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.