By JEREMY STUTSMAN
This is in response to Goshen City Council President Jim McKee’s “Reader Point of View” (The Goshen News, June 27) where he explained his “no” vote on a partnership between City of Goshen and Goshen Community Schools to build sidewalks in areas where children walk to school. There are a couple things that should be clarified.
In describing the city’s financial situation, McKee stated that “some City employees have not had raises in several years.” In fact the only ones who have not received raises since 2008 are council members. It is true that employees received minimal raises for several years, just enough for them to pay the increased employee contributions to health insurance premiums. However, President McKee joined other council members to approve increases in 2013 and 2014 that would give employees a better net increase after again paying increased health insurance contributions.
It is worth noting that the city has been working with schools for several years, identifying areas where children walk to school with no sidewalks. Areas have been prioritized, and in a number of situations, like the Chamberlain neighborhood (District 3, Councilwoman Dixie Robinson), the City paid 100 percent of the cost to assure children had safer ways to walk.
The recent request from Goshen Community Schools to partner with them in a 50 percent cost sharing was because they needed to get more sidewalks built quicker in order to cut some cost from their transportation budget. The City can afford to do this from its Economic Development Income Tax Fund. President McKee’s contention was that Goshen Schools could pay 100 percent from its Rainy Day Fund. That is true. However, with the extreme financial challenges facing schools from property tax reductions, future demands on their Rainy Day Fund will be great and needed for education not infrastructure.
Benefits from building sidewalks are great for the schools, but also great for neighborhood and community walkability. It makes sense that city government would help pay. Either way it is your tax dollars.
City administration is exploring an alternative way to work with Goshen schools to build sidewalks because it is a timely and critical issue facing the community. The intent is to use the regular sidewalk program, with schools paying what would normally be the property owner’s share. What this means is that some other sidewalks may have to wait where residents hoped to get them this year. And, in areas where there are four or more contiguous property owners, City’s practice has been to pay 60 percent. So it could cost us more through the sidewalk program than a 50/50 partnership.
Jeremy Stutsman is a second-term At-Large Goshen City Councilman.