Lakewood residents’ indifference toward the financial health of their city was on full display Saturday morning as the City Council and mayor held their first public meeting to discuss the proposed 2013 municipal budget. The two-and-a-half hour meeting played out in the City Hall auditorium before rows of empty chairs and with no members of the media in sight.
If the hundreds of parents, senior citizens, and disabled people who utilize the city’s social services had been present, they would have gotten a clear hint that change is on the horizon. Mayor Michael Summers announced that Dorothy Buckon, the director of human services, is leaving her position in February. The move was announced internally last week.
The mayor indicated the change was based on a “mutual understanding.” No additional details were volunteered, but it is reasonable to assume the efforts underway to change the way the city provides human services played a factor. Summers said the transition would take all year and Buckon’s budgeted salary would be spent one way or another. She earned $90,030 in 2011.
The Lakewood resident had been director since 2003. She also spent a decade as the assistant director, and another decade as a Lakewood Hospital nurse.
Curbside recycling containers will be issued to residents
It’s been three years since the switch was made to automated front yard garbage pick-up. Now, the city is ready to add recyclables to the menu of items it can process through automation.
Beginning next year, residents will be issued a second 96-gallon container expressly for the purpose of holding paper, glass, and plastic. The entire project will be phased in over a three-year period, with 6,000 containers being parceled out each year. City officials opted for a slow roll-out to deal with anticipated parking problems created by the increased number of cans lining front lawns on garbage day.
At a cost of $53 per container, it will cost the city $954,000 to buy all 18,000 containers. When fully deployed, the administration believes the large containers will lead to a two-fold increase in the volume of recyclable material it collects and an annual savings of $100,000 to $120,000 in solid waste disposal charges.
Lakewood residents recycled about 50% of their total solid waste (15,968 tons) in 2011, the 11th most of any Cuyahoga County municipality, according to the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District.
General fund revenue down lowest level since 2003; mayor ‘very concerned’ about 2014
Due to a 50% reduction in state funding, the elimination of the estate tax, and a 4% property tax decrease, the administration projects the city’s 2013 general fund will be $33.3 million, its lowest level in 10 years.
“We have to continue to reduce costs,” Mayor Summers said. “The threats remain substantial and real.” The mayor indicated the city would need to have a “sustained culture of cost reduction and effectiveness,” particularly because the situation shows no sign of immediate improvement. Summers said he is “very concerned about 2014.”
The city’s is projected to end 2012 with about $4.3 million in the bank, which is an marked improvement over 2007 when it finished with just $339,500. “We were spending money like drunken sailors in this city,” At-Large councilperson Brian Powers remarked. Ideally, the city should have 60 days of operating funds, or about $6 million in reserve at years’ end.
Finance Director Jennifer Pae gave a PowerPoint presentation outlining the general nature of the city’s 2013 budget projections. She noted 76% of the general fund is spent on employee salaries. Personal income tax revenue is the primary source for the general fund.
The administration is currently negotiating new labor contracts with six of the seven unions who represent city employees. The city is seeking to hold salaries where they are at, with no cost of living increase for 2013.
Legislative changes made to the Ohio Public Employee Retirement System have prompted numerous retirements, including 10 in the Public Works Department. Others are expected to retire by January 2. The departures may help the budget in some ways, but will pose a challenge to the administration due to the loss of valuable institutional memory. “I’m very nervous about these,” Mayor Summers said.
Other budget notes
- The mayor hasn’t received the proper amount of criticism for merging the Division of Housing and Building with the Department of Planning and Development and dumping leadership responsibilities of both groups onto the shoulders of a single person. Now, to give some breathing room to the top man and to properly compensate the poor fellow who is doing much of the hard work in planning and development, the city is creating a new position.
The new City Planner role, as it has been labeled, will pay between $46,344 and $65,364, and is in the same pay grade as the assistant building commissioners and assistant law director positions. Basically, the City Planner job will replace the Assistant Director of Planning and Development and Project Specialist II gigs which have been left vacant.
The City Planner job was supposed to be created and filled sometime in 2013, but an unknown urgency has prompted the administration to have the role occupied by the first of the year. The job will be publicly posted shortly, although it will almost certainly go to Bryce Sylvester, who started as an intern last year and has impressed officials with his attitude and capabilities as a Project Specialist I.
- The city will move $100,000 from the general fund to the economic development fund before the end of this year. The goal is to have a fund total of $1 million to use for various economic development-related projects. Right now, the fund total is at a little less than half of the goal.
The mayor said he likes to have the flexibility to intervene in certain situations where the city benefits. Earlier this year, for instance, the administration tapped the fund to help acquire two troublesome boarding houses. It expects to sell the properties to rehabbers and have them converted into single-family homes.
The mayor made a brief off-hand mention about the 800-spot parking garage by Lakewood Center North. Apparently, the building may be changing hands soon, and the parking garage is a part of the discussion. The owner of the parking garage hasn’t been willing to expand hours of operation to help ease the parking problems in the downtown district.
- At-Large Councilperson Monique Smith wants to blow more than $10,000 of economic development money to market the city. Smith has seen the success Kamm’s Corners and Gordon Square have had in telling their stories and landing state and federally-funded projects. She wants Lakewood to try and replicate it. “We have an amazing story to tell,” she said.
- Mayor Summers said the 2013 budget will have some room to hire the services of a statehouse lobbyist.
- Negotiations to extend the Winterhurst contract with Iceland USA are underway. “There’s a little pushing and shoving going on,” Mayor Summers said. Finance Director Pae was confident the process would end satisfactorily. “I don’t expect much to change,” she said.
- Water rates are increasing 3% in 2013 and at least 2% each year thereafter to offset a decrease in overall water usage. Sewer rates are increasing about 10% next year and 10% the following year to help offset future sewer repairs. The EPA recently checked up on the city’s progress in meeting requirements of the Clean Water Act. It found the city was making progress and had a unique situation. The mayor suspects it will issue the city some administrative orders to improve, but will keep the matter out of the courts.
- The city is setting aside $200,000 at the end of the year for potential legal settlements for current litigation it’s dealing with.
- The administration has nine stated objectives for 2013: 1. continue aggressively protecting citizens and their property, 2. finish Phase 1 of the Housing Forward Strategy, 3. continue to use new tools to reduce resources and improve delivery service, 4. identify and implement sustainable practices, 5. advance EPA storm water management plans, 6. Lakewood Hospital strategic discussion, 7. gain financial strength for investment in the future, 8. strengthen investment along Madison Ave., 9. improve stewardship of city assets, like parks.