Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wall Street to Court Street: The Economic Crisis Affects Athens

Brianna Savoca

Athens City leaders are worried about the economic crisis on the local level, especially when it comes to the city budget.

“We’re not in the red yet, but we are worried,” Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl says. “Other cities are more strapped, but we don’t want to be in that place.”

“It is hard to tighten the belt because most of our budget is personnel," Athens City Audior Kathy Hecht says. According to Hecht, about 80 percent of Athens budget goes toward personnel, whereas for most cities personnel makes up only 70 percent of the budget.

"If we have to tighten up, that means layoffs,” Hecht says. “We’ve avoided that for years.”

Rather than laying off workers, Hecht says Athens is attempting to cut budgets by reducing fuel and energy costs.

Mayor Wiehl says the Athens government is monitoring how much energy is being used in each city building.

Athens residents may notice less city vehicles on the roads as well.

"The cost of fuel affects everything," Hecht says. Since the cost of fuel is going up and Athens is not bringing in more revenue, Hecht says fewer city cars will be patrolling the streets.

Athens City Auditor Kathy Hecht explains cutting costs.

Mayor Wiehl says the first thing eliminated from the budget would be proactive road maintenance.

"Things like potholes in the streets, they're just not going to be repaired as much as they have been in the past," Hecht says. "Maintenance things that are not life-threatening will have to be prioritized."

"There's essential services and less essential services," Mayor Wiehl says. Fire and police are criticial, whereas maintenance of roads is not as high a priority, he says.

However, some Athens residents think the pothole problem needs to be addressed by the city government. Nathan Johnson, an OU student, says potholes are a hazard and he can't believe Athens City government is considering cutting back on road repairs.

"That's pretty cheap," Johnson says. "We have enough to pay for as college students, and to have to worry about a spare tire or fixing car damage [from potholes] is ridiculous."

OU Student Nathan Johnson says potholes around Athens need to be addressed.


"Litter is an issue," Hecht says. In order to cut costs in the budget, Hecht says the city may not be able to keep up with the litter problem.

Clearing roads in the winter is another problem the city of Athens faces with the budget crisis, Hecht says. The cost of fuel to power salt trucks and the cost of salt itself have both significantly increased over the past year.

"I don't know yet if salt will be an issue for us yet," Hecht says.

Mayor Wiehl cited water and sewer costs as another service Athens City government will be monitoring to reduce costs. Athens residents may also be paying more for water and sewer services.

"People will see additional charges- an increase on their water and sewer rates," Hecht says.

Mayor Wiehl says other cities, especially in Northern Ohio, are facing a budget crisis far worse than Athens. He says Ohio University is the reason why Athens income tax remains stable. Kathy Hecht agrees.

"Since Athens is a college town, the school's not going to close down, and students will live off campus," Hecht says.

However, Hecht says if local businesses start struggling and permanent residents move, the income tax and property tax revenue will drop.

Without enough tax revenue, Mayor Wiehl says Athens will be forced to start reevaluating the budget.

Mayor Paul Wiehl talks about how the national economy affects Athens.

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