Onaway seeking public input on budget

ONAWAY – Taxpayers in Onaway will be asked for their input as to how city officials should fix its ongoing budget problem.

City commissioners voted to send a survey to taxpayers, prefaced with a letter explaining the current financial situation. The letter states the city took in more than $420,000 in tax revenues five years ago. This is projected to bring in about $340,000 for the new fiscal year beginning April 1.

There are three options in the survey: eliminate the city’s police department to save up to $80,000 a year, let some of the streets go, or pay up to four mills. The third option would cost about $100 per year to the owner of a property worth $50,000 and let the city keep its police force and invest in its roads.

Completed surveys are due back by Feb. 1, City Manager Joe Hefele said. The answers aren’t binding and can be submitted anonymously via a postage-paid envelope, although Hefele is hoping to get a good response, he said. The survey itself topped by the city seal, and only those with the seal will be counted.

“We’re just trying to get an idea of where our taxpayers stand on where we’re at financially,” he said.

Onaway’s budget was already stretched thin in recent years, and Hefele told commissioners he once again could plug the general fund deficit by moving money out of other city funds. This would require taking a projected $53,000, in bits and pieces, from the city’s major and local streets, water, sewer and motor vehicle funds.

“When you do that, you’re taking money that should be available to make improvements to the street system and the water system and using it to do nothing but plug a hole,” he said. “It’s not something that is sustainable.”

If the city were to go this route, it would be the fourth year in a row that it did, Hefele said.

A new deficit could open anyway, as the city could have to spend as much as $25,000 for a state-mandated water system study, Hefele told commissioners.

There’s also a question about how much in revenues the city will get from the state, Hefele said. When lawmakers replaced revenue sharing with the Economic Vitality Incentive Program in 2011, it also meant the elimination of annual projections of how much municipalities would get.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688.