Here are my notes from last night’s meeting:
Speech & Debate team – We honored Stow’s speech and debate team last night, after they placed 5th at states. Plus, six individuals qualified for the national tournament on June 11 in Utah. But the team needs $10K for travel expenses. Donations can be sent c/o the Speech and Debate Team to the High School. (I’m looking for their GoFundMe page, but haven’t found it. Can someone send me a link?)
SKiP Playground – Brian Lowdermilk proposed legislation to hire Leathers & Associates to perform an analysis on what needs to be done to bring SKiP Playground back to life. Ironically, the mayor had already asked this same consultant to perform this study. The consultant preliminarily believes an investment of $200K-$220K is required. How we fund the project is another story.
Police / Fire Memorial – Matt Riehl announced that the community would be raising money for a police and fire memorial near City Hall. City Council approved $1,000 to get it started, but the idea is to fund the rest through private donations.
Tax Incentives – Sometimes I provide long-winded explanations of certain topics before explaining a piece of news. This is one of those times…
The city commonly offers tax abatements for developers or businesses who will invest a large amount of money into real estate, when that investment results in new jobs (and consequently, additional tax revenue). So what is abated? It’s the taxes that would be owed on the new property value, not the pre-investment value. For example, say you want to build an $8MM industrial plant on a piece of land currently valued for property tax purposes at $2MM. If we abate your taxes, you will continue to pay taxes on the $2MM value, but taxes on the additional $8MM of value may be abated for a period of 5 to 15 years.
The question is: How do we determine the proper abatement time period? There is a formula. It depends on the amount of jobs that will be created, the amount of new taxes, and the amount of jobs that would be retained, among other things. There is also a category for “discretionary points.”
As you may be aware, there is a new commercial building at the corner of Seasons Road and Route 8. The same developer desires to construct another building just like it. Under the formula, he would be entitled to 13 years of abatements. The administration gave him “discretionary points” in order that the proposal would merit a full 15 years of abatements.
Two weeks ago, I objected to this use of “discretionary points.” My basis? We need to be good stewards of your money. Where there is “discretion” involved in giving away tax dollars, I get concerned. What’s to stop someone from giving “discretionary points” to a friend? Nothing. (Although that isn’t what happened here.) Council agreed, and we revised the tax abatement to 13 years.
After that meeting, I sat down with the mayor, our economic development coordinator and others. We discussed the formula, and how it could be improved. To be specific, there are some disincentives baked into the formula that make no sense–and that, in fact, disincentivize new employers and disincentivize larger projects. Also, discretion is not appropriate in these calculations.
So, last night, I agreed to make a motion to extend the abatement period back to 15 years, and the administration agreed to work with me to correct the formula–in a way the eliminates the strange results and eliminates discretionary points. I look forward to that project.
Council will meet next on May 12.
Here are my notes from last night’s meeting:
Louis A. Dirker Jr. Boulevard – Council renamed the road that winds through City Hall and the Safety Building. Very fittingly, it will now be known as Louis A. Dirker Jr. Boulevard. Lou was our police chief from 2003 to 2014. Last month, he died of cancer at age 67. The Dirker family was in attendance last night, but they were mostly kept in the dark on this proposal. It was a surprise from Matt Riehl; I didn’t even know about it until last night. The sign will be unveiled on August 20–which is Lou’s birthday, and also the day of a 5K race in his honor. At the meeting, a lot of people shared their condolences and memories of Lou. It was a special time.
Storm Water Fee Proposals – As you know, the city needs about $8 million to perform significant improvements that will prevent flooding in various parts of the city. Last night, council saw a third proposal relating to storm water fees. (Last month, Mayor Kline and Jim Costello proposed raising the fee to $8 per month on residences. Brian Lowdermilk countered by proposing to shift around dollars in an effort to free up more money for infrastructure improvement.) The third proposal, also from Lowdermilk, was to cause commercial properties to bear more of the fee increase than residences.
To me, having three proposals on the table created legislative chaos. Upon hearing Lowdermilk’s amendment, I used my authority as Council President to appoint a special committee, which consists of Lowdermilk, Costello and Kline. I asked them, in the next 30 days, to collaborate on one proposal to put before council, and the three of them must be unanimous in supporting it. If they are unable to find consensus, then we will go back to discussing three proposals at once. But hopefully, they will find compromise, their plan will be passed into law, and we can begin to tackle this problem as a team.
Library Parking – Council unanimously approved an expansion of the library’s parking lot, from 119 spaces to 150. The expansion will occur along Beech Street and should be completed by the end of the year.
Water Line Opt-In Program – This may surprise you, but not every house in Stow has city water. There are some roads without service. We want to change that, in order to help fire prevention, provide better water quality to these people, and add customers to our system. Recently, Lowdermilk and Service Director Nick Wren put together a plan to allow these residents to opt in to water service. They will bear 75% of the prorated cost associated with the new water line, with an option to have it assessed to property taxes over 10 years. As is typical, the resident would be responsible for 100% of the costs of tying in through a service line. I support this effort, and so did the rest of council. The plan was approved unanimously.
Comprehensive Plan Update – Council approved $28,500 for a consultant to assist the City in updating its Comprehensive Plan, which has not been revised since 2001. The Ohio Revised Code places great importance on the Comprehensive Plan for purposes of zoning and city planning. It’s essentially the City’s zoning constitution. Every zoning action should be consistent with the Plan.
Next Meeting – Council will meet next on April 28.