December 19, 2014

Elyria
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Village of Kipton in jeopardy amid financial crisis

KIPTON — The village must slash $10,000 from its planned 2015 budget in order to deal with what Kipton Mayor Bob Meilander said were unpaid bills, unbalanced books and a series of fines from state agencies that have decimated the village’s savings.

If the fiscal bleeding isn’t stopped or Kipton voters fail to renew its operating levy, which brings in about $14,000 annually, Meilander said during a town meeting Wednesday that it’s possible the village could cease to exist and be reabsorbed into Camden Township.

Meilander said that he and Village Council have already come up with a plan to cut the budget, which was about $80,000 this year, to around $70,000 next year. Before state cuts to local government funding began in recent years under Gov. John Kasich, Meilander said, the village’s annual budget had been about $95,000.

He said the village has already taken steps to address the budget crunch, including disconnecting power to a gazebo and pavilion in town, a move Meilander estimated will save $840 per year. The village plans to stop employing an attorney, freeze planned raises for Council and cut in half the number of street lights that illuminate the village of roughly 240 people.

On top of the cuts, Meilander said Kipton also owes about $3,000 in fines to agencies because of unpaid bills or unreported information.

He said he and Council have been trying to clean up the books since the departure of the township’s previous fiscal officer, Rick Krueck, last year.

Meilander said after Krueck left, he discovered unopened mail, unpaid bills and the village’s financial books in disarray. He also said that the Rural Lorain County Water Authority, of which he is a board member, had sent the village a notice that its water service was going to be cut off for nonpayment.

Meilander said after the meeting that once Ohio Auditor Dave Yost’s office completes an audit of the village’s finances that there will likely be a finding for recovery against Krueck.

But Krueck defended his brief tenure as fiscal officer, saying he had tried to fix the village’s fiscal woes. He also said the village was in financial trouble because of a $30,000 loan that was taken out in 2008, something he voted against as a member of Council.

Krueck called the problems with the village’s finances a “shared responsibility.”

“They just had a series of people in office who didn’t know what to do,” Sheffield Township Fiscal Officer Patty Echko said after the meeting.

Echko said she and Camden Township Fiscal Officer Cheryl Parrish have been donating time to fix Kipton’s books since last fall, but there still exists the possibility that the village could see additional hits from unexpected sources.

Jennifer Strickland, a longtime village resident, said she is still worried that the full extent of the village’s finances hasn’t been fully disclosed.

“It looks like there may have been mismanagement of (village) funds,” she said after the meeting, adding that who’s at fault changes based on who one talks to.

Meilander encouraged residents to pull together, not just to vote for the upcoming levy but also to improve the village itself. He suggested forming committees to try to draw events and people into the village.

“We need to do more than just survive,” he said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.