A Little Background
At the Special Council Meeting on January 22, 2014, Mayor Lansky said,”we would have to completely shut down the Senior Center and lay off 10 more firemen and 10 policemen to make up the 2 million dollar deficit.” A few weeks later, 4 firefighters were laid off and the Mayor estimated a “savings” of $250,000 (more on that story here). How much of that savings will be lost in overtime and unemployment compensation, no one has said. Why were our safety services cut before our leisure time? Was it, as some have hinted, a ploy to get the voters of Maple Heights to pass the income tax increase?
Where is the other $2.25 million going to come from? $1.9 million of it could come from the proposed Income Tax Levy, if it passes. That only solves part of the problem, and the city will not start receiving any of that money until fall. The dispatch center merger should also save us some money, but when or how much is still unclear.
At the Special Meeting the Mayor went on to say, “The deficit is a big problem, so a big fix is needed and we have to do it fast or the city will die…even if the levy passes the city will have to come back in the fall and ask for an increase in the street lighting fund.” What are we sitting around waiting for? That meeting was 6 weeks ago and all that was done in the meantime was lay off 4 firefighters and a secretary.
Getting the “Facts” from the City
Last Thursday, March 13, 2014, Maple Heights City Council hosted an informational meeting about the state of the City’s finances and why we “need” the tax levy that will be on the May 6th, 2014 ballot. Past Finance Committee chairs Alex Adams and Toni Jones spoke, as well as current Finance Committee chair Richard Trojanski. Councilwoman Jones had a stack at least an inch thick with properties that were delinquent on their taxes and said that about 1.2 million of the 9 million in unpaid taxes belonged to the City (the City’s portion of property taxes is about 20% ). Richard asked residents to invest in their community by supporting the tax levy.
Council President Jackie Albers shared cuts that had been made during the past year: laid off 40 employees, no raises in 4 years (3 years for union contracts), no more 5% pension pick-ups for non union employees, no longevity pay, overtime/comptime cut in nonessential departments, employees paying more for health insurance, outsourcing the building department, closing City Hall on Fridays, outsourcing the pool management, dropping or outsourcing many recreation programs, and no Spring newsletter. She also mentioned that police and fire levies lost $270,000 each due to the property re-valuation.
Then Mayor Jeffery Lansky gave his “State of the City Address”. He pointed out Maple’s great location, our $2.5 million pool and water park (he neglected to mention that last year this “gem” only brought in $20,000 but took $70,000-80,000 to operate or that the tax payers of Maple Heights will be paying for it for the next 15 years whether or not it is open), and our plentiful “slumlords” (his word not mine). Finally he answered residents questions and comments. Meanwhile, the city’s new finance director was sitting silently in the front row. In attendance were about 60 person and about one third were city employees.
Memorable Thoughts from Residents
- Removing garbage assessment from the tax bill so that we aren’t paying for garbage pick-up for those who are delinquent on their taxes.
- Contacting a college/university with an “urban study” program to help us figure out what we have to offer.
- “Give me a pitch to move here.”
- Garnishing rent from landlords who are delinquent on their property taxes.
- “You are supposed to stop that.” (referring to current regulations not being enforced)
- Parents are supposed to discipline their children.
What Should Be Happening
A summary of expenses was due to council by March 1st so that they could prepare and approve appropriations by the March 31 deadline.This time last year, the City Council was finishing up a line by line audit of the city’s finances with the finance director.
Under Trojanski’s leadership, however, the finance committee has yet to have a single meeting. Nevertheless, he has found the time to introduce two pieces of legislation declaring various “awareness” months for the City of Maple Heights and another declaring an income tax “amnesty period” that offered amnesty that residents are already granted by the City (which has received no noticeable uptick in delinquent income tax filings).
Last year at the second March meeting the appropriations ordinance had its first reading and the final reading was held at a special meeting on March 25, 2013.
So, What Happens Next?
No solutions were brought forward by the administration, other than the half a percent income tax increase. Even the revenue from that levy if it passes isn’t going to be enough to balance the budget’s, let alone eliminating the $2.5 million deficit. Mayor Lansky even said, once again, that they would be coming back in the fall to ask for additional millage on the street-lighting levy.
We (Maple Heights) have gangrene, and two years ago we needed our foot amputated, but the Doctor only took a few toes. Of course that didn’t keep it from spreading because it didn’t get rid of the problem. We can’t wait for a cure (tax levies, mergers and settlements), the amputation has to happen now before it (the deficit) spreads any farther. Having our leg cut off is a big fix and it is not going to be easy, but it will save our city.
Cut more “fat”. Be neighborly.
- Yes, the pool has to go, unless pool membership can be raised enough to cover operating costs.
- Ditto on all recreation department programs, unless they actually generate enough revenue to cover ALL expenses – so maybe we raise fees.
- And the Senior Center, it needs to close, too, just like the Mayor has been saying. But couldn’t some of the programs be provided at the library civic center or neighboring communities?
- Close Fire Station #2. Yes, this will increase response time for many residents on the West Side, but unfortunately neither of our fire stations are centrally located, anymore.
- Renegotiate all union contracts when they are up.
- Drop dental and vision coverage.
- Raise co-pays, deductibles, employee contributions.
- Stop employer pickup for pension plans.
- Cutting salary’s for all employees above the median income of Maple ($38,000) by 25% but not taking their salary below $38,000. Afterall, 25% cut is better than no job. There are lots of people who are unemployed who would be happy to have a job.
- No city cars being driven home.
- Reorganize City Hall. Maybe Human Resources needs to merge with Finance. Instead of having two directors we have 1 director and can use the second director’s salary to hire 2 administrative assistants.
- Hire a few more building inspectors to do exterior inspections and thus generate money through permits, fines, and income tax from contractors completing said work. It would also raise property values and grow pride in our community. (MBIS, the company the building department has been outsourced to, is not contracted for these inspections.)
- Interns: finance, economic development, building department, urban development, marketing, social media, web design, database.
- Eliminate paid crossing guards. Ask for volunteers: concerned parents/residents, civic minded high schoolers? Why are we so worried about the kids’ safety crossing the street? When it snows they have to walk in the street because we don’t enforce the shoveling your sidewalk ordinance.
- Use the city’s website and Facebook to get news out.
- Be neighborly and cut that vacant property’s grass.
- Go for a walk and pick up trash.
Is this enough? I doubt it; but, as the Mayor said, “a big fix is needed and we have to do it fast or the city will die.”
Have suggestions. Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.