Here are my notes from last night’s meeting:
Storm water solutions
Our city engineer recommends $8 million in storm-water improvements to help prevent flooding in Stow. As you might expect, we don’t have a spare $8 million.
Last month, Mayor Kline (now married, fka Mayor Drew) introduced legislation to raise the monthly storm water fee by $5 per household or business. It would raise about $650K extra per year. The proposal didn’t make it out of the finance committee. Last night, Jim Costello introduced that same legislation on the floor of council. It was provided a first reading.
Earlier in the evening, Brian Lowdermilk and Bob Adaska proposed a competing solution for funding the $8 million. Their proposal would use the fund’s existing $750K per year on ONLY storm-water projects. (Over the years, the fund has been used for other purposes–related to storm water, but not directly tied to improving city infrastructure.) Bob and Brian’s proposal would free up at least $400K in extra money per year for projects. If these funds were used to pay annual debt service, we could make a bond issuance of about $5 million.
We will be discussing both proposals in the coming weeks.
The budget passed last night by a 4-2 vote. Riehl and Costello voted no, although it seems as if Costello’s “no” was accidental. Riehl objects to the fact we are spending more money than we are taking in. I share his concern, but I voted “yes” for three reasons: 1) We had to pass a budget by next Thursday, or else we will be in violation of state law. 2) There was one amendment to improve the budget (reducing clerk of courts’ allocation); it passed and became part of the budget. 3) This budget will actually be balanced so long as our income tax growth matches the 4.6% growth in 2015.
Council will meet next on April 14.
Here are my notes from last night’s city council meetings:
New Commercial Developments
Council approved the site plan of another industrial building next to the newly erected one on Seasons Road, near Route 8. It will be nearly the same blueprint as the first. Both were created on a speculative basis — in other words, they were not made for a known tenant. But the first building has one tenant already and others are showing interest. This early success led the developer to begin construction on the second building.
Council also approved a new warehouse to be constructed on a vacant Commerce Drive parcel.
Clerk of Courts budget
We are currently analyzing the city’s 2016 budget. The most notable item in the budget is the Clerk of Court’s request for a funding increase of 14.5% beyond 2015 levels. The Clerk has hired 2.5 additional employees, and she believes the workload requires it.
As you’re aware from previous blog posts, City Council is doing its best to trim fat in every facet of Stow’s operations, while still providing high-quality services to residents. Please realize how difficult it is to balance a budget without raising taxes in the era where the state government has cut off the Local Government Fund. We have to be very judicious of our priorities.
To see an increase of this magnitude anywhere in the budget–much less in a department that provides very little direct service to our residents–was shocking. Our own Finance Director called the Clerk’s request “unsustainable.”
I made a motion to cut $71,000 out of the Clerk’s allocation, and it passed by a 5-1 vote (Pribonic voted “no”). The Clerk’s funding increase will be 8.5% instead of 14.5%, and we will scrutinize next year’s budget with equal vigor–given that advances in technology will lead to less labor needed, according to the Clerk.
There are many departments in our city that would love to hire 2.5 more employees. We could definitely use extra service workers or cops. We could use more people in our finance department. There are needs all over City Hall. The Clerk’s office, which serves mostly out-of-town attorneys and criminals, should not get preferred treatment over the departments that actually deliver services to Stow residents. Reducing the Clerk’s budget was a no-brainer.
Council will meet next on March 24.