WEST ALEXANDRIA — Council approved the third and final reading of a controversial ordinance governing social media usage and voted to move forward with a four-mil, four-year property tax levy to fund the village police department during its regular monthly meeting on Monday, May 17.
The second reading of a resolution to place a police department levy on the ballot passed by a margin of five to one in April, with council president Ashley Myers voting against. The levy, which would increase the police department’s annual budget to $310,000, is expected to appear on the ballot in November.
Council initially discussed placing the levy on the ballot during a pair of special meetings in January. Police Chief Tony Gasper addressed council about his department’s proposed 2021 budget in Nov. 2020, stating that a reduction from $272,000 to $220,000 would compromise his ability to employ full-time officers and provide 24/7 police coverage.
Myers again voted against the levy on Monday, stating that more options for stretching the department’s current budget needed to be explored, and pointing out that the village wasn’t receiving 24/7 coverage even under the previous budget.
“I just think we haven’t done enough looking at the budget,” Myers said. “I don’t think enough has been done.”
Council member Shannon Smith disagreed, stating that the choice should be left up to voters.
“I say put it out to the people and let them decide,” Smith said.
The final reading of the motion to pursue the levy was passed, again by a margin of five to one.
Social Media Ordinance
The first and second readings of an ordinance requiring village officials to post a disclaimer stating that their views do not reflect those of the municipality when discussing public business on their personal social media profiles passed in March and April, with council members Zach Shafer and Dan Utsinger voting against.
The ordinance will protect the village against potential civil rights litigation, according to solicitor Aaron Glasgow, as discussions in the comment sections of social media posts could legally constitute a public forum if not properly identified, meaning that the village could face lawsuits if comments are deleted.
The ordinance also establishes that only the official website and Facebook page of the Village of West Alexandria are authorized to create a public forum.
A motion to adopt the controversial ordinance, which was initially proposed by Mayor Jeff Hickey and which Shafer and Utsinger have consistently opposed, was passed by a margin of four to two with no discussion on Monday. Shafer and Utsinger again voted against the measure.
In other business:
Council again discussed reducing the village’s legal expenditures. Shafer initially suggested cutting the $31,000 per year the village reportedly pays to the Columbus-based firm which handles its legal representation in November as a method of increasing funding to the police department.
“That’s way too much for a municipality of our size to be spending on an attorney,” Shafer said during that previous meeting, stating that villages of similar size in the county spend approximately $13,000.
Shafer called attention to dwindling funds in the village’s legal account on Monday.
“I’m really concerned that there’s only about $7,000 left; if we have to apply more toward that, where’s that money going to come from?” Shafer asked. “We’re gonna be down to $3 or $4,000 soon and we’re not even halfway through the year.”
Utsinger questioned whether other officials were required to consult with Mayor Hickey before contacting the village solicitor, but village administrator Adam Beneke indicated that was not his understanding.
Utsinger suggested limiting communication with their attorneys to a weekly bulk email.
“Some things are urgent and you need an answer right away, but for others maybe make a list,” Utsinger said.
Beneke updated council on plans to purchase and demolish the Old Twin Tavern building located at 10 N. Main St. Utsinger and Shafer first suggested purchasing the property in Feb. 2020.
Mayor Jeff Hickey instructed Beneke to block off sidewalks, alleys and parking spaces adjacent to the building in January in hopes of mitigating the danger of a possible collapse. These efforts have caused issues of their own, however, as an eight-year-old boy suffered minor injuries in April after being struck by a car while crossing the street to avoid the barriers.
Council voted to move forward with plans to acquire the property, as well as pay $4,900 in back taxes, in April. The measure passed by a margin of five to one, with Myers voting against.
Beneke informed the council that a donation agreement had been drawn up and was expected to be signed by the current owners of the property on Tuesday, May 18.
West Alexandria Village Council meetings are held the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Fire & EMS Bldg located at 8 Marty Ln.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish