Saturday, April 4, 2009

Another Great Town Hall Meeting

Turnout was great for the semiannual town hall meeting at the American Legion Thursday night, with over 150 people in attendance. Special thanks to the American Legion for allowing us to host the meeting at their facility. The notes from the meeting are as follows:

April 2, 2009 Town Hall Meeting Summary

1. If Firefighters are not laid off because of the pending court case, what impact will that have on the Police Department?

Chief Medders: The money has to come from somewhere, and that will mean more cuts in the police department.

2. How can Mayor Grace hire more advisors (IT Department) and lay off safety services?

Mayor Grace: They haven’t been hired yet, but the ordinance was passed to create those positions so that they can be hired. There have been retirements so hiring new people to fill the positions will actually save the City money. There will be one extra person hired in addition to filling the vacancies.

3. If an income tax doesn’t pass will safety services be cut?

Mayor Grace: Yes. Revenue is dropping and we are still trending downwards. The City and the Auditor anticipated a 4.3% decrease from last year's revenues, but right now we are at a 9.4% decrease.

4. How many safety service directors are there and what do they do?

Mayor Grace: Like most cities, the Safety Service Director is the top management position after the Mayor. We traditionally have 3 Assistant Safety Service Directors but right now have 2 because 1 retired in December and hasn’t been replaced yet. There are also 4 secretaries shared by the Mayor and the SSD.

5. Why isn’t West River Road getting fixed?

Mayor Grace: Because of Wal Mart, there was a delay because they were going to help with paving or cause bigger problems on the road so they waited. Now the road is so damaged that we could fix it this summer, but that would mean no other road repairs because it would take the entire street budget or we could wait and do it next year with federal funds. This will be up to Council to decide in the coming weeks.

6. Question from the floor regarding Mark’s proposed cuts to the budget.

Mark Craig: There were two meetings last Monday – finance committee, where the cuts were discussed, and full council where there was no discussion. The cuts that were recommended included things such as travel expenses, mileage, some educational reimbursement and areas where it looked like cuts could be done based on last year’s actual figures and this year’s proposed budget. These cuts were discussed in a previous finance committee meeting, but figures were not presented until last Monday. The full document is available on the 4th Ward Information Website,

7. What about a quick fix/patch for West River Road?

Mayor Grace: They have been out doing cold patch as much as possible. There have been crews out around the city looking at the bad sections and deciding what to do. Paving streets is a balancing act. We cannot afford to do all the streets at once, so we have to do some major streets and some minor streets each year.

8. If we keep laying people off, how will we grow our revenues because we are losing those tax dollars?

Mayor Grace: Right now we’re doing what we have to do to survive. EFD and EPD are the highest priority.

9. Two part question regarding contract concessions:
1. Will EFD reconsider the “no layoff” provision while keeping other concessions and what about eliminating overtime?
2. Can contracts be renegotiated so that part time people in Parks and Rec and EPD can come back despite full time workers still being laid off?

Chief Benton: Overtime has already been eliminated for training and minimum staffing has been abolished, which means the shift will operate with the number of fire fighters that show up each day. The only overtime we should see this year will be for large fires where additional personnel are called in to help. The fire department has been using overtime staffing rather than “seat staffing” to keep expenses down. Under overtime staffing, there are no additional salaries and benefits to be paid. Seat staffing would require hiring more fire fighters and ultimately cost the City more.

10. Comment about Windsor Drive – number one on the list?

Mark Craig: Explained process of submitting streets for ranking to Engineering, list going to Utilities Committee and ultimately full council for approval. Windsor is the number 1 ranked street submitted on Mark’s list, but whether or not it is repaired will be determined by the Utilities Committee to make the recommendation, which must be approved by a majority of Council.

11. Columbus Street – why brick with some paving? Petitions were turned in years ago that the neighbors all signed that wanted it completely paved.

Mukund Moghe: There were a number of neighbors who objected to removing the bricks and paving the street, which is why the project didn’t move forward. Mark will follow up with the residents to see what can be done and determine what happened last time.

12. Speeding on Burns Road – will the police look into this?

Chief Medders: Now that it is good weather, there will be more speed enforcement zones around the City and he will bump up the patrols on this street. They will first use the “box” that tells drivers what speed they are traveling which in turn lets the police know what time of day is the most heavily traveled, then they will run radar or laser at that time. He did advise that the resident warn her neighbors, as those are the people who are most likely to get caught.

13. A resident from Cherry Ridge condos reminded Chief Medders about the speed enforcement zone that was run on West River Road where residents sat in lawn chairs and watched. He said if the police will come back again and do it, they will bring out the law chairs.

14. Why did nothing for Elyria appear on the stimulus list from the US Conference of Mayors? Why were we not in on the ground floor of applying for aid?

Mayor Grace: The list from the Conference was just examples of the types of projects that need done, not a list of finalized projects. We are receiving approximately $3 million in stimulus money for different projects in the City, including resurfacing East River Road and Gateway Blvd.

15. Why, given this economy, hasn’t the Mayor given up his gas allowance/mileage reimbursement?

Mayor Grace: It is less expensive for the City to pay him a travel allowance each month (which was approved by Council when he was first elected) than to give him a City vehicle. This is standard for businesses and governments.

16. Regardless of what the Mayor’s predecessor did, this economy requires real change and real sacrifice.

Mayor Grace: No raises for Mayor and Auditor for the past 2 years. Mayor’s office, Auditor’s office and Law Director’s office giving back 10% of their pay in addition to their pay raises.

17. What about delinquent taxes? Do we pursue those? Is that contributing to the decline in revenue?

Ted Pileski: The Auditor’s office is very active in pursuing people who are delinquent on their taxes, with new lawsuits filed every month.

18. Hypothetical question: “If I am a new business that wants to move into Elyria, what is the process?”

Mayor Grace: First you would meet with Don Brackenhoff, the Economic Development Director, who would determine what your criteria are in terms of physical space, location, etc. Then you would be referred to local realtors who know all of the properties that are available to find one that best suits your needs. You would also be referred to Team Lorain County for additional information and assistance.

19. Are the bars downtown drawing manpower away from other parts of town in the evenings?

Chief Medders: Yes. EPD is working on scheduling and manpower to ensure that the rest of the City is adequately covered while patrolling the downtown area as well. Also applying for grants for financial assistance.

20. Is the crime rate in Elyria increasing, and, if so, what types of crimes are on the rise?

Chief Medders: Did not have hard statistics, but yes, crime is on the rise. It is noticeable mostly in thefts, assaults and domestic violence. We always have a problem with criminals coming in from Cleveland and Toledo as well.

21. Herds of deer along Whitman and Canterbury. What can be done? Can we hunt them with bows and arrows?

Chief Medders: Cannot shoot them, and no plans to allow a controlled hunt with bows and arrows to cull the herds. It is illegal to feed the deer, though, and residents can contact the police about people who are feeding deer.

22. What is being done about car break-ins and other violence at Midway Mall?

Chief Medders: Because the Mall has security and hires off-duty police officers, that area is actually better patrolled than other areas in the City. Best thing is for citizens to call in reports of anything that they see – don’t intervene, just call.

23. Do the Block Watches help?

Chief Medders: Of course. There are approximately 17 active block watches in the City now. Anyone interested in starting a block watch should contact Jerry Klein for assistance.

24. Why isn’t there a snow ban for parking?

Mayor Grace: This is a decision that can be made by Council. SSD can declare an emergency in case of heavy snow, but because we are an older City, many people rely on parking on the street.

25. In looking at Economic Development, it seems that the City has missed deadlines and blown contracts in the past. What is the net gain and loss of businesses in Elyria in the past year?

Mayor Grace: No real way to measure that other than looking at income tax revenue which is down 9.4%. When revenues are down, that means that there are less businesses and less people working.

26. What is the economic impact of TIFF’s and tax abatements for new developments?

Mayor Grace: Very little, because the City relies on income tax, not property tax for funding. We have cut down the length of time for typical abatement from 15 years to 7 years. The City only receives approximately 67-7% of property taxes collected, which mainly go to the Police and Fire Pension funds.

27. Would the EFD make money if they were not competing with Lifecare and instead handled transport themselves?

Chief Benton: No. Because of the size of our City, it is more cost effective for everyone to have private ambulance service. EFD/government should not be in the position of taking jobs away from the private sector. Also, EFD is not equipped to do the bulk of transports which are non-emergency, such as transferring elderly citizens from nursing home to hospital and back or taking patients to dialysis. These types of services are where Lifecare makes money.

28. Are the parks safe? Specifically in Elywood, sometimes the gates are open, sometimes they are closed. Is the loss of park rangers causing more problems?

Chief Medders: There were only 2 park rangers to begin with, so that hasn’t resulted in a lot of problems. The parks have been incorporated into the patrols so that officers are coming through on a regular basis. He will check to make sure the gates are open, because that makes it easier for the police to come in. There are no emergency phones in the parks – any phones that were there (outside of anything in a building) have been vandalized and ultimately removed.

29. Are the intersections on Rt. 57 (specifically at West River Road) done?

Mukund Moghe: No. They will be working on those this summer. That particular intersection is especially bad because they put asphalt down on the existing concrete and it just crumbled.

30. Is the Mayor aware of any specific factors that are keeping businesses from coming to Elyria?

Mayor Grace: Aesthetics are a big one. Companies want to locate in areas that are attractive and well maintained. This is why Design Review is important. Also more expensive/nicer housing would attract people to live here. The new high school will help encourage people to move here.

31. When is something going to be done about General Industries and how much will it cost the City?

Mayor Grace: The EPA has done testing and there is no concern about contamination at or from the site. There is a specific process for dealing with the property owner regarding cleanup. Ultimately, the city may end up owning the property if the owner fails to do anything about it, but that will take a while.

32. Why was there no controversy about the glaring sign at Puffer’s (and LifeShare) yet all the concern over the Krazy Mac’s sign?

Mayor Grace: There were no regulations in place to deal with the LED message signs, so it is a learning process. Krazy Mac’s (and other businesses) have been “encouraged” by a couple of council members to raise a fuss about design review. The owners of Krazy Mac’s didn’t apply for a permit either, so that was their fault. There is legislation currently being discussed regarding this topic.

33. Has there been any feedback from businesses about design review?

Answer: Several business people spoke. The gentleman who redid the Circle K plaza in the 7th Ward said that Design Review was easy and important. Bill Ivancic spoke about his 1 ½ year recent process to open his new business in North Olmsted and how Elyria’s rules are much more relaxed.

34. What percentage of businesses are approved/denied by Design Review?

Mayor Grace: There are usually changes/modifications required and then the approval rate is approximately 95% to 98%.

35. The yards on Hilliard Avenue are becoming more and more flooded as the years go by. Who can look into this and help with this situation?

Mukund Moghe: Will schedule someone to come out and talk with residents about the specific problem.

36. What can be done about Club 57?

Mayor Grace: The police and prosecutors are working on getting it closed based on violations of the law.

37. What is the status of the Ford Road Landfill?

Mayor Grace: The US EPA issued a consent decree in December which involves the companies that contributed to the pollution in that area. It is not in the hands of the City.

38. What will happen to the school buildings that are being closed?

Mayor Grace: That will be up to the school district to decide. They can sell them, retain them for other use or simply maintain the properties while keeping them empty.

39. What is the plan to deal with Ford Road Bridge?

Mayor Grace: It will cost approximately $1 million to replace the bridge deck. We did apply for stimulus funding for that project but it was denied.

40. Does the jail make money?

Chief Medders: No. We do, however, sell space to the federal authorities to house prisoners, so that cost is recouped.

Finally, Janet Stoffer, Executive Director of Elyria Public Library, spoke about the upcoming library tax levy.

The levy is 1.9 mill. This is both a renewal and increase. There is a current 1 mill assessment that expires at the end of the year. The library is asking to increase this to 1.9 mill to maintain services. The cost is approximately $2.62 per month for an owner of a $100,000 home.
The economy is having a direct impact on library usage – it has increased dramatically, especially for people needing computers and Internet access to search for jobs and apply for benefits on-line.

The new branch at LCCC is a full service public library. The building was paid for and is owned by the college. Elyria Public Library does pay an administrative fee for the space.
Both the Washington Avenue Branch and the West River Road Branch receive about the same number of visitors (approximately 34,000) every month. Neither branch could handle the total number of people if one of the branches was closed.

There is also a tax levy on for the LaGrange and Keystone Branches of the library. Those branches are not and will not be funded by Elyria tax dollars. All the revenue generated in Elyria stays in Elyria.

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