Council amends, then approves 2017 budget

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

2017 Budget – Council unanimously approved the 2017 budget, after making 2 amendments:

First, Brian Lowdermilk made a motion to reduce the budget by $1.5 million. As you’re aware, storm-water fees were increased last year. It is likely the city will use this additional revenue to service new debt, for the purposes of major storm-water improvements. The administration said we probably won’t actually incur the new debt in 2017. Therefore, it was appropriate for Brian to make this amendment, so that the budget reflects reality. His amendment passed by a 4-3 vote (D’Antonio, Costello and Pribonic voted “no”).

Second, I made an amendment to reduce the Clerk of Court’s budget by $31,000. The clerk’s office dramatically increased its funding request last year. My amendment in 2016 reduced the allocation by $71,000. The clerk came back to us later in 2016, and obtained an extra $25,000, but she told us that the technology advances in her office would permit her funding to be reduced in later years. My amendment this year reduces the clerk’s allocation to the same level as my amendment in 2016, with two adjustments: (1) an additional reduction to reflect the fact that 2016 had 27 payrolls, and 2017 has 26, and (2) an additional allocation to reflect the fact that staff received a reasonable 2% pay increase. My amendment passed by a 7-0 vote. Then the budget passed unanimously.

As I said last month, this is a solid budget. It is VERY conservative in terms of estimating tax revenue. I say this because the budget projects 2017 to be one of the worst years in the past few decades; however, nothing in the national economy or local economy should lead us to that prediction. I suppose it’s better to receive a positive surprise at the end of the year (i.e., our revenue beat projections) than a negative one (i.e., revenue failed to meet projections). If we have a decent year on the revenue side, then we will have yet another surplus.

Seasons Road – Phase 3

Council approved a tax incentive for the third phase of the Seasons Road Business Center. This third building will be on the east side of Route 8, like the 2 existing structures, but it will be about 20% larger and 50% more expensive to build than its siblings. The first two buildings are almost full, by the way.

We expect that Phase 3 will create 60 jobs, with $40,000 in annual income tax for the city. The incentive we approved allows the “owner” to pay income taxes at the current appraised value (i.e., the value without the building) for 15 years. It’s an annual savings of $117,000 per year. I placed “owner” in quotation marks because it is really the future tenants that will be paying income taxes. By the city passing this tax incentive, it will be easier for the owner to attract tenants for the building, which is constructed on a speculative basis. The owner will also compensate the school district with an annual $55,386 payment, to make up for the district’s lost revenue.

Next meeting

Council will meet next on April 13. At that time, we will continue our discussion about increasing EMS fees and moving/eliminating the primary elections.


Last night’s council meeting

Here are my notes from last night:

Primary Election date – As you’re probably aware, I am proposing legislation to amend Stow’s charter, to have our primary elections in May, instead of September. It gives overseas military a better opportunity to vote in municipal elections. And it will save tens of thousands of dollars. We had a debate over the topic because Brian Lowdermilk was skeptical that any military personnel is adversely affected by a September primary (I gave him direct evidence to refute that). Then Matt Riehl proposed eliminating primary elections altogether. We tabled the discussion until we can consider whether the elimination of primaries is an even better idea. It’s a little frustrating that Matt to raise the idea until 4 months after my original proposal. But the good news is, we don’t have to submit anything to the Board of Elections until August. That’s why I started the discussion 10 months in advance.

Clerk of Courts’ Budget – Council heard testimony from Stow Clerk of Courts Diana Colavecchio. Last year, she submitted a 2016 budget that had a $170,000 increase from the year before. She told council that her predecessor, Kevin Coughlin, had been running the office on a shoestring budget in order to have a strong campaign narrative in the election year. I didn’t buy that story completely. I made a motion to reduce her budget by $70,000, which passed. Diana returned to council later in the year to request more money. Council gave her office an additional $45,000 (over my objection).

We are now discussing the 2017 budget. Diana made a very nice presentation that showed how a new computer system has automated many of the tasks that previously required countless man hours to complete, including document filing, accepting payments, and accessing court records. It’s a great system. No question. It should lead to a LOT of efficiencies and elimination of work.

She is asking for a 2017 budget that is about $41,000 less than the eventual sum spent in 2016. She will have 16 full-time and 6 part-time employees (compared to 19 and 3 in 2016). I want to see even more reduction in workforce. These are ultimately Stow’s tax dollars.

Storm water projects – Council examined the storm water projects completed in 2016 and to be completed in 2017. Here is a brief list of areas/streets that have been benefited by 2016 projects:

Treeside (culvert replacement), Ritchie Road (storm sewer), West Arndale (storm sewer), Fishcreek/Lakeshire (ditch enclosure)

Here are the projects for 2017:

Marhofer detention basin, Wetmore Park, Leewood area (culvert), Mud Brook stream, Klein/Conwill, Quail Highland (retention basin), Camden Drive, Hudson Drive (catch basin)

Next meeting – Council will meet next on March 23.

Meeting Notes

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