Major budget cuts for Cleveland Heights: City Council slashing $2 million in spending this year

Cleveland Heights is no different than many other struggling cities. With both federal and state budgets strained, Cleveland Heights is feeling the pinch. Budget cuts are on the horizon. After soundly defeating Issue 29, a proposed income tax increase, City Council has aggressively begun to address fiscal challenges facing the city.

Heights residents, on March 4, 2008, struck down Issue 29, a ballot initiative that would have raised the city’s income tax rate. The proposed measure would have increased the city’s income tax point four (.4) percent from the current two percent tax to two point four percent.

The initiative, which was placed on the ballot by City Council rather than unilaterally approved without voter referendum, has sent a clear message to council that budget cuts are preferred over tax increases at this time. Voters will now get what they asked for.

City Council member Mark A. Tumeo was not surprised by the defeat of Issue 29. Tumeo believed all along that the voters of Cleveland Heights should be given the decision on raising taxes and was steadfast in his desire to take Issue 29 to the voters. He had, of course, preferred that the initiative pass, but, given the overwhelming defeat, he feels that he now has a mandate from the voters to make the necessary decisions that will set Cleveland Heights in the right direction.

What is on the cutting block?

City Council has indicated several initial cuts paired with payment, fee and parking rate increases. The combination is designed to boost the city’s stagnant revenue while slashing spending. An estimated $2 million will be cut from this year’s budget with an additional $2 million to be eliminated next year.

Obvious remedies include the freezing of all city hall salaries at their current levels, with the exception of negotiated fire and police union increases. Ten full-time public service positions will be eliminated within the city government and 5 police officers will not be replaced after expected retirements. Nine seasonally hired public service positions will also not be filled in the fall.

City services will take a big hit with the closing of our real estate programs, student services, after school programs and animal control. Spring leaf cleanup will be suspended but the city will continue to collect bagged leaves.

The Community Center will be affected as well with both a rate increase and the reduction of operating hours. New rates and shortened hours have not been finalized but are imminent.

Finally, the city will not provide flower baskets this year, a small but important element of Cleveland Heights' charm.

Council member Tumeo also indicated that the city will start charging for use at Cain Park, changing the city’s street salting system and eliminating the free dump truck service.

Parking meter rates will be enforced 24 hours with other potential community and permit fees raised. Many of these details are still under examination.

So how did we get here?

In short, the current budget crisis is a combination of factors including a sluggish economy, deep foreclosure rates brought on by the subprime lending crisis, slower than expected property and income tax revenue growth, reduced direct federal funding and continued decline in state funding.

City leaders have watched as the city’s reserves have literally dried up, a potential threat to the city’s decent bond rating. The city’s reserve fund is estimated to be as low as $20,000 by the end of this year, without immediate cuts.

Council member Tumeo believes that the defeat of Issue 29, coupled with the expected budget cuts, will impact the elements that really define Cleveland Heights. He does not expect Council to bring the income tax levy back to the voters in the November election, as the city will still be working within the current rounds of cuts.

However, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a new income tax levy will be presented to voters next year. It is also possible that the state will further cut local funding shares as it works out of a serious budget deficit.

Going forward

Tumeo indicated that morale at city hall is very low and that the expected round of cuts is a deep blow to city spirits. While the elimination of high-ranking city positions has not been discussed, it is possible that future budget cuts could impact these city positions.

In addition, some on Council have been exploring the potential for merging services with University Heights to save money and eliminate duplicative activities. These talks are in early stages and could lead to a long-term merger of the two cities. T

he future of Cleveland Heights has perhaps never been more in question than it is today. Decisive moves and deep budget cuts by City Council will shape the community for years to come and the outcomes of these efforts will soon be felt by all.

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Volume 1, Issue 1, Posted 9:59 AM, 04.11.2008