Newcomerstown residents can remember when the State of Ohio declared the village’s finances to be a fiscal emergency. And they remember when village officials hosted a celebration for the village emerging from that fiscal emergency.
"But they may not see how far we’ve come since that fiscal emergency," says Kristie Wilkin, a Newcomerstown council member along with Heather Stein-Wells, David Shepherd, Jim Reed, Jim Friel and Randy Little.
And council members attribute part of that success to the efforts of Mayor Pat Cadle and Fiscal Officer Lisa Stiteler, who have instituted better financial guidelines and taken advantage of opportunities to save the village’s money.
The village entered the fiscal emergency in November of 2011 for several different reasons, according to Stiteler.
"The reason Newcomerstown was placed in a fiscal emergency was because the village had negative fund balances in several accounts, including the cemetery, pool and park fund and at one point, even the General Fund," Stitelier said. "Usually, if it can be corrected before the end of the year, the state auditor will let it go. The village had a long-time fiscal officer who was able to keep things running by doing that but after that person left, there were several part-time fiscal officers and some of those things just didn’t get done."
Stiteler was hired in 2014 and by the end of 2014, the village had all negative fund balances cleared out. But in order to get out from under the fiscal emergency, the state wanted the village to run one full year with positive fund balances.
"We were reconciling balances monthly giving the state what they wanted," Stitelier said. "We were updating purchasing policies, invoices, petty cash policies, records retention, depositing policies. Once we got all the policies, procedures and everything else the state auditors were looking for, we officially got out of fiscal emergency in June of 2016."
Mayor Cadle said that since that time, things have proceeded very well.
"Department heads did anything that was asked by Lisa or state auditors. We’ve had no issue since that time."
Mayor Cadle said the bad part about being placed under a fiscal emergency is that "it stains you. It takes a few years to get your ‘credit’ back. That affected our solar project." The village recently announced implementation of a solar power project that is projected to save the community thousands of dollars each year.
Wilkins said village residents don’t realize the community has been out from under the fiscal emergency for about four years.
"We want our citizens to know where we stand now, and how much our village finances have improved over the last several years," Wilkin said.
Mayor Cadle said the village’s budget has risen from approximately $2,758,206 in 2013 to approximately $5,393,648 in 2018.
"Lots of things led to that," the mayor said, pointing to the village receiving grants over the past three years.
Grants received included:
• Ohio Railroad Commission - $75,000
• Reeves Foundation - $22,500
• Small Community Grant - $70,000 in 2017 and $300,000 in 2018
• Appalachian Regional Commission Grant - $150,000
• Bureau of Workers Compensation - $40,000
• Police grants - $41,000
"We were able to increase our revenue because after the fiscal emergency, Lisa was able to move money to a different banks and that eliminated paying monthly bank fees of $300-$400 per month to we’re now receiving about $1,000 per month in interest. We tried to do that in 2014 but the bank wouldn’t accept the money because of the fiscal emergency."
The village also bid for new insurance and saved about $10,000 the first year. The village now has a practice of bidding for insurance every 2-3 years. The village is also working with the Regional Income Tax Agency, implementing a better plan on collecting back taxes.
Stitelier said the village collected about $62,000 in delinquent taxes, back to 2013-2014.
"We’re staying on top of that better now, too," she said. "We’re sending letters to those who haven’t paid their taxes. If they don’t settle, we send subpoena letters. That usually gets their attention more. It’s an ongoing continual process we try to keep up with. Some of the process is just updating records because people move away, etc."
Additional revenue came from enforcing a new contract with the Tuscarawas County Metropolitan Water District.
"We get sewage from Port Washington. We process it, bill the Waste District and the Waste District bills residents of Port Washington," the mayor said. "We met with commissioners and pointed out a problem and now we get $47,000 more per year because of the new contract.
"We got $20,000 to thin out trees at Cy Young Park so that’s money to put back into the park.
"In 2016, we passed a right of way ordinance so that utility companies have to fill out permits. We take care of their maintenance and bill them for it. We gained $22,000 last year because of that.
"When Lisa got started we were able to get lower rates from the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation by creating and implementing a safety manual. It’s very detailed, very specific, with lock out and tag out policies, marking electrical boxes and Personal Protection Equipment. We recently created a safety council for employees and try to schedule regular safety training for different departments. The lowers the BWC premium. If there is an accident or injury, it’s brought to safety council for review and we talk about what can we do to make it better. That saves money and makes it better for our employees. We’ve saved about 20 percent deduction on premiums.
"We were paying $15,000 to $20,000 a year to monitor water wells, gas wells, and wells at the landfill, as per requirements by the EPA. They’re checked on a monthly basis, tabulated and put into a report we get twice a year. The Stark County Wayne Tuscarawas Recycling District is taking care of that now and that’s a savings for us. Basically we asked if they would take care of it and they said okay."
The new fiscal solidarity has allowed Mayor Cadle and council to look at getting some things done in the village including:
• Leveling the former Simonds factory, developing the lower part into a nice park with a walking trail, boat ramp, fishing pond and parking for baseball games at Newcomerstown High School.
• Leveling the Cooley Hotel property on Canal Street.
• Projects at Cy Young Park and Cy Young Pool.
• Projects on West Street, including new water lines, new sewer lines, storm drains, pavement, and tree removal.
• New council chambers in Municipal Building.
• Work on the village’s water tank.
• Sewer lines on Adena Drive.
Mayor Cadle said County Road 15 is also going to be paved this year. The road was paved less than 10 years ago but has been beaten up by the amount of traffic, particularly truck traffic.
Council members said a big part of the village’s resurgence has been a team attitude among department heads that include Stiteler as fiscal officer, Travis Goodwill as Street Supervisor, Tom Sauerbrey for the Water and Wastewater departments and Gary Hollins, Chief of Police.
First of all, this has been accomplished because of our team," Wilkin said. "Pat is more than full-time, attending meetings, trainings, always trying to better our community and our village. Lisa does the same thing. Any knowledge they can pick up, they do. Going forward, maybe the mayor would be a full-time position."
Communication has also been improved, council members said.
"We discuss things and have the facts together when we need to make a decision," Wilkin said. "It’s having Pat, council and village employees working together."
An example was when there was a major water break in the village, when the mayor and the water superintendent were both out of town on vacation.
Heather Stein-Wells took the lead and made sure there were communications going back and forth to get the break fixed as soon as possible.
"Those guys from the Water Department and some from wastewater, they were there making sure doing what they could do," Wilkin said. "We’re lucky to have the employees that we have, that’s dedication. Everybody was down here, until after midnight, asking what can we do. There was a sense of pride when everybody was here wanting to help."
"Even though doing well, we’re still very mindful of where we were," Stein-Wells said. "We’re very mindful of finances and reassure citizens that we want to be conservative enough that we don’t put ourselves in that position again."
Council member David Shepherd said that he works in New Philadelphia and residents there tell him they are hearing a lot of positive things about what’s going on in Newcomerstown.
"We’re getting positive press," Shepherd said. "The mayor is a great advocate for the village and for residents who want to continue to live and work here."
"We welcome all citizens to our council meetings," Wilkin said. "We invite people to be a part of improving our community even more. There are lots of committees that people can be a part of."