Palestine clock still ticking

EAST PALESTINE – For the first time since February, Village Council this past week discussed what to do with the electric fund.

The fund established from the sale of the electric plant to Ohio Edison 38 years ago is now at $41,000 – a stark contrast from the $3.08 million it had originally.

The fund has shrunk in size over the years as a result of prior legislation allowing for the borrowing of money to cover expenses in the water, sewer, street and general funds.

Money borrowed could be used only for capital improvement purposes and would have to be paid back, according to the legislation.

But at some point the village did not have money available for payback and legislation was introduced to suspend payments for five years.

The fund was discussed extensively earlier this year when council was presented with legislation to suspend payback another five years – something the village has done since 2002.

Councilman Don Elzer, who owns the building the plant formerly operated from, brought up the fund this week. He asked when a decision would need to be made.

“The legislation to delay payments was five years and we are at five years,” he said.

He has previously suggested payback be done away with altogether since the village was essentially borrowing from itself.

Council had in 2008 passed legislation suspending payback through 2012. The current council was presented in January with legislation suspending payback through 2017, which was tabled upon the suggestion of Councilman Fran Figley.

Figley believed council needed more information about the fund, and whether payback could be done away with in the first place.

“Sooner or later a decision will have to be made. For budgetary purposes we will either have to repeal prior legislation that require the payments, or have to make payments, or suspend (them),” village Solicitor Shirley Smith said.

The prior suspensions did not pertain to money received from the sale of lots at Leslie Run Estates or tap-in fees from the lift station. According to the original ordinance, the village is required to put money from those directly into the fund.

Elzer said he doesn’t like putting money into a fund that has restrictions and would rather see the creation of a “rainy day fund.”

Figley said the fund is serving that purpose, but Elzer disagreed.

Elzer was not opposed to continuing what has been done, however.

“As long as everyone sitting here says the money can go in and out, then we are fine,” he said.

Money can only be taken out or put into the fund with council approval, although any money taken out must be designated for capital improvements.

Smith said payback will automatically be required if council doesn’t make a decision on the tabled legislation.

Finance Director Traci Thompson said a decision is needed by the end of the year.