Here are my notes from tonight’s council meeting:
Budget update – I asked our Finance Department to update council and the taxpayers as to the status of our revenue and expenditures through the third quarter of 2014. In short, revenues are down and expenditures are up, when compared to our initial budget, passed in December, which projected a $148,000 deficit. That deficit could be double.
Expenses are fairly stable, but Stow has spent more money than expected because of overtime, as I explained in my previous post.
Revenue is down about 1 percent. The reason could be, however, that some businesses have not yet filed their net profits returns, which are due at the end of this month. The withholding taxes (i.e. taxes on employee salaries) have been steady when compared to last year. It appears that the loss of MACtac jobs has been offset by some minor gains. The effect of the closing of the MACtac plant will be amplified next year, however.
I will soon sit down with the Finance Department and Council President Matt Riehl to address the 2015 budget. Tough decisions are ahead. Along with the factors influencing the 2014 budget, the city will also analyze the effects of a minor boost from reimbursements of worker’s compensation premium overpayments and a minor setback in property tax revenue (valuations are down).
If you’re looking for some good news, the city deserves some major credit for reducing the city’s debt load from $33.6 million to $21.6 million, about 36 percent, since 2008. Why? Council has not approved any new borrowing since 2011 and the Finance Department has strategically refinanced and paid down notes and bonds.
Stow Clerk technology- Judge Kim Hoover and Clerk of Courts Kevin Coughlin requested council to approve $192,574.50 to purchase software. There will also be an annual service charge of about $49,000 per year. The court will pay for these costs through its Computer Fee of $13, assessed to each case on the docket. As a litigator, I can tell you that this software is a much needed purchase. It will significantly reduce workload in the Clerk’s office and their reliance on paper records. Judge Hoover wisely waited until the costs became more manageable (from $750K to $192K).
In other court news, Stow filled a much-discussed vacant property when Panini’s opened on Saturday at the former Damon’s restaurant, near the court house.
Storm water matters- Two pieces of storm-water legislation were cleared off the agenda tonight. First, John Pribonic withdrew his proposal to raise storm water fees by $3 per month on each household. He cited an effort of several communities to collaborate to solve the problem.
Meanwhile, council passed, by a 5-2 vote (Pribonic, Costello), a proposal by Brian Lowdermilk to give more residents the financial capacity to remediate “illegal tie-ins” between their downspouts and the sanitary sewer. These tie-ins result in backflows of sewage, and are considered illegal by the EPA. Under this program, Stow will dedicate up to $75K per year to grants to residents, of no more than $500 apiece, to repair the tie-in. The funds will be drawn from the storm-water fund. Of equal importance, residents may choose to have the balance of the costs assessed to their property, over either a 10- or 15-year period.
I believe this is a prudent use of taxpayer dollars. I have seen many residents deal with sewage backup. It’s devastating. But it’s often curable. In passing this, council has given residents without liquid assets the ability to avoid substantial non-insured and recurring losses. Kudos to Brian for pushing this program.
Council will meet next on October 23.
Here are my notes from last night’s council meetings:
Mower Shop – You may know the Mower Shop as being across the street from Sheetz on Hudson Drive. The business will be moving, as council approved a zoning certificate for its occupancy on the former site of Amber Gardens on Hudson Drive, which was becoming dilapidated. It’s good to have an occupant there, and the business will hopefully benefit from increased visibility to customers.
Leisure Time – As you likely are aware, Leisure Time has closed, after 56 years of operation. Last night, we honored the Baker family for their commitment to the community. The family, in turn, donated equipment from the facility’s “sprayground” to the city. I propose that this equipment be implemented at a renovated SKIP playground, if logistically feasible.
Overtime – Council had a long discussion about overtime expenditures, prompted by requests from three departments (police, fire and service) for increases in their overtime allocation. To understand the overtime issue, you must first review the annual budget, where each department gives a conservative estimate of how much overtime will be used throughout the year, generally not making room for contingencies, such as employee retirements, weather events, and the like. Around this time each year, the administration requests a true-up of the actual figures, beyond what was budgeted. This year, police asked for $75,000 in additional overtime, fire requested $100,000, and service requested $40,000.
Council asked some difficult questions of the departments, but eventually approved the extra funding. Why? Fire and police were hurt by injuries and retirements, but additional employees are on the way, so the problem should be alleviated. Service, meanwhile, was hit by a lot of huge snowstorms. The weather is an uncontrollable variable. The finance department projected that we are not yet at the point where hiring an additional employee in any of these departments will result in reduced overall labor costs.
North River Road – By a 4-3 vote, council approved moving the boundary on North River Road to complete the agreement made between the mayors of Stow and Munroe Falls. Let me tell you: This is EXHIBIT A of government incompetence. I have never been more aggravated about government performance than I have been about North River Road being closed for more than 100 days because of complete nonsense. Last night, our fire chief and police chief testified as to the safety problems with having that roads closed–stating that the closure added between 5 and 15 minutes of response time for emergencies.
I eventually stepped into the fray and negotiated the deal to fix the road and move the boundary line. In doing so, I gave my word to Munroe Falls’ council that I would vote “yes” to change the boundary. So I kept my word, held my nose, and voted in favor.
So what’s the positive take-away here? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” At the present time, I cannot fathom our communities sharing emergencies services, where we couldn’t even coordinate on fixing a road. Pathetic.
Next meeting – City council will meet next on October 9.