We received a great deal of information regarding the proposed tax increases at the last Strategic Planning meeting. Unfortunately, each of the three scenarios was designed to fund new spending as recommended by what's left of the 2015 Steering Committee. There was no plan set forth to address the $3.2 million shortfall we are currently experiencing in the budget. This alarmed many Council members and the administration's response is that we can use the 2015 money to recover initially, then use it for the 2015 designated purposes later. The scenarios and 2015 information will be posted under the Documents section later today.
What became immediately clear is that the scenarios offered were not the result of the 2015 Steering Committee. Rather, they were prepared by the administration, as noted by the presenter when he asked Mayor Grace to explain the scenarios because, the presenter said, that is who prepared them. As such, if there are any questions regarding the rationale for the scenarios, they should be addressed to City Hall.
The administration noted several areas where initial cuts could be made, including $500K at City Hall. Mayor Grace noted that Parks and Recreation would be the next area for layoffs, recognizing that many part-time employees work in the department to run the programs and that to do so will terminate most Parks and Recreation programs. However, all part-time personnel in the City must be laid off before any full-time personnel can be let go, with few exceptions such as the lifeguards for the pools and a few select others.
There is no doubt that we are in an unusually difficult economic time. In order to avoid deep and possibly undesirable cuts to services, including police and fire, there needs to be additional revenue. It is unlikely to come from job creation in this climate. As such, it needs to come from the residents in conjunction with cuts. My proposal for correcting the current budget deficit is to place a .25% regular tax increase on the ballot with specific language that it is only for one year and that it cannot be renewed. This will generate approximately $3 million. That, in addition to the $500K in cuts to City Hall, will make up the $3.2 million shortfall, preserving most jobs, services and programs throughout the City. It is time for leadership to take the first step and make the necessary sacrifices to preserve our level of services to the residents by taking the brunt of the cuts. This will preserve a $1 million carryover to allow the City to continue operating and provide a cushion for further economic hardships.
We would be forced to rely on Team Lorain County, the Lorain County Community Alliance and Lorain County Economic Development (port authority) for the City's continuing economic development efforts, which already should be coordinated to maximize use of those resources. We also need to continue to look at ways in which to cut spending in the City's budget to match the decline in revenues, jobs and population which should result in a reduction of services required to supply the City. Unfortunately, as pointed out at the County's Economic Development breakfast on Friday, City spending in Northeast Ohio continues to increase despite the fact that population and demand for services has remained relatively flat. That trend needs to be corrected and this economic turmoil provides us with an opportunity to "get our house in order" and ensure that we are providing services that are consistent with the needs of our residents, both individual and commercial.
Council is also asking for input from residents and businesses regarding ideas for moving forward, including specific cuts, alternate funding sources, revenue generation and alternate methods by which to provide services. One idea I received yesterday was to privatize the Ice Rink at North Rec center by leasing it to a private company that can continue to operate it. The Ice Rink is one of the few recreational cost centers that makes money and it makes sense to try to continue its operation. If you have ideas, thoughts, opinions or feedback on the situation, please contact me.