Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rebuttal to endorsement of Issue 21

There are more than 21 reasons to reject this permanent income tax, particularly in the absence of any plan to develop growth in the city. Issue 21, which will freeze the general fund departments at their cut, recession levels, preventing those other departments from any increase in spending that is not related to economic growth of the city. These cut levels include no money for capital expenditures and little money for maintenance and repair. There is no money for increased personnel levels after deep cuts to the Street Department, Parks and Recreation Department and a desperate need in the Engineering Department to support future growth. There is no money to retain the firefighters that were hired back through the SAFER Grant, the third largest award in the country. There is no money for economic development and growth. There is no money for downtown improvements. There is no money to re-open the city pools. There is no money to operate programs for our senior citizens. This City has insisted on the accountability that comes with the .5% income tax for operations to remain temporary for the past 35 years, yet now Chief Whitely says it inhibits keeping good police officers on the force? I submit that what threatens police jobs is the constant request for an income tax increase under the threat of layoffs and cuts to safety forces, which we have heard from this administration for the last 10 years.

When asked about what happens to the police department when and if the economy revives, Chief Whitely’s answer is that “if you give us the money, we will find a way to spend it.” That is not satisfactory to me. Yet if Issue 21 passes, that will be the situation because that money will be locked into the police department. I asked about what are the equipment needs of the department, what is the plan to hire additional personnel, when would the jail be reopened. There are no specific answers to these questions. Yet the police department and the administration are adamant against having an audit completed of the police department to see where the money has been going, what are the existing needs of the department based on the new demographics of the city and the new resources and technology that are available in the world today. No audit has been completed since the late 1970’s and the city is certainly a different place since then. There is no interest in finding a better, more efficient way of doing things. Just give them more money and they will find a way to spend it.

I note no response to the concerns raised by the independent Financial Review Board, which was appointed by the majority of Council with the specific purpose of reviewing the financial information of the city and making recommendations. They recommend against Issue 21. They have reviewed the budget, unlike several members of Council, and they can see that this is not the appropriate formula. Can the new permanent tax increase be changed by a referendum? Certainly. But it should not have to get to the point where the residents themselves are forced to gather together in months of petition drives to make sure that this city is run properly. And a plan was offered by the minority council members: .25% as a temporary bridge to better times.

The end “plan” was developed in the same manner as the Mayor’s agenda for 2015. There were meetings and meetings and lots of great ideas generated, but at the end of them all, the Mayor redlined their conclusions and inserted his own. Many of the leaders from 2015 became disheartened, frustrated and abandoned the process. And we wonder why we cannot get the talent from the general public involved? Do we wonder why people are so disheartened in this city that we cannot seem to make any progress? Person after person I have spoken with who were 2015 committee chairs tell me the same thing—their conclusions were redlined by the mayor to suit his own agenda. Yet the Council and the administration refuse to bring in the 2015 leaders to a public meeting to discuss the findings and outcome of the 2015 process, despite my several requests.

Issue 21 is the wrong formula for the City of Elyria and, although the Police Department can certainly use some additional funding, I do not support doing so at the expense of the rest of the city.

1 comment:

MARK F. CRAIG said...

Posted on behalf of Craig Wiehe, a member of the City's Financial Review Board, from a letter to the editor he submitted to the CT:

This letter is in response to Mr. Failings letter to the editor about Siwierka, Gibbs, and Craig playing dirty politics. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As a member of the city’s Financial Advisory Board, I have met with members of City Council to discuss options for the city. It was explained to the Mayor and council that the city’s expenses in certain areas were well above what they needed to be. The Advisory Board also provided suggestions on how best to meet the needs of the city without an additional tax burden, especially a tax that supports one department in the city. The Mayor and city council shook their heads up and down as if they understood, but then ignored the suggestions from the Board.

One council member told us we did not understand city finances. They said this to a board which consists of a companies CEO, a long term CPA, and a Cash Manager of a government agency who manages a budget 10 times the size of the city’s. They also claimed the members of the advisory board were playing politics. These were the same members that they approved. When they created the advisory board, it was to be used as a way of showing the public that they were willing to have an outside perspective on the way the finances were being handled. They didn’t realize that the advisory board might not agree with their questionable decision-making and lack of ability to prioritize. The best was when they announced that new salaries would not be announced until after the vote. Of course they don’t want to announce salaries before the levy vote and I believe they think the public is too ignorant to figure this out.

I wouldn’t dismiss the opinions of Siwierka, Gibbs, and Craig because they are the ones that are painting the true picture for the public. No one denies that the police department is under funded, but before we add a tax to an overtaxed public, other solutions should be implemented instead of being ignored.