By Sue Botos
When City Council introduced the 2014 budget during a recent legislative session, Mayor Pam Bobst said that further adjustments would be made to compensate for a $2,746,927 loss in state revenue. Some of those adjustments, and other modifications to the financial plan, were discussed among administrators and department heads during the annual budget hearing on Dec. 6.
Finance Director Mike Thomas began discussion by stating that while property valuation in the city has risen slightly, now standing at $685 million, it is not close to the prerecession 2007 figure of $723 million. He noted that Whole Foods, slated to begin construction in 2014, will bring 150 to 180 new jobs to the city, making it one of its top employers. However, he cautioned, “This is not free money. It’s nice to have the revenue, but there will be some demands on departments,” such as police.
Bobst noted that transfers from the general fund, estimated at $18,064,043, will be carefully monitored, especially to departments such as parks and recreation and senior services, which offer fee-supported programs. Recreation Director Chris Mehling reported that his department will save $28,000 by discontinuing the mailing of seasonal program guides to homes, instead offering the information online. In addition, Mehling said that the city is participating in a public-private partnership for improvements such as the new hockey locker rooms. He told council that a group of parents has raised more than $60,000 toward the $190,000 project, and $16,000 has come from the sales of advertising on the Hamilton Arena dasher boards. In addition, the school district will be adding additional funds to the amount.
Mehling also said that there are two potential organizations, including Fairview Hospital, considering leasing the fitness center area vacated last year by a Cleveland Clinic physical therapy department. “By March, if we still have no tenant, we will look at how best to use the space,” he stated.
Senior services Director Carole Calladine reported that her department will experience the retirement of five full-time employees, including her own. She added that three of the positions – director, manager and secretary – will be combined. In addition, Calladine presented administrators with a short wish list consisting of a new roof. Noting that she has requested this item for five years, Calladine suggested a “raise the roof” campaign to secure the estimated $150,000 for the project.
During an earlier council session, Bobst pointed out that changes are also in the works for the service department and capital improvements fund. She said that the general fund amount for the city refuse collection program will be cut in half, to $500,000 from the usual $1 million. She added that the city is considering a yet-to-be-determined monthly charge for backyard trash pickup. “If we establish a fee, it will be on a monthly basis added to the sewer bill,” she said.
Bobst said the proposal would be in place for one or two years, and then be evaluated to determine whether automated pickup using an outside provider would be more economical.
In addition, Bobst said prior to the budget hearing that “task days” would be discontinued for service department workers. This provision allowed for employees to complete their jobs early and go home, but still be paid for an entire day’s work.
Hours during which residents can drop off items at the city waste transfer station on Lake Road will also be reduced, according to Bobst. The facility will close to the public at noon Saturday, and possibly on Wednesdays and Fridays, beginning in January.
Safety-service Director Mary Kay Costello noted the capital budget has been slashed by $424,000. “I’m running out of places to put numbers,” Costello stated, referring to the shrinking equipment budget and the need for such items as dump trucks and refuse collection equipment. She also noted the “phenomenal effort” put forth by city mechanics to keep the city fleet rolling, some of which dates back to the late 1990s.
Councilman at Large Dave Furry likened the process to “kicking the can down the road.” He added, “It will get to the point where the can will get too rusty to kick,” he commented.
Bobst stated that the West Shore Council of Governments along with the state auditor’s office is developing software for the inventorying of equipment owned by its communities, including Rocky River. “This will assist where we can’t afford redundancy,” Bobst commented. She continued that the software would also track usage of items to determine whether or not sharing equipment is feasible.
A public hearing for the budget is scheduled prior to the Dec. 16 council session.