The Stow Turn-Around Project
On the date of my first inauguration in January 2010, Stow was in big trouble financially. Stow was running million-dollar deficits. The city had $31,640,000 in debt. The rainy-day fund was dwindling. In fact, these were the reasons that I ran for city council, as a 24-year-old law student.
Fast forward to February 2018, and the story is much different. Last year, Stow had a budget surplus of $315,000. Our rainy-day fund is at an all-time high of $5.4 million. The city’s debt has been cut in half — to $15.5 million. Our bond rating is excellent.
Indeed, in 2010, Stow’s finances were a disaster. But today, I’m very proud to report that Stow is in exceptional financial health. We have turned around our finances, where almost every other city has struggled.
How did we do it?
- We stopped shooting ourselves in the foot. First and foremost, we had to stop doing stupid stuff. I started asking tough questions. We ended the echo chamber that was created by City Council’s “go along to get along” attitude.
- We controlled costs. By reducing our workforce, we closed the deficit. But we did it with prudence. Some jobs lead to revenue (i.e. economic development) and other jobs are critical for city services (i.e. cops). We bolstered those departments while allowing attrition to cut costs in other places where it was appropriate.
- We became business-friendly. The business community was not happy with Stow when I was first elected. I urged a paradigm shift. Our team needed to accommodate the needs of business, because without business, we have no good-paying jobs, and we have no way to pay for city services. Instead of saying “no” when our employers approached us with a reasonable request, we needed to find a way to get to “yes.” I also urged Stow to out-compete and out-hustle its neighbors in attracting new businesses. As a result of the paradigm shift, Stow has been growing at a great pace over the last five years. 2017 was our best year ever, and 2018 looks even more promising (MAC-TAC and Wrayco buildings being filled with exciting new good-paying jobs).
- We resisted the urge to raise taxes. Everyone at City Hall knew Stow’s finances were terrible in 2010. On top of that, in the years that followed, the State Legislature choked off two big sources of our revenue (local government fund and estate tax). The question was, how do we deal with these challenges? Some elected officials pushed for a tax increase. I felt that we could accomplish more with less, and believed that a tax increase would hurt our residents and hinder our ability to keep and attract employers. We succeeded in resisting an increase in taxes. If we had succumbed, Stow residents would have less cash in their pockets and our community would have fewer good-paying jobs.
Last night, Council heard a presentation about our 2018 budget. The outlook is great. We must sustain it. But we must also find a way to invest better in our infrastructure. Our roads have improved a lot since 2010, but we still have catching up to do. This year, I want to spend time and thought in finding a way to fund a large infrastructure investment.