Rules of the Road

The purpose of this blog is to share with you my thoughts on issues pertaining to Oil City and Venango County and to foster discussion.

However, that requires some basic rules. Personal attacks, inappropriate language and venom-filled postings will not be tolerated. Comments will be screened, and if necessary edited, before posting.

Disagreement and a variety of opinions are encouraged, but I ask that it always be in a respectful, positive manner. So fire away, but do so cleanly

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Terrible T Word

At City Council’s last meeting I mentioned the T word – taxes.

It drew a quick response in the form of a couple of phone calls and a comment to another Inside Oil City post, where it really didn’t fit. I will put up the comment as a response to this post.

At the meeting council reiterated its support for the work of the Arts Council and the Arts Revitalization project. Council also heard about the Main Street and Elm Street programs that are funded largely by the state, but require local matches.

The Arts Revitalization is already proving successful in helping fill downtown spaces, bringing new people to the community and improving our economic and social vitality.

The Main Street and Elm Street programs hold out the promise of doing even more.

The city financially backs the arts effort with a municipal match for a state grant to the Arts Council as well as some direct funding for the Arts Revitalization.

Although not a technical requirement, the reality is that local municipalities need to come up with 30 percent of the necessary match for state Main Street and Elm Street programs if there is any real expectation of state approval for a local project.

There are other similar programs and efforts that the city occasionally invests in with the hope of creating a better tomorrow for our community.

My comment at the meeting was that as we look to do these things it might be necessary to look at a modest tax increase to fund them. We do not have the money to continue to fund them from our present operating budget and I don’t see anything left in city operations to cut, nor are there any more significant efficiencies to be wrung out of our city work force or operations.

In my mind we need to make these investments in our future. If not, our hope for a better tomorrow is nothing but so much wishful and wistful thinking.

Like all investments, some will prove better than others. There is some risk. But there is a huge risk in doing nothing.

Ideally, I would like to see the city develop a pool of money dedicated to funding such endeavors and available for use when opportunities arise.

Yet I know no one wants to see there taxes increased.

So what do we do?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Success Happens

Although I would like to first point out I have not been terribly successful in posting as regularly as first promised. I'll try to get back on track.

Along those lines, there is a comment to a recent post I have not put up. I will put it up in a post of its own and address it in the near future.

Now back to real successes. So many great things are happening in Oil City, it’s hard to get them all down in one blog.

Yet, many fail to see that. I’ve always puzzled a bit at the tendency of some to overlook the positives and accentuate the negatives in Oil City and Venango County as a whole.

Anyone who has doubts about community successes in Oil City should look to the arts revitalization program. It had a lot of doubters, and a lot of critics, and still does. But it has brought new residents to Oil City, it has filled downtown buildings and brought a new vitality to the community. All of this much faster than anyone expected.

That’s success

Think about creation of the Northside Business Association followed by the Southside Business association. These business people got together on their own to promote and improve the respective business districts. The groups have held a number of events, developed streetscape plans, and a whole lot more in just a few months.

That’s success.

A few years ago a handful of individuals decided to combat problems in their neighborhood and formed the North Side Association. We now also have a South Side and Siverly neighborhood associations. These associations are not just holding meetings and talking, they are doing things to improve their neighborhoods and the community as a whole, including putting on last weekends second annual anti-drug rally.

That’s success.

Take Pride in Oil City – another volunteer, community-based group – brought us a trolley bus and is doing so much to promote the community and create new opportunities.

That’s success.

There are many, many other examples. Let's not forget what the the new owners of the Latonia and their renovation of the building and their hosting of events, nor the efforts of all those that resulted in the Polish Heritage Park.

Good things are happening, so for heavens sake let’s recognize it.

That’s not to say we should live in a Pollyanna-ish world and bury our head in the sand ignoring the very difficult times our community faces – we shouldn’t and we can’t. But we also need to recognize and support those efforts that are making for a better community and a brighter future.

Monday, May 12, 2008


That’s the question I have after learning that a resident apparently found it impossible to call the city staff or come to council and ask about questions and concerns he/she had regarding the city’s HOME grant.

Rather than do that, the individual wrote a letter to the regional federal Housing and Urban Development office alleging that the city might be intending to place restrictions or requirements on the program beyond those permitted under federal regulations.

Apparently he/she misunderstood something that was said during last week’s work session as we – council members – asked the staff about the program and how it could be used and its requirements.

Of course the individual’s letter immediately raised questions with federal officials about our pending grant application, which were passed on to the state officials who administer the program who called the city for clarification. The call could easily have been made by the individual.

There is no doubt that the city’s application, which council approved tonight (May 12) will now be under the microscope and receive an exceptionally severe review for any possible flaws. And it is unnecessary.

If a person has a concern about how council or the city intends to do something, why not ask about it, especially if they believe there might be some violation of federal or state program guidelines. If they still believed that after seeking explanation, they still have the option of taking their concerns to state and federal officials.

I would be saddened and deeply bothered if an individual felt they could not come to council or the staff with their concerns and receive a fair and honest appraisal and/or explanation. I’m bothered, but angered, if the reason they did not seek explanation was out of some desire to play “gotcha.”

The HOME program has the potential to greatly help eligible homeowners bring their properties up to code in one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, which will help everyone who lives there and anywhere within the city. We’ve used the program with great success in the past.

We need to all work together in a cooperative fashion to address our housing issues and the needs of our residents. Jumping to conclusions and failing to seek clarification before raising allegations of program violations doesn’t strike me as being very helpful.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Good State Legislation!!!

Every once in a while a reasonable and solid piece of legislation surfaces in the state legislature that would actually improve the financial condition of Oil City and other similar communities.

The legislation is House Bill 2018, the Tax Exempt Property Municipal Assistance Act.

You’ve probably never heard of it. It certainly hasn’t made headlines anywhere, but it should.

The legislation would provide state funding through dedicating the 18 percent tax on wine and liquor sales – Believe it or not, this tax is the Johnstown Flood Tax – to provide assistance to communities where tax exempt properties account for more than 15 percent of market value of assessed property.

In Oil city, the percentage is a bit above 37 percent.

The Johnstown Flood Tax now goes into the state general fund, so it would have to be replaced either through cuts or other revenue sources. But the state has such opportunities, its cash-strapped cities and other municipalities with high percentages of tax exempt property do not.

The tax exempts are important to communities; they provide needed services and jobs. However, the also require municipal services even when almost always they are regional in scope.

If the tax exempts were taxable, Oil City would face no financial difficulties. We would have the money to sustain municipal services at current levels, and perhaps even improve them. We would have the money to address our deferred infrastructure needs, such as street paving.

And we can have the money for all of that through House Bill 2018.

What are your thoughts? Are you going to call your legislator and demand action?