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GIRARD Judge offers cash from court fund



Published: Fri, January 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



An emergency income tax issue would permit residents choose what services they want, a councilwoman says.

By TIM YOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

GIRARD -- Municipal Judge Michael Bernard has offered the financially troubled city $250,000 in exchange for no layoffs in his court.

The judge made the offer Thursday during a work session involving the administration, city council, the judge and members of the state auditor's office.

Mayor James Melfi has laid off 23 full- and part-time employees to reduce costs. Despite that action, the city still has to cut $565,000 to balance this year's general fund budget.

In making his proposal of money that is currently in the court's restrictive funds, Judge Bernard termed it a "one-time deal."

The judge explained that he has instituted a pay freeze for his employees this year.

Nita Hendryx, city fiscal supervisor appointed by state Auditor Jim Petro, said the judge's proposal cuts the court's monthly payments for the justice center from $9,100 to $7,100. It would be a $330,000 savings to the court over 18 years.

Responses: Melfi termed the judge's offer a "short-term solution" because the city will have to annually come up with $250,000 without the court's help.

City Treasurer John Martin said the $250,000 "is a kiss on the cheek today."

Councilwoman Kathleen O'Connell Sauline, D-2nd, chairman of council's finance committee, pointed out the city doesn't have another source of income other than that offered by the judge.

Hendryx asserted that because the largest drains on the general fund are police, fire and court operations.

Suggests levy: To generate revenue, Sauline said, the city should consider placing a 0.5-percent emergency income tax levy on the ballot.

The city's current income tax rate is 2 percent. A 0.5-percent increase would generate $750,000 annually.

The measure would be limited to two years and help pay for services such as safety forces and recreation, she said.

Voters would have the opportunity to consider the increase as an option, Sauline explained, noting that if the issue is rejected, there would be further cuts in service.

"People understand we didn't get here in the last two years. People don't realize how bad it is," Sauline said in describing the fiscal situation.

Few assets: Melfi told the group the city has very few assets it can sell, except for Girard Lakes, which the city bought for $2.5 million.

"It's something we should move on very quickly," the mayor said of selling land around the lakes.

Councilman John Moliterno, D-at large, said the sale could take most of the year, thus not generating revenue immediately.

The group was scheduled to continue its discussion today.

yovich@vindy.com




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