BELLAIRE - Village Council switched course on a street light fee during its regular meeting Thursday, after it learned it isn't allowed to charge a safety fee to pay for police and fire protection.
At the Oct. 7 council meeting, council had discussed charging a $6 fee to every residential unit in the village to fund the operations, which was expected to raise about $144,000 for the general fund.
Councilman Troy Johnson said the finance committee had met and discussed the matter and learned that the proposed safety fee was not permitted. He then made a motion to charge a $3 a month street light fee. Councilman Orphy Klempa Jr. seconded the motion.
"The fire and police (fee), we can't do one for that," Johnson said. "If you wanted to do an assessment, that could be for sidewalks, demolition, waterlines, sewer lines, gutters, street repairs and things like that . . . I really do think we need to have some kind of fee on there."
In September, a similar $2.50 street light failed to get a second on a motion to bring the issue to vote.
According to Solicitior Ed Sustersic, the village is permitted by law to charge fees for utilities like street lights, just like they charge for water, and could be billed to all residents and businesses.
"It isn't a tax, it's a fee," he said. "On the bill, this is something that not only the (property owner), but the tenants are also likely to pay."
Councilman Jim Piatt said he had heard from an assistant chief with the city of Steubenville fire department whom he said had told him that Steubenville charged a fire service fee.
Johnson said he called and checked and couldn't find any information on any city in Ohio that has a fire service fee. He also said he checked the ordinances in Steubenville and could not find any information on the fee.
Piatt then said he would contact the assistant chief for more information.
Johnson, however, said that the only difference between the safety fee and the street light fee was the name and that the two would accomplish the same goal.
"It's does the same thing, it might say street lighting, but it's freeing money to help police," Johnson said.
Council then voted on the motion and by a 3-to-2 vote, shot down the motion.
Councilmen Jim Williams, William Marinacci and Piatt voted against the motion. Johnson and Klempa voted in favor the motion. Councilman Rickie Parker was absent from the meeting.
But the debate over the $3 fee didn't end there.
Johnson, who is also the chairman of the finance committee, said for the village to continue to operate, he said it is going to have to find a way to generate more revenue or make other cuts.
Johnson motioned to end its contact with the Neffs Fire Department for fire and Emergency Medical Service save the village $70,000 a year. Johnson then said he wasn't comfortable with it as a motion, but added that he "didn't want to see people without jobs."
That motion never received a second.
After some more discussion, Williams said he would support the $3 street light fee, but wanted the motion to include a one year time limit on how long the village would charge the fee.
Mayor Vince DiFabrizio also addressed the issue, saying the village has seen its electricity costs increase while the village's primary source of income, a 1 percent income tax, has increased in more than 40 years.
"Everybody complains they pay 1 percent income tax. It's been 1 percent since 1968. Electricity went up 27 percent this year, so what would happen if I told the power company to pull the plug (on street lights)," DiFabrizio said. "What would the people do? You want police, you want fire, you want lighting. We are going to have to do something if you want fire and police protection and EMS."
Williams said he still want the council to review the village's budget to see if there is any other ways to save money.
Piatt then suggested the finance committee meet again to discuss the issue.
"We have been meeting," Johnson said. "We've been talking about this for six months now . . . I brought this up time and time again and if we had done this six months ago, we may have had more of a carry over."
Johnson then made a motion again to charge the $3 fee, per unit in the village, this time calling it a "utility/lighting fee" that will be revisited by the council in November 2011.
Klempa again seconded the motion and it passed by a 4-to-1 vote with Marinacci voting against it.
The fee will start being charged with the December water billing.
The next regular council meeting is scheduled for Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. A finance committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 5 p.m.
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