Cleveland Heights City Council meeting highlights 7-20-2015
JULY 20, 2015
- TAX BUDGET HEARING
- REGULAR MEETING
- Public comments
- Water rate increases
- Zoning variances
- Anti-poaching business development
- Tax budget
- Income tax
- Nuisance properties
- City development
All council members were present.
TAX BUDGET HEARING
City Manager Tanisha Briley explained that the budget process begins with the tax budget to be voted on at tonight’s council meeting and ends with the appropriations ordinance, which will be adopted in late December. The process is state-mandated and substantiates the need to levy taxes. It is refined continually throughout the year. A sample of residents is surveyed about the process every other year.
According to Briley’s presentation, expenses exceeded revenues in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The 2014 numbers showed a modest $1.6 million reserve, and the budget is projected to break even in 2015. Projections through 2020 show increasing shortfalls each year. Actions taken to deal with declining revenue, dating back to 2008, have included budget cuts, wage freezes for non-bargaining workers, increasing employees’ health-care costs, and personnel cuts (19 positions are currently held vacant). She said the need for increased revenue is serious. Cleveland Heights is budgeting $42.1 million for 2015, the same total as in 2010.
Revenue sources include income tax (55 percent or $22.4 million), property tax (17 percent or $7.2 million), and state-levied “shared taxes,” which are declining. For example, the estate tax and local government fund was $5 million in 2008, but only $1.2 million is expected in 2015 and 2016. Briley noted that only 11 percent of property taxes go to the city and that, while some fees have been raised, most revenue sources are flat and there are serious future threats to the water and sewer funds.
Some volatile expenses such as health care, workers compensation, and gasoline costs have stabilized and the city is “holding the line” with wage freezes and union contacts with zero percent or very small raises, workforce reduction through attrition, and vacant position management. Millions of dollars have been secured for road projects through NOACA, Cuyahoga County, and the State of Ohio—many at no matching cost to the city.
Briley concluded her report with a discussion of where the city can cut an additional $2.6 million without cutting into core services. She suggested that an additional four basic patrol police officer positions as well as many special positions would have to be eliminated or reduced. The fire department may lose six positions currently funded by a special grant, eliminate three vacant positions and an additional six positions, and reduce daily staffing from 16 to 12. Public works may eliminate four positions, reduce leaf, snow, and grass services, and reduce the frequency of recycling or eliminate it all together.
Several citizens commented. One resident was definitely against a tax increase. A real estate agent expressed concern about the effect of higher taxes on home sales, and another supported the increase to preserve the city’s infrastructure. A resident asked about pension expenses and was told those did not come from the tax budget.
Governing issues: Citing the Ohio Revised Code (ORC), resident Diane Hallum maintained that Cleveland Heights is using an illegal “hybrid” plan of government in that all council members are not part of all decision-making. Later in the meeting, Mayor Dennis Wilcox made a statement about ORC provisions for a “Charter City,” which is the form of Cleveland Heights’s government, concluding that the code does not prohibit any member of council from speaking with the city manager in the absence of other council members.
Water: Resident Carla Rautenberg thanked the council, mayor and city manager for their responsiveness to citizens’ concern during the water department controversy. Resident Jim Miller, representing Cleveland Heights Residents for Safe Affordable Water, announced the ad hoc group’s Facebook page. He said that, in general, the group feels positive about the city’s actions on this issue where none of the options are easy.
Proposed cuts: Concerned about the proposed cuts, resident Julie Love asked about other expenses such as loans to a private company, consultant and architect fees, renovations to city properties, and the cost of vehicles and computers. Mayor Wilcox pointed out possible confusion about the general fund budget, which excludes capital expenses and grant funding. The federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money provided loans to the developer in question. Later in the meeting, Wilcox specifically clarified that the loan given to Motorcars was from block grant money earmarked to spur business in Cleveland Heights and that, with such a loan, the business puts in a great deal of its own money. He mentioned a lead story in the July 19 Plain Dealer business section about sustainability and jobs in Cleveland Heights.
Transparent communication:Resident Sladjana Krstic thanked council for transparent communication and expressed hopes for the future.
Water rate increases
New water utility rate and service fee adjustments were established after prior study and discussion. Effective Aug. 1, 2015, the rate per mcf (thousand cubic feet) will rise from $70.04 to $88.04.
Council approved two zoning variances for:
- 1514 Rydalmount Road, to permit one enclosed parking space where two are required.
- 2772 Lancashire Road LLC, a holding company of a multi-family dwelling, to permit no enclosed parking spaces, where five are currently provided, with exceptional setback and space size.
Anti-poaching business development
Council heard, on first reading, authorization to renew an agreement with Cuyahoga County for the purpose of establishing a business attraction and anti-poaching protocol.
Council adopted the 2016 Tax Budget, which was presented at the hearing earlier this evening. A copy of the proposed 2016 Tax Budget is available for inspection by the general public at the office of the director of finance at City Hall.
Council approved two pieces of legislation for the purpose of putting a tax income increase proposal before voters in the fall 2015 General Election. The first amended city code to increase the municipal income tax rate from 2 percent to 2.25 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2016, contingent on voter approval. The second was a resolution to file the proposed tax to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections for placement on the ballot.
Several council members expressed their convictions about the necessity of the tax proposal. Cheryl Stephens said it was necessary to replace lost revenue and secure the city’s financial future. Jeff Coryell said that he would not be voting for this ordinance if it weren’t absolutely necessary and claimed that an income tax hike is easier on retirees and senior citizens than a property tax increase. Noting that this is the first income tax hike since 1979, Mayor Wilcox maintained that council is not presenting threats, but is being open and honest about consequences. Melissa Yasinow focused on the excellent quality of services, the impact of state cuts, and council’s obligation to see if residents want to keep city services intact.
Council declared two properties to be nuisances and authorized abatement:
- 3784 Delmore Road, owned by Kenneth Wright.
- 1227 Cleveland Heights Blvd., owner deceased, house vacant.
Demolition funding for these and other blighted properties comes from Cuyahoga County demolition bonds.
Council Member Mary Dunbar announced that permits had been issued for $13 million in residential and commercial construction in the city. The Ohio Department of Transportation has fully funded Safe Routes to School projects involving infrastructure such as crossing technology.
LWV Observer: Blanche Valancy.
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