By Kevin Kelley
Sixty mayors from across Ohio met at LaCentre Conference and Banquet Facility late last week to discuss common problems and share ideas during the annual conference of the Mayors Association of Ohio. Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough served as the organization’s president for the past year.
Jack Patterson, in his 21st year as mayor of West Lafayette, in central Ohio, said the mayors’ concerns boiled down to one word: money.
Cuts made in the last year to the state’s local government fund and the repeal of the estate tax, which goes into effect next year, were common concerns discussed by the mayors, Patterson told West Life. Those actions by the state government are sharply reducing revenue to many municipalities and villages.
“We’re looking forward to hearing some positive solutions,” Patterson said.
During a luncheon speech Thursday, state Sen. Nina Turner called the cuts to the local government fund and end of the estate tax “pass the buck budgeting” that dumps financial burdens on local governments.
A Democrat who represents Cleveland in Columbus, Turner called on the state to give a recent increase in tax revenue to the local government fund or educational needs.
She called on Ohio’s mayors to lobby the state legislature for more money in future state budgets.
“Lean on the General Assembly as hard as you can with all your might,” she said.
The former Cleveland city councilwoman said home rule, the legal concept that allows cities with charters greater control over their affairs, “must remain strong in the 21st century.”
While some conflicts between the state and cities are inevitable, Turner said, the state government should not dictate policy to municipalities.
“We are not your bosses, we are your partners,” she said.
During the two-and-a-half-day conference, mayors had the opportunity to attend workshops on subjects from collective bargaining to dealing with the news media.
Eric Keckler, serving his first year as mayor of Fostoria, attended a conference on the 2011 construction reform law that proponents say will make public construction projects more efficient and less costly.
Keckler said he also hopes to learn how some communities have weathered the economic downturn better than others.
“A lot of this is networking,” he said of the conference, which also included 10 exhibitors in areas from accounting to engineering services.
A big topic, Keckler said, was unfunded mandates from the federal EPA. Mayors want the EPA to give cities more time to complete required improvements to sewer systems, he said.
Although the visiting mayors were in town for less than three days, the conference’s host said he received several compliments about Westlake.
Clough said he suggested mayors visit Crocker Park to view the successful use of planned urban development zoning and the benefits of a town center.