase, but we felt our constituents wanted us to tighten our belt,” she said.
The general fund covers more than 30 departments. For several departments, such as the court system and board of elections, the commissioners have no control over the budgets. Of the sheriff's $5.3 million budget, $3 million is for the jail which is operated under state standards. Budgets for all three departments have steadily risen over the past few years.
Bemiller said that people often ask why money is available for parks and county engineer projects but the general fund is running out of money. A gasoline tax funds the engineer's office and a park district levy funds bike paths and parks. General fund revenue comes from property taxes, of which 0.5 mill is required to go to veterans services, and sales tax. “We've become more and more dependent on the sales tax,” she said.
By way of comparison, Commissioner Thom Collier said Delaware County brings in $40 million in sales; last year it brought in almost $5 million more than estimated. Noting that Knox County is not a destination for shopping, Collier said, “There's just a huge difference when you have the outlet malls and the Polarises in your back yard.”
Citing several reductions the state has enacted over the past few years, including a loss of $500,000 annually due to the discontinuance of a tax on Medicaid managed care providers, Bemiller said, “We see the state is beginning to reduce revenue to counties who can impose more sales tax.”
Collier provided specific numbers regarding revenue declines and expense increases over the last 10 years. Revenue hits include a decline in investment revenue from $1.4 million to under $400,000, nothing from the Commercial Activity Tax since 2012, local government funds under $600,000 compared to $1.1 million previously, and casino tax revenue coming in at $700,000 since its inception in 2013 rather than the $1.2 million projected. Projections for total state funding drops to $750,000 in 2018. “We don't see that trend popping back up at all,” he said.
On the expense side, Collier said the big increase is in the justice departments which include common pleas and juvenile courts, sheriff's office, public defender and prosecutor. Due in large part to the opioid epidemic hitting the county, expenses for the justice department have increased more than $2 million since 2010. Collier said that in many cases being prosecuted, the county is hit three times with expenses: in prosecutor fees, public defender fees and jail fees if the offender is incarcerated locally.
Another state mandate that requires some Felony 4 and Felony 5 offenders to be treated locally rather than going to state prison will worsen the problem. The state will reimburse $23 a day for each offender; it costs $63 a day to feed and house a prisoner. If the Knox County Jail fills with F4 and F5 offenders, the county will lose revenue from housing federal prisoners; federal reimbursement is much higher than state.
The real issue, according to Commissioner Roger Reed, is that the jail was built for male prisoners but is receiving a large number of females. Jail personnel have to juggle beds to accommodate the females.
“Projected expenses are well over revenue for the next several years and if we don't do something now, we're going to be in a heap of trouble,” Collier said.
Collier outlined three options the commissioners looked at: cutting services, moving discretionary funding for OSU Extension, the Knox County Fair and Knox Soil and Water District out of the general fund, and raising the county sales tax. Moving discretionary funding out of the general fund would free up $500,000 a year. Those departments would be funded by an agricultural levy. “If a levy didn't pass, those things would go away,” said Collier.
This graphic shows expenses for the county's justice departments compared to other general fund expenses since 2010.
Graphic courtesy of the Knox County Board of Commissioners
Regarding cutting services, Collier said that less than $1 million in expenses go toward non-mandated services. One service that is not required is road patrols by the Knox County Sheriff's Office. If patrols are cut, two Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers would respond for motor vehicle accidents, burglaries and other incidents. “That's not something we think is wise,” he said.
Of the ½ percent increase in sales tax, Collier said, “It's one of a number of bad choices that we have.”
Noting that all three commissioners are Republicans and that Republicans have had control of the Ohio Statehouse for 20 years, Tom Burkhart of Danville said, “I think people have said they are tired of higher taxes. Cut services and let them see what happens.”
“The state is telling you to come up with the money, you're telling us to come up with the money. We don't have it either,” William Eisma of Gambier told the commissioners, adding that he did appreciate the commissioners holding off on a sales tax increase for this long.
In response to former commissioner Allen Stockberger's question whether the commissioners considered a ¼ percent increase, Collier responded, “If we raised it to 7 percent, it may produce enough to maintain current services but not enough to maintain buildings.”
The county has $90 million worth of buildings, $55 million of which the maintenance comes out of the general fund. Collier said the county spent less than $200,000 on maintenance each of the last 10 years. The service center needs a new roof ($168,000), the jail needs a new chiller unit ($120,000), jail kitchen equipment needs replaced and the jail itself is nearing its expected lifespan. Total capital improvements needed are $5.7 million.
Mount Vernon resident Larry Knight asked about the number of vehicles and employees the county had and whether there is much overtime. Of the 140 county vehicles, three are funded through the general fund. The 450 employees include part-timers, Knox Area Transit, water department and DD board. There is some overtime such as when water department personnel repair a line break; Bemiller said the KCSO has made a real effort to control overtime.
“I think you guys have a thankless job, but I do encourage you to continue to cut your costs,” Knight told the commissioners.
“I see no end other than this,” Reed said of the tax increase. “I guarantee you if we cut those other services, we'd have a lot more heat because there are no sheriff's patrols.”
The commissioners can enact the ½ percent increase without going to the voters. Voters can file a referendum to repeal the tax increase. The tax has to start at the beginning of a calendar quarter, which means October is the earliest it could go into effect. Knox County Auditor Jonette Curry said the county will not receive the money before the end of December or beginning of January. A ½ percent increase is estimated to generate $2 million to $2.5 million. It equates to 50 cents per $100 spent.
A second public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, June 1, at 5:30 p.m. In the commissioners' conference room at 117 E. High St.