Council Address Concerns With OU Administration

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Members of Athens City Council met with Ohio University President Roderick McDavis and top members of his administration for lunch Tuesday to discuss a wide range of topics.

Council and McDavis try to hold a lunch meeting twice a year.

Councilman Steve Patterson asked McDavis about the possibility of OU contributing toward the purchase of at least one new pumper truck for the city’s fire department. OU is contributing $50,000 per year for a total investment of $250,000 to pay for the city’s new ladder truck.

Patterson suggested that the university consider continuing those payments after the ladder truck is paid off. As an OU faculty member Patterson said his number-one priority, aside from educating, is keeping students safe.

“We’re as concerned as City Council is about safety,” McDavis said. “We want to continue to try to be a partner and be helpful and we’ll know more once we can identify what our resources are going to be going forward.”

McDavis said the university held public budget hearings when developing its budget and the administration was “quite frankly overwhelmed” with funding requests, including $18 million of needs that cannot be funded.

“As we look at our needs internally, we certainly understand the safety perspective need for an additional pumper truck and maybe another one in the not too distant future,” McDavis said, “so it is on the table with us. We’re not ignoring it, but by the same token, we just feel because we’ve gone so long without meeting some academic and non-academic needs on campus that we have to take into account what those needs are as well.”

He said OU won’t know entirely what its budget will look like for the upcoming fiscal year until the end of the month after the Board of Trustees meeting.

The board is slated to vote on a tuition increase — 1.5 percent for undergrads — at its June 27 meeting at OU’s Eastern Campus in St. Clairsville.

Councilwoman Michele Papai said another way OU can help contribute revenue to the city is to make sure that contractors and subcontractors working on campus are paying city income tax.

“We hope that those companies understand that when they’re working in the city of Athens that they need to pay income taxes when they file their taxes for their workers,” she said.

Stephen Golding, vice president for Finance and Administration at OU, told the group that maybe a memorandum of understanding could be drafted to add some linkage between OU’s procurement office and the city’s tax office to provide a list of contractors working on campus. Golding said that shouldn’t be a difficult problem to solve.

With new residence halls being constructed and ongoing capital improvement projects, McDavis said there will be construction on campus for the next 10 years.

Councilwoman Chris Knisely praised OU for selecting Schooley Caldwell Associates as the architectural consultant to aid in the development of The Ridges master plan. She said a recent public meeting with the consultant went well and that residents were listened to regarding their suggestions and concerns.

McDavis said there will be continued public input sought during the plan development. The plan is to be delivered to McDavis next spring.

The OU administration was also asked about what it’s doing to tackle the issue of student debt. Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit told Council about the university’s new scholarship program and investments to provide more financial aid to high-performing students in need, and the Ohio Guarantee tuition model that will be implemented in the fall of 2015.

Ohio University will be the first public higher education institution in the state to offer such a tuition model, which will give students and their families an upfront guaranteed price for tuition, room and board and fees for their four-year education.

OU administration and Council members discussed the need for more affordable housing, childcare and retirement homes in the city.

Getting students engaged in the Athens community was another topic of discussion. All agreed that OU’s Beautification Day held in the spring is a great way for students to give back to the community. Around 1,000 students participated in this year’s event. But many would like to see more events throughout the year, including a cleanup day in the fall.

The luncheon closed on the discussion of #Fest, a music festival held out Route 56, just outside of the city limits. Both the OU administration and Council said they are deeply concerned about the safety of the event.

McDavis said he’d like to find a solution to the problem and it was suggested that the topic be brought up in a meeting with the Athens County Commissioners since the venue is not inside city limits.