RUSSELL — Geauga County Budget Commission members approved the township’s 2021 budget when they reconvened on Monday, two weeks after sending the spending plan back for revisions.
Russell Trustee Jim Mueller said the advisory board took issue with the township’s lack of spending in 2020, which he said was a prudent measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trustees remedied the situation by initiating plans for a new project, he said.
“The budget commission is unhappy with us because we stopped spending on some projects and frankly we furloughed some of them,” Mr. Mueller said after the trustees met for a special meeting last week to talk about budget issues. “At least in our mind, we thought we would put them off until next year when things are a little more clear.”
He added that the budget commission told trustees that they needed to spend the $500,000 allotted for projects by the end of this year. This prompted the trustees to move forward with the construction of a new joint storage facility.
“We have committed ourselves by resolution and by contact Larson & Associates for both the fire and police station,” Mr. Mueller told the budget commission on Monday. “They are now engaged and they are going to build a storage facility. We’ll definitely break ground on that this year. So that’s $375,000 of that half million.”
The original plan was to use the old Russell Township Fire Station on Chillicothe Road to house resources, materials and evidence belonging to the police and fire departments. But trustees instead decided to spend money on the new buildings as directed by the county commission. That puts the future of the old firehouse up for discussion again.
“We keep doing this,” Mr. Mueller said when the Russell Trustees met by themselves last week. “Just consider me a no-vote on tearing that station down as long as I’m a trustee.” Previously, Mr. Mueller stated that he supports keeping the old station up, while Trustee Gary Gabram wants to raze it.
Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz said that even with that project, the township will be more than a $100,000 short of what was spent in 2019. Mr. Mueller responded that other, miscellaneous projects easily added up to that amount.
At one point, Mr. Flaiz threatened to take away Russell’s funding sources, and said, “We could suspend all three of your inside mills and you would still have plenty of money.”
After the second budget hearing, Mr. Mueller voiced disagreement. “Each of those funds yields about $250,000,” he explained. “And that three inside mills are the only funds that we have to run the general fund and the administration of Russell Township. I just thought that was ridiculous because, basically, he would have wiped out our entire income for one year.”
Mr. Gabram said this week that the board has realized the budgetary discretions aren’t new, and vowed to resolve them for next year.
“The way I see it, everything going on back to 2017, we are aware of it now,” he told Mr. Flaiz and the other attendees. “We had money in the budget but our big problem is we failed to execute the job, therefore retiring the money year after year.
“I’ve been around 28 years,” he continued. “I should have picked it up. There’s no excuse for it. The board didn’t do their job. Excuses are a sign of weakness. We don’t have a weak board, we just didn’t do the job.”