Ravenna seeking funding solutions

By Micah Panczyk Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Ravenna voters rejected a 1.29-mill levy that would have generated $191,336 annually for maintenance and improvements to Maple Grove Cemetery _ despite Mayor Paul Jones' announcement in October that police and fire protection could be cut if the issue failed.

According to complete but unofficial results from the Portage County Board of Elections, 1,848 residents voted the measure down, while 1,471 favored it.

"We're going to have to do more with less," Jones said Friday. "I intend to meet with department heads Monday to explore future options to save money and generate new revenues. I will attempt to cut fire and police personnel as the very last resort."

Ravenna Police Chief Michael Swartout said the department has made a lot of progress over the years.

"We'd hate to see this progress curtailed by fiscal constraints. Department heads are going to have to sit down and prioritize what gets cut, if cuts are indeed necessary," Swartout said.

Fire Chief Larry Shafer echoed Swartout's comments. "It's too early to say anything definitive right now ... we'll be evaluating things."

Seventy percent of the city's general fund is spent on police and fire protection, Jones said. The possibility of cuts to other departments _ engineering, health and building _ are also being considered.

The general fund's year-end balance has been shrinking for the last 10 years because operational costs have risen faster than revenues, Jones said previously. In addition, the departure from Ravenna in 1993 of Evenflo Products Co., which makes baby-products and employed some 200 people, also pinched city coffers.

"I'm confident we can find new sources of revenue," Jones said. "There is, for example, a market in the city for a non-emergency shuttle service _ and thousands of dollars to be made."

A three-member commission will be appointed next week to scour the cemetery budget and submit a report suggesting ways the cemetery could be more efficiently administered, Jones said.

"I want to know and the Ravenna taxpayer wants to know whether the city needs to spend $250,000 annually on this cemetery. Can this budget be cut back? Can some improvements be amortized over a longer period of time?"

Councilman Mark Gabriel, a member of the Union Cemetery Board, is considering options that might allow the city to trim the cemetery budget.

"There are avenues we need to consider," he said. "We will consider, for example, whether we could save by assigning city crews to perform paving in place of bidding these projects out to private companies. In addition, there are four roads we could choose not to pave and save as much as much as $30,000."

The average budget over the next four years is roughly $309,000 _ a figure which, due to necessary equipment expenditures, is higher than expected budgets after 2001, Gabriel said.

"We have some aging equipment that really needs to be replaced," Gabriel said. "I don't know how much we can afford to trim on these items."

The average piece of motorized cemetery equipment dates to 1979, according to Gabriel.

The city will also consider enlisting the help of volunteers and workers through the county parole offices, according to Jones.

"We have on occasion at our street department utilized people working off court sentences and they often make an excellent supplementary work force," he said.

In addition to furnishing funds for the cemetery's maintenance and capital improvements, the levy would have helped the city meet the roughly $60,000 in back payments it must pay Ravenna Township in each of the next five years. These payments will cover the city's pro-rated share of the cemetery's annual operating costs since 1993, when the city and township legally separated.

In that year, Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph Kainrad ruled that the city was solely responsible for the cemetery's oversight. The city appealed to the 11th District Court if Appeals, which upheld Kainrad's ruling.

Last February, city and township officials signed a union cemetery

agreement, putting to rest the lingering dispute over ownership of the

78-acre graveyard. Under this agreement, the city pays roughly 2/3 and

the township the remainder of the cemetery's operating expenses, a

breakdown based on tax valuations.

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