LAKEMORE: It should come as no surprise that Mayor Rick Justice, who took office Jan. 1, said his goal for 2012 reflects his campaign pledge: Bring back financial solvency to the village by creating jobs.
The only way to do that is by making the village more attractive to business, he said.
Lakemore, placed in fiscal emergency in 2010, can’t spend a dime on improvements to the village of about 3,000 residents without approval from the state auditor’s office. But officials are working with a balanced budget today and digging their way out of a $1 million hole caused, in part, when income that the former Edwin Shaw Hospital generated dried up several years ago.
“The good news is that we are ahead of schedule with the cuts we’ve made,” Justice said.
Justice said that the under-construction Springfield schools are “a springboard for a lot of improvements” in the village overall because of the income being generated.
Also helping Lakemore reach financial stability is a measure council approved last year to reduce the income tax credit by half for people who work outside the village.
“The new construction at the school is really helping us out. We should be getting out of fiscal emergency ahead of schedule and go back to giving residents 100 percent tax credit,” Justice said.
The village also has cut expenses — a former village administrative position will not be filled — to help the village recover from the fiscal mess it got into with 10 years of misspending.
Justice said the village is saving $60,000 a year by absorbing the duties of former administrator Chad Pryor, who was fired in November amid charges that he stole from the village. Officials will try to recoup the approximately $1,300 it alleges Pryor took by keeping money from the sale of village property and by using a village credit card to buy gas for his personal vehicle.
As the village zoning inspector, Pryor also was receiving a percentage of all zoning permit fees.
Justice said he has changed the way the department is run by dividing the work into three new positions: a person responsible for paperwork generated by issuing zoning permits, a person doing the field work and another enforcing zoning laws, “all for less than $400 a month,” he said.
“They are all conscientious citizens who are dedicated to the village. They really want to clean it up,” Justice said.
Each of the new zoning department employees will work 10 to 15 hours a month.
“I think we’re going to get a lot more done, especially when it comes to enforcement of current laws that regulate trash, high weeds and abandoned and foreclosed-on homes,” he said.
Justice said the village is talking with Tri-County Plaza owners to open a light-industrial and retail operation with the help of county officials.
The new high school will require a $500,000 investment in road improvements on Sanitarium and Canton roads, Justice said.
Village officials will fund an engineering study to determine where Lakemore stands in terms of future development.
“You need a plan to develop funding to attract any kind of new investment. We have to change the demographics that business owners and residents look at,” the mayor said.
Justice said he and council are looking at four areas in the study: infrastructure, housing, education and recreation.
In 2012, the village will complete the replacement of a control panel that is responsible for well operation. Parts to repair the panel, estimated to be more than 50 years old, are no longer being made, Justice said. The panel directs the wells when to come on and fill the water tanks.
“I think we will be a able to put another well online this year, which we really need,” he said.
There is very little money, — $2,500 is budgeted for improvements for parks in 2012 — but in conjunction with Springfield Township, which shares the program, officials are looking at ways to control the mess generated by the geese population on the lakefront.
Police protection, provided by Springfield Township, continues to work well, Justice said. The 2012 contract will cost the village $477,000, with savings from consolidating operations at almost $300,000.
Talks are ongoing with the school bus contractor that serves Springfield schools to keep operations inside the village. First Student Inc. must relocate its garage and its parking area because of the school construction and is looking at the building that formerly housed the Lakemore Police Department. If negotiations are successful, the move would keep 45 jobs in the village, Justice said.
A proposal to merge Lakemore and Springfield fire departments last year did not pan out.
“We made a couple offers that were rejected. From now on, we are going to focus on our own department,” Justice said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.