During a special Gallipolis City Commission meeting on Tuesday, Parkfront Diner owner Becky Rothgeb told commissioners such a move would kill the downtown area.
“Have you ever been to another city where their city building is not in the downtown area?” Rothgeb asked the commissioners. “We’ve already lost our schools. Our downtown is fading rapidly and now you want to take the heart of the city away from what we have left.”
An attempt by Commission President James Cozza to speak was interrupted by Rothgeb who said, “You are not going to ease my mind by saying this is a temporary move, because this temporary move is still a move and in this economical system we are in right now we would have to deal with it. And even in a matter of months it could destroy what’s left of us in the downtown area.”
After taking care of other city business, Commissioner Matt Johnson revisited the subject.
“Mrs. Rothgeb, we’re new here,” said Johnson. “Rumors and accusations are just that. This city is four square miles and I think we want to see it become the best four square miles we can, and you’re right, when something moves out of this town it’s hard to get it back.”
Johnson said the commission did not want to move the building out of the downtown, but until they could alleviate some of the city’s debt, including the Ameresco project, to allow for more loans they would have to look at all options.
“The building needs to be downtown,” Johnson said. “We’re probably going to do something at some point but we need to work with the county on a couple of other little projects so they can help us with some buildings that are downtown.”
Rothgeb asked what the county had to do with downtown Gallipolis.
Johnson discussed a feasibility study for a justice center conducted by the county.
“If we can put both the courts together in a building downtown, we wouldn’t have to have a big building to put our office in,” he said. “If we did move temporarily we could raze this building and put something right back here if we wanted to.”
Johnson said the commission could not give a timeline and said options, including downtown locations, are being considered.
Former city commissioner Carroll Snowden questioned the commission regarding the debt of the city and how the Ameresco project affected the city’s ability to take out loans.
At first, the commission stated the Ameresco project affected their loan limit, but Snowden pointed out that the Ameresco project was a lease not a loan.
“Even though (the lease) does not count against the borrowing capacity, believe me, it affects your ability to borrow,” said Gallipolis City Auditor Annette Landers, who said the city does not want to overextend the budget.
City Manager Randy Finney said the city is still looking at options, but he needs the ability to negotiate with potential sites.
“We have to have options. I have to have negotiating power,” said Finney.
The negotiation of contracts is one issue public bodies can discuss in executive session, though final decisions must be made in an open meeting.
Rothgeb asked the commission to keep the public informed before making any final decisions.
In other action:
• The commission passed the first reading of an ordinance to allow industry and commercial hook-up to the Gallia County Industrial Park sewage line on the recommendation of the city manager and vote of the commission.
Cozza went on to discuss how the funding for the sewer system works.
“There seems to be some misunderstanding about what pays for the sewer,” said Cozza. “The water and sewer plants are under what’s called an enterprise fund. An enterprise fund basically means the entity pays for itself.”
Cozza said funds received from water and sewer bills must be used for the sewer and water plants.
“If the sewer plant makes $100, that $100 can only be applied against requirements for the sewer plant,” he said. “They can’t go to buy a police car, they can’t go to pay the city manager’s salary.”
Cozza said, based on research by the city auditor, taxpayer dollars have never been used to supplement the sewer or water plant.
Cozza also discussed the cost of accessing the city water or sewer by outside residents.
“People who access the sewer outside the city or have city water pay a surcharge of 22 percent above what a person pays who lives in the city for the same sewer service,” said Cozza.
Cozza said population density is one reason for the surcharge.
“The point is that sewer and water pay for themselves. There are not tax dollars used and people who live outside the city and don’t pay city income tax, if they have those services, pay 22 percent more than someone living in the city who may or may not be paying income tax,” said Cozza.
• Cozza broached the subject of possibly retaining help to create a five or 10 year plan for the city.
“We tend to be more reactive, but we tend not to be proactive. We’re always just stomping out the current brushfire,” said Cozza. “I’m not sure that’s how we want to operate forever.”