Rogers officials weighing options

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

ROGERS - Village Council may try again to enact a 1 percent income tax, while also giving voters the option of deciding whether the village should be dissolved and become part of Middleton Township.

That was the gist of the discussion to emerge from last week's council meeting, where council members Mike Hunt and Marilyn Locke said they should not abandon plans to enact an income tax even though an initial effort to do so failed to garner enough votes.

Council voted 3-1 at its September meeting to pass the proposed income tax on first reading, but Fiscal Officer Dale Davis said four affirmative votes are needed for the approval of any ordinance, which represents the majority of the six-member board.

Village Solicitor Michelle Simonelli said council could bring the tax up again for a vote to begin the enactment process, and Hunt and Locke said that is what they should do.

"I'll tell you, I don't like being in a dark town without street lights," Locke said. "We have enough problems in this town, and I don't think we need to be in the dark too."

Street lights are about the only service provided by Rogers that residents could not receive by becoming part of the township. The village of 237 residents has no police department or municipal water or sewer service.

New Council member Thomas Chambers, who was appointed last month to fill a vacancy on the board, agreed. "I think we need to do something if we want to save the town," he said.

Hunt suggested they begin the process of enacting the tax while also preparing a ballot issue to put before voters in 2014 that would give residents the option of dissolving the village. He and Chambers later agreed to serve on a committee that would explore the benefits as well as the disadvantages of dissolving Rogers and becoming part of the township, and present that information to voters.

Township officials had reportedly been invited to the October council meeting to discuss dissolving the village, but no one showed up. It was at this meeting that a petition signed by 94 was presented to council in opposition to enacting an income tax.

"It seemed at the last meeting everyone said 'Let's just go to the township' ...", said Village Solicitor Michelle Simonelli.

"We've got to do something. We just can't keep putting it off, putting it off," Locke said.

Rogers has an annual budget of $68,000, and an income tax would generate an estimated $17,000 annually in additional revenue. The village's finances are such that it is unable to purchase road salt for the second consecutive year, with council authorizing Street Supervisor Homer Carnes to again use ash instead.

The village also owes the state auditor's office about $50,000, representing the cost of routine annual state audits of Rogers dating back about 10 years. To get from underneath this debt, some council members suggested selling the former church that serves as village hall. Mayor Sharon Hebron said they purchased the church for $42,000.

Other ideas thrown out at the meeting included holding meetings in a private home should they sell village hall: seeking federal stimulus money, but that program mostly ended several years ago; and trying to annex some of the adjoining sections of the township into the village, such as the Rogers Sale, although Hebron said she believed that was impossible.

Simonelli indicated the state auditor's office is expecting council to take action of some sorts that assures Rogers will have an additional source of future income that enables the village's financial survival.