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.

Apr
26

Last night’s city council meeting

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

Seasons Road Business Center – Council passed a 15-year property tax abatement for a $12.4 million industrial building at the southeast corner of the Seasons Road / Route 8 intersection. It will bring 60 new jobs to town, with a $2 million payroll. The building will be 217,000 square feet. For a frame of reference, it’s twice as big as any of the existing buildings. What an amazing thing their development has been for Stow’s tax and job base!

There have been some school teachers getting angry in Columbus about these kinds of deals. Their protests show a misunderstanding of how these abatements operate. We only abate the tax on the “new” value (i.e., the $12.4 million). The owner still pays tax on the existing value. The owner also makes a payment of 50% of the new value to the school district. Fifty percent of something is better than 100% of nothing. And after the abatement period ends, the owner pays full freight.

Roads – It’s been one of my missions to give Stow the best roads in Summit County. Last night, council passed a plan to do that. I’m going to post more content on that plan next week, along with maps and charts of what we intend to do.

Downtown Stow – The most contentious debate last night was whether to buy the residence between the Post Office and Senior Center for a price of $231,000. The fair market value is somewhere south of that, but there’s no question the property is useful (perhaps necessary) for a serious downtown project.

In the past couple months, Mayor Pribonic and his administration have sought to use that land for a Rec Center, which would be privately developed and privately managed. Buying this house would be a pre-condition for the development team to give us concrete development plans and a proposal for how Stow would be compensated for its land. The administration earnestly sought council’s approval of the purchase.

The purchase failed to obtain a majority approval from council, failing by a 3-3 vote (Costello, D’Antonio and Harrison voted “yes”). I voted “no.”

If you’ve followed this process for the past couple of years, you know I’ve been one of the biggest advocates of a Downtown Stow. Maybe it’s biggest cheerleader. Why not approve this component?

Because I told you from the beginning, “We are doing this without risking taxpayer dollars, and we are either going to do it right, or we won’t do it at all.”

The Rec Center plan would be GREAT, if we can ensure it’s a credible one.

The development team has never built anything other than some vet clinics. Their main source of cash is a professional athlete whose identity they won’t disclose. They do not propose any method for compensating Stow for its land. Their main goal is to build basketball courts for camps, and they agreed to do the Rec Center only upon the city’s suggestion.

These aren’t insurmountable problems, but they should give everyone pause.

How could they prove their credentials and bona fides? Three things come to mind: (1) The team could offer to buy the land for $231K themselves, to show they’re serious. (2) They could prove they actually have the funds, by disclosing the athlete’s identity and by providing a bank’s commitment letter to lend the $6-$8 million that would be necessary (beyond the team’s own investment). (3) They could link up with a professional developer, whose portfolio of successful projects would assure us of quality and professionalism.

In my day job, I’m a business and real estate lawyer. If you’re not in my world on a daily basis, you might be wondering, why so picky?

Well, there are grave consequences for getting in bed with an unqualified or underfunded developer. What happens if they aren’t as serious as we think? What happens if their pro athlete backs out? The seller of this land isn’t going to just give us the $231,000 back (nor should he).

Here is an even graver possibility: What happens if their cash dries up in the middle of the project? Who provides the $5 million to finish the project? (Hint: The City doesn’t have that kind of disposable cash.) To have a half-completed eyesore next to City Hall would make Stow the laughingstock of Summit County.

I want to be clear: We should buy this land, if we have a credible plan for its use. This team may ultimately step up to the plate and be that credible plan. I won’t close the door on that possibility.

We must be prudent with the city’s money. And under no circumstances can we rest the hopes of a Downtown Stow on a party that has not given us proof of capacity to perform. I’m not a “no,” but I’m a “not yet.”

Next meeting – Council will meet next on May 9.

 

Meeting Notes

Press Releases