- Michael Cooper Staff Writer
Some Springfield residents want city commissioners to keep funding a local tourism agency while others have urged city leaders to go back on the ballot in May.
Springfield city staff members have recommended about $1.5 million in cuts next year, including to parks, municipal court, safety services and a local tourism agency. The proposed cuts come after a request to raise the city’s income tax rate from 2 percent to 2.4 percent fell short by 227 votes.
The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau took to social media last week to ask residents to contact city commissioners about keeping its $417,000 funding in next year’s budget. Supporters also packed City Hall during a commission meeting earlier this week.
About $18 million in lodging taxes has been collected over the past 36 years, the Chamber of Greater Springfield President and CEO Mike McDorman said. The city and visitors bureau currently split the hotel taxes generated in the city. He asked commissioners to tour the bureau and its Champion City Guide and Supply store and to continue its funding.
“We implore you not to kill this incredible asset and revenue generator that is performing important work for the promotion and advancement of our great city,” McDorman said.
But others, like Springfield Professional Firefighters Local 333 President Andy Rigsbee, urged commissioners to go back on the ballot in May in the wake of cuts to police and fire overtime.
Fire Station No. 5 will close in January, eliminating one combination fire/medic unit from serving the city, Rigsbee said. The reduction will increase the burden on the entire department, he said.
“We’re doing much more with much less,” Rigsbee said.
The closing of the fire station might lower the Springfield Fire/Rescue Division’s insurance rating, he said, increasing rates for homeowners.
It could also result in increased response times and a reduction in fire coverage, he said.
“This is time, time that you may not have,” Rigsbee said.
City commissioners haven’t taken a stance on eliminating funding to the visitors bureau, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said.
“It’s not a final decision, it’s a recommendation from staff,” Copeland said.
State Rep. Kyle Koehler asked commissioners to consider having the Ohio Auditor’s office perform a feasibility study to examine where Springfield and Clark County could share services.
“I’m asking you, the community, to hold the commission’s feet to the fire to use this money so we can save future dollars instead of taxing more,” the Republican Springfield lawmaker said.
In the past, the cost of such a study was required to be paid back; however, a new bill sponsored by Koehler offers the service free of charge.
“The state auditor has said that for every dollar they spend, they save $22 for a community,” Koehler said. “That means if they spent $75,000 on a feasible study for Springfield and Clark County, there’s a chance that we could save $1.6 million.”
More growth can happen in the future with the visitors bureau, CVB Board Member and Clark County Fairgrounds Director Dean Blair said, especially with other tourism venues closing in Dayton.
“If you eliminate the sales force, you can’t produce the revenue — and that’s the bottom line,” Blair said. “We’re on the verge of exploding in a very positive way.”
Earlier this year, the visitors bureau took over operations of both Holiday in the City and the Springfield Farmers Market after the former Center City Association disbanded. The market had its best year to date, employee Tim Sloan said, due to the expertise of the visitors bureau. He asked if the city could manage the market if it eliminated the bureau’s funding.
The city should consider furlough days and eliminating longevity pay, Springfield resident Mike Lowe said.
“People would not have to lose their jobs,” Lowe said. “There’s too much top level people who could be cut or eliminated instead of losing the fire department, police or the visitors bureau.”
The proposed cuts are harmful to the city, its employees and its residents, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said.
“None of this stuff is easy,” Bodenmiller said. “None of this stuff are things we want to do.”
The city told residents what would happen if the income tax increase didn’t pass, Bodenmiller said, and the visitor’s bureau is funded at twice the amount required by law.
“It is fair to me that when we’re talking about these things that everything is on the table and that everything be considered,” he said. “We can’t just not do anything of these things because of the situation we’re in. We have to consider all of these things.”
Copeland also apologized to CVB Director Chris Schutte for comments at the previous commission meeting, which some residents believed were insulting. Two weeks ago, Copeland asked Schutte how bus wraps in Springfield increase tourism in the community, which the mayor said was a question commonly asked by residents.
“I simply asked that question as a representative of the people,” Copeland said. “I didn’t mean to be making fun of him … As a funding body, we have to ask questions and that’s what I was trying to do. If I didn’t do it well, I apologize.”