Kirsten Mustain

Grove Sun

Area citizens, including hotel and motel owners, told the Grove City Council they want more specific information on a possible hotel/motel tax the city is considering at a public hearing Tuesday night.

Mike Lynch, the manager of Stonebrook Inn, told council members and the more than 50 citizens who attended the meeting that he has never worked in another city that did not have an occupancy tax.

"If the plans are well-designed and the money is well-spent it can do a lot of good," Lynch observed.

However, Lynch and others who spoke, felt that the city needs to have a very specific plan in regards to the money raised, i.e. how the tax will be administered, what the money will be spent on, and who will be responsible for it.

Several people noted that revenue raised could help bring more tourism to the area if it is earmarked and spent correctly.

Some citizens were not so enthusiastic.

Star Hutchison, speaking on behalf of the owners of Cedar Oaks RV Resort said the tax would put RV park owners within the city limits at a "competitive disadvantage."

She said people who are traveling on a budget will stay at less expensive places outside the city limits if the tax is imposed.

The city tried to pass an occupancy tax about a year ago, but the voters turned it down.

Mayor Gary Bishop said that voters had not been adequately educated before the election and that this time the details would be spelled out more clearly and the council would work to make sure that people understood the issue more thoroughly.

"Before we take this to the voters again we will have complete details about who will spend the revenue and how it will be spent," Bishop said.

In other business, the council voted three to one, with one member absent, to terminate an agreement with Rose-McCrary for a Transportation Master Plan.

At the previous meeting, the council had voted three to two to engage Rose-McCrary for the study

Ward IV Council Member Gary Trippensee, who originally voted in favor of the study, said he had requested that the item be placed back on the agenda.

"Since the last meeting I have talked to a number of people in the community and I now feel that this (master plan) may be required, but due to the economy this is not the time to do it," Trippensee explained.

The Transportation Master Plan carried a price tag of $97,500.

Trippensee illustrated the problem the city currently faces with its streets by writing a series of numbers on a white board.

Grove currently has 216 miles of paved streets, and 57 miles of those streets are in immediate need of overlay, according to the Grove Street Department.

Trippensee noted that 57 miles multiplied by the cost of paving, which is $110,000 per mile, would cost $6.2 to $6.3 million.

"Four or five streets need complete reconstruction," Trippensee said. "That's about 10 miles times $700,000 per mile, which is an additional $7 million."

He explained that the city's budget for street maintenance is $250,000 per year.

"At that rate it will take us 25 years to fix the streets that need to be fixed now," he said. "We have got to figure out a game plan."

City Attorney David Jones said the city could terminate its Transportation Master Plan contract with Rose-McCrary without liability.

Ward II Council Member Marty Follis cast the one vote against canceling the contract.

The council also passed a resolution concerning the economic development agreement between Integris Rural Health, Inc. and the City of Grove.

The city has pledged to give the new hospital a total of $1 million over a five-year period in order to assist the construction of the new facility.

At this time, the city resolved to continue with that agreement despite the restructuring that Integris is currently implementing.

"We, the council, want to stand together as a community,” Bishop said. “We made a pledge to the hospital with respect to maintaining and increasing the number of jobs in the area."

Bishop said the restructuring has led to a possible net loss of jobs in the area.

"We will continue to monitor the situation," Bishop said. "Hopefully we will see an increase of jobs in time."

Trippensee added that the city and individual citizens had contributed roughly $4 million to the new hospital project.

"We thought we would gain employment," he said.

When asked if the city would consider reneging on its monetary pledge, Bishop said he would not rule anything out.

"This is not a witch hunt against Integris," Bishop said.

However, he noted, "It's possible to remove the pledge. If tough times come, they come and we will do whatever we need to do to make things work. We don't want to undercut the people at the hospital."

In an unrelated agenda item, the council approved an agreement with Integris to provide health care services to low-income people.

Trippensee noted that 68 percent of patients billed by the hospital do not pay their bills.

He explained that the agreement was needed by the hospital so that it could show that it is treating low-income individuals.

Council members also received a report from a representative of Kershaw CPA and Associates on the annual audit of the city’s finances.

The representative said the results of the audit were excellent and that the management of Grove's accounting department was, from the standpoint of an auditor, one of the most professional in the state.

Grove's assets came in at $35 million, which is an increase of $1.4 million from last year.

A number of major capital assets were completed during the 2008-2009 fiscal year, including Olympus North Cemetery, the upgrade of the Honey Creek Booster Station and the new splash pad, to name a few.

The council also passed an ordinance, which will allow owners of 20 or more acres of undeveloped property within the corporate limits of Grove to harvest hay.

In addition, it was reported that ODOT plans to widen all the street returns off of U.S. 59 in the new construction area to 26 feet.