Mar
19

Last night’s council meeting

Here are my notes from last night’s meeting:

Meeting on a Monday? We met on a Monday because we couldn’t get a quorum last Thursday (council members were sick or out of town). It used to be that City Council would meet on Mondays and Thursdays. It was inefficient. It consumed staff time, without any commensurate benefit. As Presidents of Council, Matt Riehl and I did away with the Monday meetings. We haven’t missed them.

Law Director Shakeup – In case you hadn’t heard, Stow’s law director is now Stow’s clerk of courts. Amber Zibritosky was appointed by the Summit County Democrats to fill the spot of Diana Colavacchio, who left the clerk job to work in the administration of Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters. Amber’s deputy, Brendan Mackin, will assume the role of law director for the remainder of 2019. That job will be up for grabs in the November election (no, I’m not running for it).

More on the 2019 budget – Council heard from the Stow Municipal Court judges and its new clerk about their budgets. The court does not project a deficit in 2019, although it’s possible the judges will need to hire a new magistrate if state law changes to push more drug cases from common pleas courts down to Ohio’s municipal courts. The clerk enjoyed a 2.5% increase in revenue last year.

Route 8 – Watch for Route 8 to be limited to two lanes in the coming weeks. It will remain that way until late fall. Kenmore Construction will be undertaking a complete rebuild of this critical artery of Northeast Ohio for the next few years.

Duplex vote – For the second time in two years, council heard a proposal for construction of a duplex, to take the place of a vacant home at the corner of Hibbard and Sunnyside. Last year, the planning commission approved it, but council denied it by a 3-3 vote. At that time, I stated my belief that the man was entitled to build the duplex, pursuant to our zoning code, and that council was violating his rights by listening to the mob of people who insisted a duplex would devalue their homes. Shortly after that vote, I made a proposal to change the law, limiting the construction of duplexes in the future. My take is this: You have two options as a legislative body, 1) Follow the law, or 2) Change the law. … In the weeks that followed, it was clear that council wasn’t interested in changing the law. So be it. But when this man asked for his proposal to be revisited last night, I made a plea to my colleagues to follow the law. They did, and the proposal was approved by a 6-0 vote. A small victory for the rule of law.

Next meeting – Council will meet next on March 28.

Mar
1

Last night’s council meeting

Here are my notes from last night’s city council meeting:

Tobacco 21 – Tobacco 21 failed by a 5-1 vote (Costello voted yes). (For my rundown of “What is Tobacco 21?” click here.)

I knew there was no support for the measure from the beginning, but Council still allowed the legislation to be heard. This is one of those proposals that sounds really good at first, and then you dig in and realize it’s a symbolic gesture at best.

In a moment of candor, a Kent State professor advocating Tobacco 21 told the crowd that people can’t adequately assess risk until age 26. Accepting this as true, I ask, “Why are we stopping at 21?” and “Why are we stopping at tobacco? Let’s bubblewrap our kids until they’re a quarter-century old.”

At some point, personal responsibility and parenting should be the focus. And we have to stop assuming we can pass laws that will fix society. I refuse to go down the road that New York City has, limiting the size of soft drinks, etc.

One positive came from these discussions: We now have a firm grasp on the problems at Stow High relating to students vaping marijuana (THC) liquids on school property. This is a problem that has nothing to do with removing tobacco from 18-20 year olds, of course.

We heard, over and over: “If only we change the laws, we could make an impact.” There are laws; THC is illegal, and it’s a third-degree misdemeanor to sell tobacco to children, whether by a vendor, by a high school senior, or by a parent. We need to enforce these laws. And if the punishment isn’t strict enough to deter adults from providing tobacco to children, we should increase them–and enforce the law. It won’t take more than one prosecution/expulsion of a high school senior for word to get around Stow High that it isn’t worth it to sell tobacco or vaping devices to underclassmen. (City Council does not have authority over school discipline; the School Board does.)

Tobacco 21 was a symbolic measure, offered by many well-meaning people. If this had passed, there would be much back-patting and little progress.

2019 Budget

Now for something that will actually impact Stow residents … We held opening discussions on the 2019 budget. As I have been saying for a long time, Stow is in really good shape fiscally:

  • Since I was elected in 2009, we have cut city debt from $31.6 million to $14.36 million (reduction of 54%). This is the result of fiscal discipline, consistently applied. Last year, we paid off the Safety Building debt entirely.
  • We had a $166,000 budget surplus in 2018, which was our fourth-consecutive budget surplus.
  • Our rainy-day fund holds $5.56 million, which is an all-time high.
  • We have an excellent “Aa2” credit rating from Moody’s.
  • We have turned around our previously troubled assets; Fox Den and the Stow Courthouse now carry their own weight (although Fox Den is still in the red, when considering debt payments).

Here’s a brief synopsis of the 2019 budget:

  • We are projecting a 1.5% increase in income tax receipts, based on our continued momentum in economic development. Our business districts are thriving, and we are regularly racking up wins with our business-friendly reputation.
  • We are projecting a 1.4% increase in expenditures, based mostly on the union-negotiated 2.5% raises and commensurate raises then given to non-union employees. Everywhere else, our belts remain tight.
  • We plan to issue no new debt.
  • We will have a very strong road-paving program, as we did in 2018, which was the largest in city history.

This is a night-and-day turnaround from where Stow was a decade ago. In 2009, we were in deep trouble from debt, bloated with staffing, and leaders were in denial about where the city was heading. Today, we are insulated from the next economic downturn, residents can be assured their taxes won’t go up, and we are making serious investments in our infrastructure.

Other notes

  • Council approved legislation concerning small-cell 5G wireless devices, which the four mobile carriers will be installing throughout the city in 2020. We had very little wiggle room, based on state legislation passed two years ago. This ordinance ensures we can have some influence on the placement and appearance of these 18-inch cylindrical cells, which will someday be instrumental for self-driving cars.
  • Council gave a first reading to a charter amendment, which would apply an 8-year term limit to members of Planning Commission. I think this is a good move, so we can get new blood and ideas on this important board.
  • Council approved the plans for Circle K to demolish and rebuild a gas station/C-store at the corner of Stow and Fishcreek roads. It will be a big upgrade, in my opinion. They hope to break ground in April and finish by September.
  • Council approved the hiring of a firm (The Impact Group, out of Hudson) that will assist in public outreach. Stow is not big enough to justify a PR employee, a social media employee, a Web site employee … but we do have needs in those areas. Hiring a firm that can provide all of those disciplines is cheaper than hiring any one employee, and we get a lot more services out of the arrangement.

Next meeting – Council will meet next on March 14.

 

Meeting Notes

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