Last night’s meetings

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

New Commercial Developments

Council approved the site plan of another industrial building next to the newly erected one on Seasons Road, near Route 8. It will be nearly the same blueprint as the first. Both were created on a speculative basis — in other words, they were not made for a known tenant. But the first building has one tenant already and others are showing interest. This early success led the developer to begin construction on the second building.

Council also approved a new warehouse to be constructed on a vacant Commerce Drive parcel.

Clerk of Courts budget

We are currently analyzing the city’s 2016 budget. The most notable item in the budget is the Clerk of Court’s request for a funding increase of 14.5% beyond 2015 levels. The Clerk has hired 2.5 additional employees, and she believes the workload requires it.

As you’re aware from previous blog posts, City Council is doing its best to trim fat in every facet of Stow’s operations, while still providing high-quality services to residents. Please realize how difficult it is to balance a budget without raising taxes in the era where the state government has cut off the Local Government Fund. We have to be very judicious of our priorities.

To see an increase of this magnitude anywhere in the budget–much less in a department that provides very little direct service to our residents–was shocking. Our own Finance Director called the Clerk’s request “unsustainable.”

I made a motion to cut $71,000 out of the Clerk’s allocation, and it passed by a 5-1 vote (Pribonic voted “no”). The Clerk’s funding increase will be 8.5% instead of 14.5%, and we will scrutinize next year’s budget with equal vigor–given that advances in technology will lead to less labor needed, according to the Clerk.

There are many departments in our city that would love to hire 2.5 more employees. We could definitely use extra service workers or cops. We could use more people in our finance department. There are needs all over City Hall. The Clerk’s office, which serves mostly out-of-town attorneys and criminals, should not get preferred treatment over the departments that actually deliver services to Stow residents. Reducing the Clerk’s budget was a no-brainer.

Next Meeting

Council will meet next on March 24.


Last night’s council meeting

Two important items from last night…

2016 Budget

Passing an annual budget is one of the most important things that council does. We began the discussions on 2016 last night.

In 2014, we had a $235K deficit. In 2015, we ended up with a $245K surplus. In 2016, the administration is budgeting for a $554,364 deficit.

It’s only a budget, and there is a lot of uncertainty-particularly on the revenue side. Last year, for example, we projected a 1% increase to income taxes. Instead, there was a 4.6% increase. So that’s how we had a surplus.

This year, we are projecting a 1.5% increase, which is less than the 10-year average of 2.2%. If we indeed have 1.5% growth, then our deficit will result in a carryover balance (i.e., saving account balance) of $4,208,000 at the end of 2016.

Why the deficit? One major reason, as stated above, is a conservative estimate on income tax receipts. Another is the anomaly that the City will make 27 payrolls in 2016, as opposed to 26 in every other year. It’s just the way that the calendar works; every 12 years or so, we have an extra payroll. It has an effect of $525K on our budget.

For some good news, you should be aware that since I arrived on council, the city’s debt has dropped from $34 million to $20 million. Our bond rating is AA2–very strong– and two notches higher than it was in 2003.

Council will continue to discuss the budget in coming weeks.

Proposal to increase storm-water fee

Mayor Drew proposed to council an increase in the storm water fee — an extra $5 per month for every water account. For residents, this will mean a total of $8 per month. It would raise an extra $650,000 per year for use on storm-water infrastructure projects.

This fee was created about 10 years ago and not indexed to inflation. So it hasn’t kept up with increase labor costs. Also, as Stow completes a project, that project must be maintained–and that creates a recurring liability from year to year.

Everyone on council agrees that we need more money for these projects, because we need to prevent catastrophic damage to residents’ homes. The question is, how? And do we liquidate city assets to do it–or just rely on taxpayers to contribute more?

Stay tuned. This will be discussed heavily in the coming weeks and months.

Next Meeting

Council will meet next on March 10.

Meeting Notes

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