Here are my notes from last night:
Primary Election date – As you’re probably aware, I am proposing legislation to amend Stow’s charter, to have our primary elections in May, instead of September. It gives overseas military a better opportunity to vote in municipal elections. And it will save tens of thousands of dollars. We had a debate over the topic because Brian Lowdermilk was skeptical that any military personnel is adversely affected by a September primary (I gave him direct evidence to refute that). Then Matt Riehl proposed eliminating primary elections altogether. We tabled the discussion until we can consider whether the elimination of primaries is an even better idea. It’s a little frustrating that Matt to raise the idea until 4 months after my original proposal. But the good news is, we don’t have to submit anything to the Board of Elections until August. That’s why I started the discussion 10 months in advance.
Clerk of Courts’ Budget – Council heard testimony from Stow Clerk of Courts Diana Colavecchio. Last year, she submitted a 2016 budget that had a $170,000 increase from the year before. She told council that her predecessor, Kevin Coughlin, had been running the office on a shoestring budget in order to have a strong campaign narrative in the election year. I didn’t buy that story completely. I made a motion to reduce her budget by $70,000, which passed. Diana returned to council later in the year to request more money. Council gave her office an additional $45,000 (over my objection).
We are now discussing the 2017 budget. Diana made a very nice presentation that showed how a new computer system has automated many of the tasks that previously required countless man hours to complete, including document filing, accepting payments, and accessing court records. It’s a great system. No question. It should lead to a LOT of efficiencies and elimination of work.
She is asking for a 2017 budget that is about $41,000 less than the eventual sum spent in 2016. She will have 16 full-time and 6 part-time employees (compared to 19 and 3 in 2016). I want to see even more reduction in workforce. These are ultimately Stow’s tax dollars.
Storm water projects – Council examined the storm water projects completed in 2016 and to be completed in 2017. Here is a brief list of areas/streets that have been benefited by 2016 projects:
Treeside (culvert replacement), Ritchie Road (storm sewer), West Arndale (storm sewer), Fishcreek/Lakeshire (ditch enclosure)
Here are the projects for 2017:
Marhofer detention basin, Wetmore Park, Leewood area (culvert), Mud Brook stream, Klein/Conwill, Quail Highland (retention basin), Camden Drive, Hudson Drive (catch basin)
Next meeting – Council will meet next on March 23.
Last night, Stow’s council had the opportunity to discuss the 2017 budget. We also had some folks join us to talk about the Twitter issue. Here’s a link to a video: http://fox8.com/2017/02/23/stow-mayor-under-fire-over-husbands-vulgar-anti-trump-tweets/
But this post is going to be about the City of Stow’s finances — not Twitter.
First, a recap of 2016. This time last year, Stow projected a budget deficit exceeding $400K. I told you back then, that deficit would not come to fruition. The city’s revenue estimates were far too conservative. I’m happy to tell you, I was right. Stow avoided a deficit last year, and in fact, we had a $313,000 surplus. 2016 was the second consecutive year that we have brought in more than we have spent ($245K surplus in 2015).
Now, for 2017 … There is a planned deficit of $340K. And again, I beg to differ on the numbers underlying that projection. The Finance Department is projecting income tax growth of 0%. The question is: How reasonable is that estimate? Well, we had 2.8% growth last year. Our average growth over the last 20 years is 2.66%. Since creating the city income tax in 1972, Stow has only had 3 years of decline (so if 2017 has 0% growth, it would be the fourth-worst year in the past 45 years). However, if we project a normal rate of growth (say, 2.5%), then we have another surplus in 2017.
Still, the budget is not perfect. There are some points that I plan to make in the coming weeks. For one, the clerk of court’s budget is still 10% higher than it was in 2015. The clerk promised Council last year that her office would enjoy more efficiencies once its new computer system went live, and this would allow a reduction in expenditures. That promise should bear itself out in 2017 expenses.
Also, we need to make sure we are putting enough money into road repairs. Our roads show their warts this time of the year. In the 8 years since I was elected, we have reduced by half the amount of roads in “poor” or “very poor” condition. However, we need to do even better.
But everything else is looking strong. We are paying down debt at a rapid rate (40% reduction since I took office in 2010). Fox Den is cash flowing ($131K in positive EBITDA last year–without considering debt repayment). Our general fund balance exceeds $5 million, which is the highest that it has ever been. Our “excellent” bond rating of AA2 is also higher than it’s ever been.
A lot of people want to talk about this Twitter fiasco. I think the more proper emphasis should be on whether we are doing our jobs to protect taxpayer dollars. That answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
Council will meet next on March 9.