Nothing to gain in merger with Cleveland Heights

Mayor Beryl E. Rothschild. Photo courtesy of the City of University Heights

Why would a small city such as University Heights, which is doing well, want to be absorbed by its larger neighbor Cleveland Heights, which isn’t doing well at all in these economic times. What would we gain from it? Absolutely nothing.

Contrary to some of our other larger neighboring communities, we have a balanced budget, we live within our means, no employee has had to be laid off, all of our quality city services continue to be delivered. Our city has only been on the ballot once in the 32 years I have been mayor for an income tax increase, which passed easily several years ago. Also, our debt load is low.

What could we possibly gain by merging with Cleveland Heights?

We are a jewel in a suburban setting with a very different culture from Cleveland Heights, even though we share the same public school and library systems, two independent entities. We have more in common with South Euclid and Shaker Heights than we do with Cleveland Heights because of their form of government. We have a strong-mayor/council form of government (called the Federal System) like South Euclid and Shaker, whereas Cleveland Heights has a council/city manager system whereby the council elects one among itself as mayor. However, the councilperson-mayor has no experience actually running a city as do South Euclid, Shaker and University Heights’ directly elected mayors.

In addition, University Heights is in a different court system with Beachwood, Pepper Pike, Hunting Valley and Shaker Heights at the Shaker Heights Municipal Court. Judge K.J. Montgomery is terrific so why would we want to join the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court System?

On the other hand, Cleveland Heights has a lot to gain from such a merger, mainly the needed population figures to assure Cleveland Heights that it will have the necessary population after the upcoming census to keep receiving direct community block grant money of $200,000 or better, whereas we have to compete to receive any Block Grant money. Also, they would get our tax income which certainly would help Cleveland Heights bail out of its recent economic dilemma.

University Heights has never been courted by Cleveland Heights before so why would we not be suspicious of their motives? Over the years the Cleveland Heights Council’s attitude has remained self-serving, so why would our city want to join with Cleveland Heights knowing we would get the short end of the stick. They have yet to fix up their blighted west side of Taylor Road where it comes together with our east side at Cedar Road, although they have promised to do so for their residents on Severn Road. What they don’t seem to want to understand about this request is that the Taylor/Cedar roads project leads right into their entertainment area on Lee Road and into their large shopping area via Taylor Road at Severance Circle. When suggested that they line both sides of Cedar Road with trees to offer a very nice approach to their own Lee Road area they turned it down. So much for cooperation.

We have gathered much data for over 30 years through our entry and exit surveys of residents. The makeup of our city remains mostly professional; people love the small town atmosphere, the  neighborliness, feeling of safety, ease of walking to shopping and eating areas, summer pool, band concerts, etc. What they don’t like is our high property taxes which many people attribute to the city but are really due to the public school levies. The only solution to this is by the State of Ohio reforming school funding, beginning with doing something with HB920 which was made a part of Ohio’s constitution.

Collaboration is another thing. University Heights is in the Joint Fire Dispatch with Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights. This was made possible by Cleveland Heights’ very capable employee Kathleen Ruane. University Heights participates in many other collaborations, as do most cities. Perhaps an article on that topic would balance this sudden burst of merger mania. 

Beryl E. Rothschild is mayor of the City of University Heights.

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Volume 2, Issue 5, Posted 10:10 AM, 04.27.2009