(DHI File Photo)
(DHI File Photo)

BY ED GEBERT
Times Bulletin Editor
egebert@timesbulletin.com

DELPHOS - Most local governments in this part of the state are keeping a worried eye on their bottom lines. Both Van Wert City and Van Wert County budgets have had to face issues dealing with increasing revenue and decreasing expenses. They have nothing on the City of Delphos.

Delphos is in the midst of a budget struggle due to a unique situation.

"It's a combination of issues that came together in about a 14-15 month time frame," said Delphos Safety-Service Director Greg Berquist. "It actually started with the loss from the local government fund that impacted the city greatly. It basically reduced the revenue the city got back from the state by 50 percent."

Next came the closing of I & K Distributions with 124 jobs lost. Soon afterward Orval Kent declared bankruptcy while owing the city $480,000. Then Reser's Fine Foods bought the company, but soon lost an entire product line when Bob Evans Restaurants moved production of more than one million pounds of mashed potatoes to a newly-purchase subsidiary.

Berquist stated, "That was kind of crossing the final line in the sand. That was 107 jobs, and all the revenue that comes from that. They were our single-largest water and sewer user, without a doubt. It cause a huge impact on the city's revenue stream. So, there's the perfect storm. Everything stacked up and totally outside the control of the city to do anything about it."

So the situation at present has the city looking at more than a quarter of a million dollar shortfall for 2014 in general revenue and in revenue from water and wastewater, the city is missing an $800,000 per year customer with the empty building on Gressel Dr.

"So, that's a big hole to fill," Berquist summarized.

Filling that hole has become the source of seemingly endless debate and argument in the City of Delphos. At this point, Berquist said he has a plan that still needs some implementation steps in order to make up the shortfall. A few steps have already happened. A city employee furlough program has been agreed to by employees which will essentially close city offices on Fridays at 1 p.m. All non-bargaining employees will be taking a 7.5 percent pay cut. Members of Delphos City Council cut council salaries beginning in January.

Layoffs have already occurred in the utilities department and some early retirees will not be replaced. Layoffs also are going to trim the size of the fire and police departments. Two firefighters and one police officer have been given layoff notices. Other budget cuts will be coming as well.

"The biggest issue we're looking at right now, we're concern about our fire safety because we're going to be reducing the fire staff. Will we get by? Yes we will," said Berquist.

At this point, Delphos has seven full-time firefighters and 30 part-timers. "These part-paid people will end up being volunteers," Berquist declared. "That's the next step we're going to work our way through."

Besides the cuts, the city has an issue on the Nov. 5 ballot which would raise the city income tax by 0.25 percent. That has been estimated to bring in an additional $400,000 in income each year.

The next step being considered is a rate increase for water and wastewater customers in the city.

Berquist explained, "We're looking at somewhere between a 10 to 18 percent increase in utilities. Now that sounds like a big number, but for example, the average home in the city would have about a $48 increase per quarter, and that's about $18 per month. So when you take it down incrementally that's not so much... If in fact council passes the rate increase to make the adjustment, that will fill the gap."

The need for cuts will make things a little tougher for Delphos residents in need of city services. Along with police and fire protection being affected, snow removal and street maintenance, water line and sewer repairs will all be impacted due to a lack of revenue.

The city is also looking aggressively to find a new company to fill the building left vacant by the departure of Reser's Fine Foods. Berquist said he is working with Van Wert County Economic Development Director Cindy Leis and her counterpart in Allen County, Jeff Sprague to find a possible new resident.

"It's the largest food producing building in Ohio that is empty, so we think it is marketable," he said.

For now, Delphos is in a very tight financial situation - one that will affect how the city is run and how it can serve its residents.

"We hate this whole process. If anyone says they enjoy this, they're wrong," Berquist stated flatly. "We're impacting services to the community ,which is what we do. We are here to provide services to the community, and when we can't do what we are supposed to do for financial reasons, then it's obviously not good."