Here are my notes from last night’s city council meeting:
Dispatch meeting – We held a council meeting jointly with Tallmadge and Cuyahoga Falls. The purpose was to discuss a proposal by the mayors of our three cities to enter into a partnership for dispatch services. The technical term is a COG (or, council of governments). If the COG is adopted, our three cities will use the COG for dispatch services–together with other cities who later choose to join the COG. The joint meeting lasted almost 2.5 hours, with a lot of questions being asked. Before Stow’s council meets next, I’m going to put together a rundown of the proposal, and I’ll post it on this blog.
Fire Department restructuring – Stow’s government is running fairly lean nowadays. But there are always a few areas that can be improved. Last night, we took the first step toward reducing the top-heaviness of the fire department. Chief Stone proposed that council replace the two division chiefs with one assistant chief (paid the same as each division chief). I’m optimistic there will be more reduction at the top in the coming years through attrition.
Medical marijuana moratorium – Stow unanimously passed a one-year pause on medical marijuana dispensaries seeking to open in Stow. As you may have heard, the Ohio legislature passed HB 523, which allows medical marijuana. Although medical marijuana cannot yet be sold in Ohio, a future dispensary could arguably obtain zoning approval. This one-year moratorium prevents that. … I’m not casting judgment on the medical marijuana issue–at all. But I think it’s important to prohibit dispensaries in Stow until we can see what a dispensary will do to the property value of neighboring commercial buildings and residences. Quite possibly, there will be no impact, but I want to be careful on this issue. I don’t see any value in being the first Ohio community to open its doors to a dispensary.
Comprehensive Plan meeting – Often, residents ask about why a certain area has the zoning classification that it does. They will likewise ask why Stow doesn’t have a “downtown.” A lot of those questions are answered by looking at the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which is a state-required zoning document that guides future zoning decisions. It gets updated every 10 years. The first meeting to discuss amendments to the Comprehensive Plan will be September 27 at 6 p.m. in City Council chambers. The public is encouraged to join and provide input.
Next meeting – Council will meet next on October 13.
Last night, Council approved a $2 increase to the storm water fee by a 6-1 vote (Adaska).
For the past 12 years, the City has charged residents $3 per month as a “storm water fee.” The fee was never indexed to inflation or the cost of labor/materials. While $3 may have been sufficient in 2004, that revenue stream does not buy as much for the City 12 years later. If the $3 fee had increased with the Consumer Price Index, it would stand at almost $4 today. From my perspective, part of the rationale for increasing the fee was to fix that glitch.
It must also be noted that, once the City creates a piece of infrastructure, it must be maintained at an annual cost. Maintenance of infrastructure began to chew away at the $3 fee.
Everyone in city government agrees on two things: 1) There is about $17 million in projects that we need to complete that will help prevent residents’ homes from flooding. 2) We do not have the funds or revenue stream to make a meaningful dent in that list of projects.
A few months ago, three proposals arose to address the issue. One proposal was to raise the fee to $8 per month. Another was to tag business owners with a large burden. A third was to move some money around.
In my estimation, none of these had a chance to succeed, and personally, I didn’t support any of them. So I appointed the authors of each proposal to a special committee (Sara Kline, Brian Lowdermilk, and Jim Costello), and I tasked them with making a single proposal that they could each support. It took some time, but their deliberations resulted in the increase of $2 per month.
But the legislative process is never easy or smooth. Beginning at 7:30 am yesterday, and continuing until we voted at around 8:30 p.m. last night, I moderated last-minute disagreements relating to the language in the legislation.
But here is what we ended up passing:
- The storm water fee will be $5 per month.
- Non-project expenses are capped inside the original $3 portion of the fee.
- Non-project expenses are entirely barred from the new $2 portion of the fee. In other words, there can be no spending on salaries, equipment, and studies. It may only be used for actual projects.
- The fee will be re-assessed every 5 years. At any time, council may address whether the money is still needed.
- The fee will increase by 10 cents every year, which is a 2% increase intended to allow the fund to keep pace with inflation and cost of labor/materials.
- The legislation incorporates the $17 million list, so that the administration is mostly committed to spending on the projects identified.
You won’t find a person more sensitive than me to the financial struggles that many Stow residents face. So I did not take it lightly to raise this fee. But I have never forgotten the devastating stories of residents whose homes were destroyed, and whose life savings were wiped out, as a result of the most recent 100-year storm. Two dollars a month isn’t going to change anyone’s life. But if we put those collective dollars to good use, the city can mitigate life-altering disasters.
Council did the right thing last night. It will be our continuing obligation to ensure that this money is spent properly and efficiently.