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Council: Accept $1M grant

Salem

City council gave the go-ahead for Mayor John Berlin to accept a more than $1 million grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation to repair the concrete portion of Franklin Avenue from South Lincoln to the city limits just past the Franklin Plaza.

The resolution authorizing him to send a letter of commitment for the Small Cities grant was approved unanimously Tuesday night. The $1,059,217 in federal funds are coming from Fiscal Year 2023 funding, which means the project won’t occur until 2022, giving the city time to let the city’s share of the estimated $1.6 million project cost (an estimated $600,000) accumulate in the capital improvements fund.

The project will be similar to what was done to East State Street, Southeast Boulevard and East Pershing last year and this year.

During the same meeting, city Auditor Betty Brothers reported she received the latest gas tax check from the state, this time totaling $57,696 for an additional $21,836 over what the city received last month. The increased state tax at the pump is coming back to benefit the city.

According to Berlin, this could mean the city won’t need to transfer money out of the general fund into the street department fund since there will be additional funds going into the street department from the increased gas tax. If the city receives an additional $250,000 from the gas tax, which it appears could happen, then no money will have to go from the general fund into the street department. Instead, that money from the general fund could go into the capital fund, either from a transfer or from carryover.

He explained that $215,000 was budgeted this year from the general fund for the street fund, but only $115,000 of that has been appropriated. The remaining $100,000 could become part of the carryover and perhaps go towards the city’s share of the Franklin Avenue concrete project.

In other business, city council gave the mayor permission to contract with JP Mohler LLC to recoup sales taxes paid for fuel, both gas and diesel for city-owned vehicles and equipment, with the exception of any used by the police department. The company will go after the overpayment of fuel taxes paid from 2014 to 2019, keeping half as payment for doing the work and giving half to the city. The company will also help the city implement procedures to secure the refunds on its own in the future.

When asked about the situation Thursday, Berlin said the city is exempt from paying sales tax as a government entity, but when gas is purchased the sales tax is paid. He said nobody in the city government realized the city could even get a rebate for those taxes, but they were happy to hear about it, He and Brothers had no estimate for how much money could be recouped.

Initially, Councilman Geoff Goll moved to have the resolution go to Finance Committee for discussion, arguing that the legislation never came out of a committee, which is the normal procedure for ordinances and resolutions that aren’t routine, and that it was dumped on council the day before.

“Nobody on this council knows what this resolution says. I don’t care which committee it goes to. There should be some opportunity to discuss it before it’s dumped on council,” he said.

City Law Director Brooke Zellers said he thought it had already been discussed and that he heard about it from Brothers, who first was made aware of the what JP Mohler could do by the mayor, who was contacted by JP Mohler. Brothers came to the podium and said she, Berlin and a representative of JP Mohler met and the tax firm explained the process being a one-time deal. She said the company will secure what overpayments they can secure for the city and they keep half. The company will show her how to do the paperwork and then the city will go on from there.

Goll withdrew his motion after hearing the explanation, but during his comments at the end of the meeting, he repeated his concerns about the process not being followed.

Historically, when any legislation comes before council for a vote, whether it came through committee or not, the President of Council always asks if there is any discussion, giving council members an opportunity for discussion before voting.

Council members welcomed Boy Scout Troy Johnston of Troop 3 who was in attendance for a merit badge and will do a report.

The next meeting will be 7 p.m. Oct. 1, preceded by a Finance Committee meeting at 6 p.m. to discuss the Regional Income Tax Agency and the 2020 budget.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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