GREEN City council approved the city’s 2018, $31.7 million operating and $10.6 million capital projects budgets at its Dec. 12 regular meeting, but not without much discussion and some dissention.
While Council President and Finance Committee Chairman Chris Humphrey thanked his fellow council members as well as the city administration and department heads for their efforts to "present a good budget for the city," at a Dec. 6 budget work session, councilmen Ken Knodel and Stephen Dyer pointed to a number of areas of the budget they felt needed more attention.
"We have $9 million in unencumbered funds," said Dyer, who ultimately voted with the rest of council to approve the budget. "There are a lot of things we could invest in. Everybody who voted for the tax levy (did so) in the hopes of it improving their lives and community."
Specifically, Dyer said he would have liked council to have begun budget discussions earlier and to have seen a budget closer to what the city anticipates spending in 2018, arguing that more of the city’s savings could have been earmarked for services such as police, parks and stormwater-related projects.
To spend or not to spend
In a memo to council prior to the work session, Dyer presented a budget alternative that he claimed "would allow the city to double its stormwater improvement line, double the maintenance lines in each park, (except for Central Park, which would go up 20 percent), increase the crack seal and concrete repair lines by 33 percent and 20 percent, respectively, among other things."
"Our mayor and directors have provided a good budget that invests in many areas while keeping some costs down. However, like all human creations, it can be improved," Dyer wrote. "The proposal I am outlining below would allow the city to build on the introduced budget’s investments in roads, stormwater and parks maintenance while spending less taxpayer money overall, though it will still be an increase over the escrow-adjusted 2015 budget. This is fiscal responsibility - maximizing the services provided to residents while reducing back office, bureaucratic expenditures."
Humphrey countered Dyer’s comments at the work session, stating that a budget with, for example, $10 million in capital improvement projects and $1.7 million in fire service expenditures, should not be characterized as one that fails to service residents. Humphrey said Green is rare among its neighboring cities to be have been able to "invest in roads, build Central Park, have one of the finest park systems in Northeast Ohio, and still be operating with a six month reserve."
Humphrey also noted that such fiscal prudence has allowed the city much greater borrowing power, given its resulting high credit rating.
Ward 4 Councilman Skip Summerville added at the Dec. 12 council meeting that he was particularly pleased with several items in the capital project budget, including sidewalks on Moore Road, clean-up efforts at Wonder Lake, funding for a fiber optic and wifi utility network in the city, and investment into the Community Improvement Corporation.
Knodel’s comments at the work session centered on the city’s previously stated commitment to spend $3 million per year in road repair projects.
"Last year, we spent approximately $2.6 or $2.7 million and this year we’re at $1.5 or $1.6 million," Knodel said. "The way I look at this, I’d like to know how many neighborhoods we have been in or not been in yet."
City Engineer Paul Pickett said the city should not necessarily look for ways to spend $3 million every year, adding that, in his estimation, "our road overall are good."
"I know that is subjective, but we don’t have any roads that are going to damage your car or rattle your teeth," he said. "Remember, the $3 million is our average commitment."
He added that earmarking funding for upcoming projects, such as a Massillon Road roundabout north of Interstate 77, is also part of the city’s long-range roads planning.
Knodel said he is still concerned with backsliding to a point where road conditions in the city are at a point they were before the $3 million-per-year number was proposed.
"Let me ask you a question; if you were given an extra $1 million, would you be able to use it?" Knodel asked.
"Of course, if you gave us more money now, we would find a way to put it to use," Pickett said. "But that isn’t the whole story."