The barber shop chronicles 4

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DSCN1219Mike Horvath opened his own downtown barber shop at 369 High Street in February this year after previously working in several other Warren barber shops. Like every barber I’ve met, Mike is knowledgable about the issues in Warren, and he is very aware that young people are leaving Warren. He hopes whoever is elected in November can do something to reverse that trend so that his four young children will have the option of staying in Warren when they grow up. He knows that will require economic growth.

“One way to do that is to be sure there is something interesting going on on Courthouse Square every single day of the week. People need to be able to count on there being a reason to come into Warren.”

Mike is a friendly guy who takes a lot of care in his work:

“Sometimes being a barber is a little like being a psychiatrist. Lots of people need someone to talk to. My goal is to make everyone who visits me feel a little better about themselves. I like people and I enjoy making them look good and feel good.”

This post was written by Dennis Blank for Mayor.

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Continued city budget woes

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e678f395bfe15e0e3363112674e490a4There was a Warren City Council budget committee meeting yesterday afternoon. Doug and Enzo attended; the auditor did not. Half of Council attended. The budget is in crisis. No remedies were offered or discussed. The Tribune has a good write up today which is reprinted below with permission.

Council looks at spending

June 23, 2015
By RAYMOND L. SMITH Tribune Chronicle

WARREN – The city ended May with a positive cash balance of $394,842 in its general fund, which funds most of the city’s operation, however, finance committee chairman Eddie Colbert doesn’t want budget watchers to be lured into a false sense of security.

That’s because the general fund has $562,586 in outstanding debts city officials know must be paid, which leaves a negative balance of $167,744, according to a financial report given to members of city council on Monday.

So far, revenue is $10.58 million compared to expenses of $10.50 million, leaving the positive cash balance.

Colbert, D-7th Ward, told the finance committee he is concerned because despite revenue this year appearing to match projections made by city Auditor David Griffing when the 2015 budget was approved, spending is higher than projected.

While the two largest departments in the general fund, the police and fire departments, are on pace to match projections for regular payroll, overtime spending is up.

Through May, regular wages in the police department were $1,402,668, compared to $1,376,323 projected, but overtime, budgeted at $72,945 is already $77,054.

In the fire department, regular wages have cost $1.32 million compared to the $1.45 million projected. Actual overtime spending so far, however, is $47,954 compared to the projected amount of $32,045.

The police department has spent 52 percent of money budgeted for wages and the fire department, 49 percent.

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D at-large, said their goal is to, if possible, keep the safety service workers employed at these levels.

“You can defend some situations when overtime is used,” Rucker said.

City Treasurer John Homlitas told council members that as of Monday, income tax collections are $700,000 more than was projected. Homlitas, however, said income tax collection amounts vary daily.

Deputy Auditor Nancy Ruggieri said the city has received an estimated $172,000 in inheritance taxes that were not expected to come into this year’s budget.

Rucker said council too often blames itself and the administration for the city’s financial woes, when state government over the last seven to eight year has been cutting funds that had been going to local governments and to local school districts.

“Over the last eight years, Warren, itself, has lost about $1 million in funds from the state,” she said.

Mayor Doug Franklin agreed.

“We can’t just keep losing money coming in and it not affect our ability to provide service,” Franklin said. “We have to keep communicating with our local state representatives.”

The mayor said the administration is working to bring in more revenue by attracting new jobs and watching spending every day.

[Here is a link to the article online.]

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Warren’s forgotten hero

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parise_ronald_1-2Ron Parise was born in Warren and graduated from Western Reserve High School in 1969. He earned a BS in physics, and Masters and PhD’s in astronomy, all from the University of Florida. He went on to do professional work in the development of the space program and ultimately became an astronaut. He fly into space twice, one of only 536 humans to have done so.  Ron spent 614 hours in space and flew more than 10.6 million miles on his two shuttle flights, once aboard Columbia and later on Endeavour. He died of a brain tumor at the age of 56. You can read a more complete biography here.

Ron Parise was clearly an American hero, but he is just as clearly not forgotten. His family and many friends remember him, but too few others in Warren know about this exceptional native son. WWR classmate Willian Lee, wrote to say, “Ron was a great guy,” and “heroes come in all uniforms, Ron wore a spacesuit and saw Warren from a completely different perspective.

We rarely miss a chance to boost the famous athletes and entertainers who got their start in life in Warren, and that is as it should be. They get statues erected and streets named after them, and that’s good too. But we should be looking for a fitting way to honor Ron Parise, a man every child in Warren can look to for the inspiration to live a heroic life.

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Hold on to what we’ve got

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images-3This is another in a series of essays outlining my plans and priorities should I become Mayor of Warren. These essays focus primarily on economic development; for example, I recently I wrote about the importance of developing Trumbull County as Warren’s primary market.

Also of vital importance is the need to keep the businesses we already have in Warren and to help them grow. Below is a list of companies that were located in Warren, that left town in the past few years; you can probably add to the list:

Packard Electric, GE Lamp, Berk Enterprises, Labor Ready, Hill Barth and King CPAs, Chase Bank, Talmer Bank, Paige and Byrnes, The Kidney Group, Travco Behavioral Services, MS Senior Services, Dr. John Beleny, Toyota of Warren, Preston BMW, RG Steel.

Imagine how much more stable our tax base would be if we had held on to these businesses. The losses can’t be pinned solely on Doug and Enzo. Some of them would have left regardless of how hard we tried to keep them. But we will never know which ones might have stayed if we had made the effort to keep them, because that is not something Doug and Enzo do.

I often hear local businesses say that they can not find certain types of contractors to work in Warren because those contractors don’t want to deal with the permit process in Warren. Complaints about contradictory information businesses receive from various city departments are also very common, as are charges of “nitpicking” on the part of city officials.

Some of these complaints are simply sour grapes from people who failed to follow rules, but some are clearly the result of inefficiencies in the way we run our government, and they are caused by a lack of leadership from the the Mayor and the Director.

Fortunately we don’t have to start from scratch to improve the system. In 2006, a group of Warren citizens, operating under the banner of “Warren Grows,” and assisted by faculty at Kent State University, put together a toolkit to help new and existing businesses navigate their way through the city’s systems.

Lack of leadership on the part of the O’Brien-Franklin administration kept the toolkit from ever being implemented, despite the low cost, common sense, nature of the plan.

The core idea was based on providing a streamlined system for moving efficiently through the city bureaucracy. Local businesses would be assisted by retired businesspeople who would serve as volunteer guides to help them fulfill their legal and regulatory obligations.

This toolkit is as relevant today as it was then, and I will make its implementation a priority in the first months of my administration. I will work closely with city employees to instill and support the attitude that while city’s first priority must be to protect its citizens and uphold the law, helping our local businesses succeed and grow must also be our goal, because our future depends on it.

You can download a more detailed Toolbox Overview here. Please be sure to ask Doug and Enzo for their plan for economic growth. You deserve to know.

Dennis Blank for Mayor

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Fireworks in City Council last night

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Amphibious assault vehicles of the South Korean Marine Corps throw smoke bombs as they move to land on shore during a U.S.-South Korea joint landing operation drill in PohangWell, it was no ordinary 90 minutes of Parliamentary dullness last night in City Council, as former Mayor and current Councilman-at-Large Dan Sferra and Mayor Franklin had a testy exchange over questionable expenses, and then Council snuck through the 911 call center legislation without letting the public know the vote was coming.

First the Sferra-Franklin fireworks. I talked to Councilman Sferra after the meeting and he filled in some of the details for me. According to Sferra, former Water Department head Bob Davis is being paid more than five months of vacation time plus benefits after leaving the city’s employment on May 11th to assume his new job at the city of Cleveland, where he is being paid $205,000 per year. Sferra said Davis had already been paid $48,000 in “benefit conversion” as proscribed by the State, but is know double-dipping with his Cleveland paycheck, while still being paid by Warren an additional $50,000+ in vacation pay.

“Where else would something like this be allowed?” asked Sferra. “When I was mayor, Steve Papalas quit to become the city manager of a city in Florida. He cashed out some unused sick leave, but it never occurred to either of us that we’d pay him while he was working for another city.”

This led Sferra to ask the mayor about the situation last night. Below is my account of the exchange:

Sferra: “I’d like to know why we are keeping Bob Davis on the payroll for five months when he has already started his job in Cleveland.”

Franklin: “I don’t know anything about that. I’ll have to get back to you.”

Sferra: “What do you mean you don’t know? You’re the mayor and you don’t know if we are paying one of your department heads?”

Franklin: “I said, I don’t know, I’ll get back to you.”

Sferra: “Well your Safety Service Director had to sign the vacation voucher. Didn’t he tell you about it? We’ve already paid him more than $9000. You don’t know? That’s unbelievable.”

Franklin: “I know what this is really about. This is really about your son’s job in the Water Department.”

Meanwhile, the room was buzzing and Council President Jim Graham was banging his gavel and calling everyone out-of-order according to Council rules that always seem to prevent complete discussion of any question. The Mayor, the Safety Service Director and the head of Human Resources were all in the room last night; surely they could have answered the question, but they did not. Hopefully, the Tribune, which published an account this morning, will stay on the question and get it answered.

*  *  *

Two weeks ago, Council tabled the vote to allow the city to enter into negotiation with the county to consolidate 911 dispatching services under the county. It then came up for a vote last night as a surprise to some Councilmen, but as no surprise to others. It was definately a surprise to attendees, since it wasn’t on the agenda, and no citizens knew in advance in case they wanted to be there to comment. It was probably inevitable, but the vote went 8-2 to allow the negotiations to begin. In my view this is a sad and desperate move to keep the wolf from the door, which could have been prevented with proper planning. But planning is just not what Doug and Enzo do.

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