City Council & Finance Committee Joint Meeting, November 2017

November 27th, 2017  |  Published in Observer Reports

Shaker Heights Joint City Council & Finance Committee Work Session
Nov. 13, 2017

Present: Mayor Earl Leiken; Council members Sean Malone, Earl Williams, Tres Roeder, Juliana Johnston Senturia, Anne Williams, Nancy Moore
Also present: Chief Administrative Officer Jeri Chaikin, Law Director William M. Ondrey Gruber, Finance Director Robert H. Baker, Mayor’s Financial Task Force Chair Martin Kolb, Mayor’s Financial Task Force member Linda Lalley, President of the Shaker Heights Public Library Board Brian Gleisser, Director of Shaker Heights Public Library Amy Switzer.

The mayor called the meeting to order at 6:35 p.m. and adjourned it at 9:10 p.m.

The meeting started with a presentation by Ms. Switzer and Mr. Gleisser updating Council on Library services and plans. Members of the Library Board of Trustees were present as well. Prior to the presentation, the mayor said he wanted to make a statement on the record. Noting that he was speaking solely for himself (but with the agreement of his financial task force), he said that given the tax burden in Shaker Heights, the Library Board should consider merging with the Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL). He mentioned the possibility of Congress making state and local taxes non-deductible in the pending tax overhaul legislation and worries about this increasing the net cost of local taxes for Shaker residents. “I am concerned at this particular point in time about raising taxes,” the mayor said.

The library presentation emphasized how public libraries are crucial to building strong and resilient communities and that Shaker’s library is nationally recognized for being in the top 2 percent of libraries its size. They asked Council to think of the library as an economic development asset and a conduit of civic engagement. Shaker residents borrowed more than one million items in 2016 and use their libraries twice as often as most communities.

In order to make necessary capital repairs ($5.1 million total: $4.1 million for the Main Library, $1 million for Bertram Woods) and upgrade both Shaker Main and Bertram Woods, the Library Board is requesting an additional 1.9 mills, which would raise Shaker Library’s voted millage from 4.0 to 5.9, but the effective millage would actually be 5.714384, which is well below the county average. (Like the school system, the library system is subject to House Bill 920, so as property values rise, the effective millage goes down.) The board determined that upgrading its facilities would provide the greatest return on investment. Plans are to put the measure on the ballot in May 2018.

With the increase, the library’s millage would represent 2.64 percent of Shaker’s property taxes. The library’s facilities are in dire need of improvement according to the trustees, and the board hasn’t asked for a millage increase in 21 years (1996)—and it has been 14 years since the last bond issue (2004). The proposed millage increase would cost residents an additional $67 a year for every $100,000 of home value; that’s $5.58 a month or 18 cents a day.

The library’s representatives said it studied inclusion with the CCPL in May 2016, but the CCPL wouldn’t comment on future county tax increases and would not consider being a part of CLEVNET. CLEVNET, a consortium of more than 40 northern Ohio libraries operated by the Cleveland Public Library, is one of the largest library resource sharing networks in the United States. CLEVNET, they said, is an excellent example of regionalism because its costs are shared among its members. For every $1 spent, Shaker derives $6 in benefits.

The library wants to act with due diligence and CCPL wants a firm commitment from Shaker (a letter of intent, which is binding) if they are to go through the effort of investigating the process. Shaker Library would like answers to basic questions and doesn’t think it should have to submit a letter of intent. There is no way to know what will happen to the current libraries under a merger—if CCPL would keep two branches, or if it would even consider renovating the Main Library, which the City of Shaker Heights owns. Shaker would have to sign on and turn its assets over before the county will say what it would do. Mr. Gleisser said that the Library Board takes its fiduciary responsibilities seriously and can’t turn assets over and not know what it’s going to get in return. Library board member Dori Katz noted that Shaker could look at what the CCPL has done in other communities and can assume that they won’t maintain two branches.

Ms. Moore pointed out that in the 1980s there was a referendum on whether Shaker should be an independent library system and the voters said yes. Mayor Leiken said his financial task force could facilitate a discussion with CCPL regarding inclusion.

There was public comment prior to the meeting about the fact that no supporting documents for the budget were available to review before the meeting. Council was reminded that it is important to be transparent, that it was frustrating not to have the documents for the budget in preparation for the meeting, and that public comment was adversely affected.

The mayor said the budget presentation was a review of 2017 and where the city is in its performance for 2017, but noted the concern. Mr. Baker said that there was to be no discussion of the 2018 budget, just a year-to-date of the 2017 budget and expenditures.

There was also public comment regarding transport for citizens who will not be able access public health facilities in Shaker any longer. With the $250,000 in savings that will come to the city by eliminating the Health Department, Council was urged to use some of it for transportation to the county facilities in Parma and Metrohealth at South Pointe. Ms. Chaikin said that the city has arranged for this.

Mr. Baker presented 2017 budget projections and discussed the City Fund structure. He stated that the city will need additional debt service next year. The estate tax used to fund the following year’s debt service, but now the city has to make transfers out of the general fund for this. The debt service is to the Port Authority for development of the Van Aken District. It is hoped that a major office building will bring in significant dollars.

Items on the agenda unanimously approved:

  • An ordinance delegating authority for health permits, licensing, and enforcement under Ohio law to the Cuyahoga County Board of Health. The Shaker Heights Health Department will cease operations in January. Concern about immunizations for school students was addressed by Ms. Chaikin, who said Warrensville South Pointe Hospital will be open to all ages for vaccines starting in early January. It will be by appointment only. She said 500 residents took advantage of the immunization program offered by the Shaker Heights Health Department, with 181 students utilizing the service. Thanks were expressed to Council member Sean Malone for reviewing the legal documents and ensuring that by delegating to the county the enforcement of our laws, we retain the ability to call back these powers.
  • Amending an ordinance authorizing appropriating grant funds from the General Capital Fund to fund the County Demolition Bond Fund Program, by appropriating $440,000 for the demolition of residential properties.

Audrey Morris

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