Finance Committee, Oct. 21, 2019

November 9th, 2019  |  Published in Observer Reports

Present: Council members Sean Malone (chair), Nancy Moore, Earl Williams, Robert Zimmerman; citizen members Tom Cicarella, Linda Lalley, Martin Kolb, Anthony Moore

Others present: Mayor David Weiss, Chief Administrative Officer Jeri Chaikin, Director of Neighborhood Revitalization Kamla Lewis, Director of Recreation Alexandria Nichols, Chief of Police Jeffrey DeMuth, Interim Director of Finance Frank Brichacek, Assistant Finance Director Cheryl Arslanian, Principal Planner Ann Klavora, Planner Cameron Roberts, Matthew Stuczynski of MAS Financial Advisory Service

The meeting was called to order by Mr. Malone at 7:30 a.m.

Agenda—Committee actions:

  • The minutes of the Sept. 16, 2019, meeting were approved without comment.
  • Ms. Lewis presented a request to approve an application from Lila Campoblanco, 3304 Sutton Road, who is interested in acquiring the city-owned vacant lot at 3308 Sutton Road, adjacent to her home, in order to expand her lot, which has no backyard.
  • Ms. Lewis also presented a second request to approve an application from Tim and Melissa Kalan, 3614 Glencairn Road, who are interested in acquiring the city-owned vacant lot at 3713 Strandhill Road, behind their home, in order to expand their lot. The Neighborhood Revitalization & Development (NRD) Committee considered both applications at its Oct. 10 meeting and recommended both sales.

Mr. Kolb fully endorsed the program but asked why the costs to buyers were different and might they complain later. Ms. Lewis replied that there was no standard cost and all buyers were aware of historical prices for previous sales. She added that the lots were of different sizes and uses—the buyers had to submit a usage proposal, not just an offer. Ms. Moore added that buyers are required to combine the deeds of their existing and new property, which is a significant cost; however, the property value almost always is increased. Mr. Cicarella appreciated the proposal to add trees to the property purchased by the Kalan family and asked if the city might require tree planting on all proposals. Ms. Lewis agreed, but did not commit to a requirement; instead, she shared that the other buyer had modified their proposal to use a “living fence” rather than the chain-link fence originally proposed. Both proposals were approved.

  • Ms. Nichols presented a request that the Finance Committee recommend to City Council an increase in hockey fees of approximately 5 percent to be implemented in spring of 2020 for the 2020-21 season. The rink operates at a deficit each year and must be subsidized by the city. The subsidy has grown 140 percent since 2015. This fee increase will place Shaker fees in the middle range when compared to other public and private rinks in the Cleveland area. However, the subsidy will not be reduced by this fee increase.

Mr. Malone said that another meeting might be in order to discuss the rink subsidy and the possibility of commercial sponsorship. Ms. Moore wanted to know how much of the recreation department subsidy was used to support the rink, and added that she wished to know where the money came from and how it was replenished. Ms. Chaikin answered that the subsidy came from the city’s general fund. Ms. Moore noted that the subsidy had grown by $100,000 last year (from $523,000 to $615,000) and wondered if it would grow by $200,000 next year. Ms. Nichols said the fee increase is an attempt to balance expenses with revenue, since the rink ice has to be maintained 24 hours a day, but the subsidy is needed. Ms. Chaikin said that the recreation department will be tracking finances to specific programs beginning next year. (Observer note: The ice rink is open 103 of the 168 hours in a week; the number of users and operating cost/hour was not shared.) Ms. Lalley wanted to hear more about sponsorships. Mr. Malone replied that some public rinks in the area have received sponsorships from large commercial firms. Mr. Williams added that he and his children had used the ice rink for many years and it was always subsidized by the city; he suggested we might need to better forecast the deficit and set some subsidy limit. Mr. Cicarella commented that many ice rinks have gone bankrupt, some several times, so they are not profitable. Ms. Nichols added that the Cleveland Heights public rink and the Cleveland Skating Club private rink were the nearby competition for the Thornton rink. Mr. Kolb asked why the difference in the presentation between revenue and expense for the rink did not match the subsidy amount. Ms. Arslanian replied that the subsidy is for the entire recreation department, not the rink alone. Mr. Kolb remarked that the subsidy needed to be tracked by program. David Weiss said that the rink and indeed all of Thornton Park form a priority subject of the Joint Facilities Task Force. Mr. Malone asked when the next big capital project for Thornton Park would come before the Finance Committee. Ms. Nichols replied the next capital proposal would be in 2021; there is perhaps 9-10 years of useful life for the ice rink. Mr. Malone added that the committee needed a more in-depth work session on the recreation department. Ms. Lalley asked if community support for an ice rink was still strong. Ms. Nichols replied that it was. The request was approved.

  • Chief DeMuth presented a request that the Finance Committee support a proposal from Precision Wildlife Management for the 2019-20 Deer Management Program with a cost not to exceed $68,000. The Wildlife Task Force has recommended that the city continue the deer management program for 2019-20, and that deer management additionally be permitted on private property, with the consent of property owners and their adjacent residents. It has become obvious that deer move to private property when management is constrained to public property.

Mr. Williams wanted to know if private property included residential and commercial. Chief DeMuth replied: yes, any property that presented a safe environment for management would be considered. Mr. Zimmerman had attended the Safety and Public Works meeting where deer management was considered and he shared some comments: there were extensive discussions regarding deer management protocol and procedures followed, particularly in regards to public safety, and that he suggested the Finance Committee limit the discussion to the costs. Mr. Cicarella understood the need for the program but wished to know more about the actual process. Mr. DeMuth described the process in detail and then added a comment specific to safety: “This is not deer hunting.” He continued that there is always a spotter and marksman, and the marksman, James Mariano, is a former Shaker policeman and an expert technical marksman; he only shoots downward and counts every shot taken; last year he shot 40 times, yielding 40 deer. Mr. Kolb asked when this fall the process would begin. Mr. Demuth replied that the herd tracking would begin immediately, but the process begins in late December. Ms. Lalley asked if this was productive, compared to other cities. Mr. Demuth answered that neighbor cities do not manage deer and that herds can grow 20 percent a year; some cities, like Highland Heights, have allowed very large herds. Mr. Zimmerman spoke again about the larger issue: discussions have occurred with neighboring cities but they have not joined in a coordinated management operation. Cleveland Heights, Beachwood and Pepper Pike have polled residents but chosen not to address their deer problem, so the deer move there. A regional solution would be better for all but there is no interest. Mr. Moore wished to know why the Shaker Heights Country Club would not agree to allow deer management on their property. Mayor Weiss answered that they asked their members and the answer was no. Mr. Malone asked if the management company was insured. Mr. DeMuth assured they were insured for liability. Mr. Cicarella asked if the Natural Resources Department had any concern about Lyme disease. Mr. DeMuth answered that there was not a specific concern about Lyme disease, but that the Natural Resources Department solution would be to open the area to licensed hunters, who are not necessarily good marksmen, much less expert. Mr. Malone asked if there was some lower limit on the size of private property that would be opened to deer management. Mr. DeMuth replied that safety is paramount and did not equate to lot size but rather to the terrain, foliage, obstructions and other conditions at the time. Mr. Zimmerman added he had discussed the process extensively with Mr. Mariano and learned he would not attempt a shot unless it was safe, which is foremost in his mind. Mr. Zimmerman noted examples of large properties that are not safe due to the deer position at the time, so he did not want to draw a line across Shaker. Mr. Moore added that we should not arbitrarily limit the marksman; he was the expert in shooting safely. Mr. Zimmerman committed to have Mr. Mariano at the City Council meeting to answer all these questions. Mr. DeMuth added that one must ultimately trust the marksman, not the location. The request was approved.

  • Mr. Klavora presented a request to authorize a grant application to, and to accept a grant from, the Cuyahoga County Department of Development 2020 Supplemental Grant Program for pedestrian and bicycle improvements at the Chagrin Boulevard-Lynnfield Road intersection. The Planning Department will submit a grant application for $50,000. No local match is required. The heavy volume of traffic through the intersection (approximately 15,000 cars/day) makes crossing the street extremely difficult and dangerous for seniors or parents with children. The next closest traffic light is approximately one-quarter mile away.

Mr. Williams asked if the grant is for a study or the actual construction. Ms. Klavora answered the grant maximum was $50,000 and the money was for construction, but might not be sufficient. Rob Zimmerman had trouble with the phrase “difficult and dangerous” as that was an opinion statement, and asked that the word “dangerous” be removed. Mr. Moore agreed the word “difficult” was sufficient. Ms. Lalley asked if we were spending the grant money after the engineering consultant had deemed a signal as not required. Mr. Malone asked if this intersection would be studied again considering the increase in Chagrin traffic. Ms. Klavora cited the several options in the request that will be rated by public comment before construction begins. The request was approved.

Planner Cameron Roberts presented a request for approval to modify an existing professional services contract to initiate Phase 2 of the City Hall Space Study and Plan project, which aims to co-locate the Building and Housing Inspection Department by reorganizing department locations and functionality within City Hall. The request was approved without further comment.

  • Mr Brichacek presented a request that the Finance Committee recommend to City Council an ordinance to authorize the refinancing of 2003 and 2009 Urban Renewal Bonds. Those bonds were re-funded in 2012 to take advantage of favorable interest rates at that time. Interest rates are currently moving downward, creating the potential opportunity to refinance the 2012 re-funding issue, thereby reducing the City’s annual TIF debt service requirement.

Mr. Moore stressed to the committee the importance of maintaining a high bond rating in order to enable these opportunities for savings. Mayor Weiss asked if this proposed legislation would authorize all types of refinancing. Mr. Brichacek confirmed that it would. Mr. Malone asked if the legislation should require a minimum savings before proceeding with a refinance. Mr. Zimmerman remarked that any savings should be pursued. But Ms. Lalley agreed that some parameters might be advisable. Mayor Weiss suggested that any limit should be set quickly, as the opportunity is time-critical. Mr. Stuczynski of MAS Financial Services suggested 3 percent would make a good minimum savings to warrant action. Mr. Moore felt there was no need to set a minimum restriction, that each opportunity should be judged on its merits. Mr. Cicarella commented that he thought this was a two-step process and each opportunity would come to the committee. Mr. Brichacek replied that City Council would authorize the Finance Committee the discretion to decide refinancing. A 3 percent minimum could be added to the legislation. Mayor Weiss stated that whatever minimum the Council set would be comfortable. Ms. Lalley remarked that residents would object without some limits. Mr. Moore suggested a 3 percent minimum savings requirement, but no maximum. The request was approved.

Mr. Malone adjourned the meeting at 9:18 am.

Frank Goforth, League observer

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