May
10

Last night’s council meeting

Here are my notes on last night’s council meeting:

Capital expenditures – We usually consider all of our equipment/vehicle purchases at one meeting. Last night was it. We bought a slew of cars, trucks, snow plows, and excavators. We purchased an ambulance to replace a 2008 model and 4 new police vehicles. We are now buying Dodge Chargers for our basic cruiser, and the cost is very reasonable ($27K each). I voted “no” on one of the vehicle requests: new Chevy trucks for the water department and engineering department’s inspections and repairs. We don’t need new top-of-the-line trucks for cruising the city. (Heck, we could give employees a vehicle allowance and let them slap a “City of Stow” magnet on the side of their personal vehicles — and save tens of thousands.) Regardless, that purchase was still approved by a 5-1 vote. Each other proposal passed unanimously.

Route 8 – We all need to be very careful traveling on Route 8, because of the close proximity of the workers to the roadway. This is no joke: there will be a concerted effort to ticket drivers who are exceeding the 55-MPH speed limit, especially after a driver injured Sgt. Ted Bell last week. (Thankfully, he has left the hospital and is now recovering at home.) And fines are doubled. It would ruin anyone’s week to get slapped with a $300+ ticket.

Personnel moves – Council approved a new full-time position, Assistant Recreation Supervisor. The job will take the place of 2 part timers. I voted no, because we will actually lose man hours in the department, and it will cost taxpayers an additional $20,000-$25,000 per year. It’s the rare lose-lose situation (less work, more expense). It passed by a 4-2 vote (Riehl, Rasor). … We have worked really hard to keep personnel costs down over the past decade, and we poured that money into paying down debt and fixing the roads. Our fiscal restraint has put us in position to avoid tax increases, to have the best infrastructure in Summit County and to consider a Downtown project. We can’t return to the recklessness of the Fritschel years, and begin squandering those gains. (You might be thinking, “Of course, everyone cares about preserving taxpayer dollars!” … You’d be wrong.) We are only talking $25,000 a year, but it’s the mindset that concerns me. Death of 1,000 cuts.

Next meeting – Council meets next May 23.

Apr
30

The plan to deliver the best roads in Summit County

Last week, City Council made a very important vote. We committed to fix every single worn-down road in the city, over a 18-month period, beginning this summer.

Here is a rundown of the situation:

The past. The Great Recession put a big hurt on city governments everywhere. Some responded by raising taxes. Others by cutting services. Almost all of them reduced their investment in infrastructure. Thankfully, Stow rejected a tax hike, maintained services and reduced its workforce by 20%. Unfortunately, we opted not to fix our roads.

This decision had a ripple effect. If we don’t fix roads in 2009, we are fixing 2009’s roads in 2010. But if we don’t invest enough in 2010 to even fix 2010’s roads, then you’re relying on 2011’s budget for both 2009’s and 2010’s investments. It piles up fast.

I became chairman of the Finance Committee in 2014. That’s when things changed. I insisted that we budget enough to fix the roads each year, plus an additional “catchup” sum.

The present. In 2009, 13% of our roads were “poor” or “deficient.” The roads only got worse in the next few years. By 2014, we turned the corner. In 2017, the number of poor/deficient roads dropped back down to 10.7 percent.

Here is a map to indicate road status as of 2017:

Since the time these ratings were compiled in 2017, we have paved many of the roads shown below as “fair,” “poor,” and “deficient.” For a more detailed understanding, please click the links below, to find spreadsheets that show the ratings (far right column) of every asphalt and concrete road in town — again, as of 2017:

Asphalt Roads – 2017 condition

Concrete Roads – 2017 condition

 

The gameplan for 2019-2020. While the slow catchup plan was the best we could do in 2014, I never deemed it adequate. If City Council continued on its current trajectory, we would never eliminate the red and purple roads, as you see in the 2017 graphic. Sure, we’d fix them, but new red/purple roads would arise, due to the normal wear and tear that happens in Northeast Ohio. At best, we would reach our goal in time for the next recession, and the process would repeat. We needed drastic action.

So I proposed (and the administration supported) a plan to get us back on track.

2019 will feature the largest road program in City History — almost by a million dollars. Best part about it, we are doing it in back-to-back years. That’s right: $2.8 million in 2019 and $2.8 million in 2020. $5.6 million total.

Here is the proposed program of paving for 2019-2020:

By doing this quantity of work within such a short period of time, it will have the following results: (1) The city will be “caught up” on paving — finally, after 10 years of clawing back from the Great Recession. (2) Stow’s future road repairs will be less expensive, on a per-mile basis, because we won’t need to repair the base of the road (i.e., the longer you wait, the worse the damage to the road’s foundation). (3) Even if your road isn’t on the 2019-20 paving plan, you can be confident that the trucks will be there before damage to your car’s shocks, your body’s ankles, or your home’s value.

How are we paying for it? We are not raising taxes. We are not dipping into our savings account. We are not selling bonds or borrowing from the market. We are borrowing internally from the water fund, and only if we cannot achieve next year’s $2.8 million threshold through our typical sources. Borrowing from ourselves has the same benefits as a personal 401K loan: you’re paying interest to yourself, you’re not paying exorbitant loan fees, and it doesn’t hurt your credit rating.

In 18 months, the City of Stow will have no roads that are “poor” or “deficient.” We will have a credible claim to the best roads in Summit County. And our finances will still be stellar. I’m very thankful to my colleagues who supported this transformational project.

Meeting Notes

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