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.

 

Jan
25

Last night’s council meeting

Here are my notes from last night’s Stow City Council meeting:

Baumann’s Florist – Council approved a zoning certificate for Baumann’s Florist’s new location, on Darrow Road, across from the library. They will leave their current location at the corner of Ritchie and Hudson. The Baumanns were emotional last night, thanking Stow for supporting their first 39 years in business. We look forward to supporting them in the future. Great people.

Boards and Commissions – Serving on a city commission is thankless work, without pay. In the case of Planning Commission, there are weighty decisions, too. Based on these facts, the positions had little demand, and council reappointed the same people, over and over. … This year, Mayor Pribonic advertised for openings, and we had 35 applicants. That’s very encouraging, because we want new voices every now and then. I will support term limits on our most in-demand commission(s).

Fun Fact – We sold $47K of alcohol at Fox Den Golf Course last year, at a $15K cost of good sold.

Smoking Age – Council heard legislation to increase the smoking age to 21. It would not be enforced by police. There would be no punishment to the young people. Rather, the law would be enforced against Stow’s 21 tobacco vendors, who would pay a one-time $150 fee and would face fines when they sell tobacco to Summit County Health Department’s secret shoppers. As it stands today, Akron, Twinsburg, Richfield, Green, Norton, Mogadore and Kent (Portage Co.) have passed the law. The proponents of the law (titled Tobacco21) correctly point out that teenagers are more susceptible to lifelong addiction and that WAY too many young pregnant women are smoking.

The age of majority in the United States, and most of the developed world, is 18. At that age, we believe that humans have the right to make decisions for themselves. That includes the decision to enlist in the military and a host of other “adult” things.

The real problem for teenagers today is not smoking; it’s vaping. High school students are using tiny electronic devices to vaporize liquids containing nicotine or THC (marijuana compound). The devices are very discreet, and often used in the school bathrooms, buses, etc. The high school principal and athletic director testified before us last night, explaining the importance of limiting access to the devices, which can be purchased at Circle K for $14.99. It goes on at the middle school, too.

Let me be clear, we can’t do anything to keep these devices out of Stow High entirely. Until we build that wall at the Cuyahoga Falls border, our teenagers will respond to Tobacco21 by visiting our neighbor to the west (and Munroe Falls to the south, and Hudson to the north). They will be buying more on the Internet, where age verification is impossible.

The best City Council can do, in my humble opinion, is to push the minimum age to 19 for vaping electronics. If we do this, then seniors at Stow High cannot buy them with the same convenience, and we prevent a limited stream of contraband from being shared with underclassmen. Maybe it moves the needle. Maybe. Meaningful reduction in high school vaping will require comprehensive changes to state and federal law.

Again, most people will agree that adults should have freedom, including the freedom to take actions that aren’t in their best interests. So what is an “adult”? Ohio’s age of majority is 18.

I refuse to go down the slippery slope of eliminating freedoms for adults. Look no further than New York City’s ban on sugary drinks to see where those principles will take you. (For the record, I hate sugary drinks and don’t smoke.)

Council gave a first reading to the legislation last night. Based on my vote counting, a broad prohibition is dead on arrival. I would consider supporting a very narrow law to impact the supply of vaping devices in our schools.

2018 budget – Stow had a good year last year, with one exception: healthcare costs. Being partially self-insured, our costs increased due to a year of high claims. As far as revenue goes, the city has never been stronger. We are maintaining our cost consciousness, which is what we relied upon to balance the budget and cut city debt from $31 million to $15 million. Next month, we will begin our review of the 2019 budget.

Snow-mageddon – Huge credit is due to our service department employees, police, firefighters and dispatchers, who did a great job serving our residents during last weekend’s 16 inches of snow. Council is truly appreciative of your professionalism, hard work and skill.

Next meeting – Council will meet next on February 14, which our spouses will love to hear.

Meeting Notes

Press Releases