Tax increase update

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The first public meeting between the administration, City Council and the Citizens Committee was held yesterday afternoon. This meeting is called the “ad hoc committee” meeting. I did not attend, but I spoke to several members of the Citizens Committee afterwards, and the general consensus is that appropriate progress has been made towards meeting the agreed upon goals for use of the revenue from the recent income tax increase. Everyone would like to see the pace be a little quicker, but both the fire department, and to a greater extent the police department, have been slowed by the small number of people who have passed the Civil Service examination to date, which is the first step in the hiring process.

A discussion of the plans for road improvements was postponed until next month’s meeting, however, the city has budgeted $500,000 for road repairs in 2017 and city engineer Paul Makosky has had a contingency plan for making these improvements long before the tax increase.

I will try to notify everyone of the next meeting before it happens in case any of you want to attend. The meetings are public.

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A letter from Josh

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Below is a letter from Josh Nativio to the Tribune which appeared in the paper yesterday. Per an earlier post, the dissenting votes were cast by Councilmen John Brown, Eddie Colbert and Dan Sferra.

Warren council priorities are wrong

So let me get this straight. Seven members of Warren city council were happy with moving $233,000 of enterprise funds to the office of Community Development to maintain handing out $120,000 for 20 non-profit groups? Wow!

Council with mostly the same people had no problem moving Warren’s 911 dispatch to Trumbull County. Council, of mostly the same people, also had no problem agreeing to not fill retired upper ranks of the Warren Police Department and soon the Warren Fire Department.

There had been solid arguments against the 911 dispatch move that it could make working and living in Warren more dangerous. Every citizen who might need an emergency service would be at risk of getting a dispatcher who did not know the city. Dispatching at the county created a chance your emergency call from High Street, Warren, could have sent police to High Street, Howland. Still, that didn’t stop this body from going through and pushing those jobs out of the city.

And now when it comes to de-funding Community Development and losing three or four city jobs, council says, “No! We have to fund these non-profit groups!”

See what the priorities are for some council people? Cutting jobs from the city that might put any resident or person in the city at danger is OK. Cut jobs that oversee programs that cut a large amount of small checks that can be leveraged politically with resident groups? Cannot have that!

And contrary to statements during the budget debate, not funding CD with this extra money would not have shut down that department nor lost the city’s HUD grant.

This HUD grant money does not need to go to non-profits. It could fund sidewalk and road repairs in low-to-moderate income areas of the city. Since this is most of the city, these improvements would benefit all who travel in Warren. I would rather see some potholes fixed or a sidewalk repaired than have my tax money go to a group with a narrow recipient pool. The good of the many outweigh the needs of the few, especially with diminishing resources.

I know I’m not alone in this thought. The people of Warren need to start voicing these uncomfortable opinions. It is your money.

Once upon a time politicians gave out turkeys to the poor for votes and support. It is pathetic that an $800 check to a non-profit group seems to be the modern day equivalent for some. Warren cannot be run like a “Fortune 500 company,” but it can stop being run like a soup kitchen.

JOSHUA NATIVIO

Warren

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Thank you John…and an opportunity

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John Homlitas is retiring at the end of his current term as Warren City Treasurer after 12 years in that position, preceded by four terms as 3rd Ward Councilman. John has alway exhibited the best in what a public servant can offer his community. He has been in it to serve the community without a trace of “what’s in it for me.”

When I asked him why he was hanging up his spurs he told me he always loved something Thomas Jefferson once said said about public life and public service being a duty of every citizen, but a temporary one:

“I feel humbled and thankful that I was able to help the community for twenty years, first as a Councilman and later as the Treasurer. This was not meant to be a career and now is the time to step back and, as Jefferson said, return to the farm.”

This opens up an opportunity for someone else who is interested in serving Warren. The primary election is in May and the general election in November, for the next term beginning in January 2018. This may sound like a long time, but petitions have to be filed at the Board of Elections by February 1, 2017 — just 24 days from now. I believe you must have petitions in by then even to run as an independent in the general, but interested parties should contact the BOE and ask for details. In my experience, everyone at the BOE has been knowledgable and helpful. Click the link above or call them at 330-369-4050 during business hours.

Warren City Treasurer is a part time position paying around $11,000 per year — about what a Councilperson makes. The most important duty of the Treasurer is to invest surplus funds in appropriate, state-approved investments like T-bills.

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Clear as mud

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clear-as-mudI often wonder why so few people are engaged in the politics of the city — enough to vote, even. One reason is certainly that city government makes no attempt to engage people. At least a few days before each City Council meeting, the Council Clerk prepares and distributes an agenda alerting people as to what will be voted upon. As far as I know it is not sent to the Tribune for broader distribution, but it really wouldn’t matter. Below is a portion of the agenda for last week’s meeting:

“Draft number 3650: An ordinance for the purpose of transferring within the general fund and transferring within certain city funds; and declaring an emergency.”

“Draft number 3651: An ordinance for the purpose of authorizing the payment of specific orders or contracts upon receipt of certification of the Fiscal Officer of the sufficiency of funds for said expenditures, and declaring an emergency.”

“Draft number 3649: An ordinance for the purpose of appropriating from the unappropriated, unencumbered 2015 balances of certain city funds and transferring within certain city funds; and declaring an emergency.”

“Draft number 3644: An ordinance for the purpose of appropriating funds to defray the current expenses and other expenditures of the City of Warren from the General Fund and certain Special Funds for the period beginning January 1, 2017 and ending December 31, 2017.”

Pretty clear, right? I doubt any Council members other than each bill’s sponsor could tell you what these are. I do know that #3644 was the 2017 city budget, but I doubt this description attracted many interested citizens. It may be that the arcane language is dictated by one of the many odd laws we have to live by as a statutory city, but how hard could it be to add a plain English sentence saying what the bill really is for?

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We lose 7-3

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final-score-7-3-largeLess than five minutes after the city budget, including the transfer of $233,000 from Enterprise funds to Community Development, passed 7-3 in City Council last night, I received my first “I told you so.” It came from James Walker, who delivered it with a handshake and a smile, but it still stung a little.

To be honest, I’m only posting today because it would be poor sportsmanship not to. By now you all know that the only votes against passage came from Dan Sferra, Eddie Colbert (both of whom are members of the Finance Committee) and John Brown. I’m often criticized for not giving the administration enough credit for their successes, so let me say that it was an impressive display of political clout. If there was any doubt before last night, that Doug and Enzo have a rubber stamp majority in City Council, they certainly put that idea to rest.

By the end of the speeches in support of the transfer by Mrs. Rucker, Ms. Saffold and Mr. Novak, it was clear that the city would simply cease to exist without this financial infusion, and that CD’s Director Mr. Keys was single-handedly responsible for every grant the city has received in the past 10 years; and his staff of four not only heroically keep Warren’s non-profit community alive, but are very close to discovering a vaccine for the Zika Virus and the secret to world peace.

How anyone could have possibly ever challenged spending $233,000 of water department money in order to give away $125,000 in HUD money is a mystery for the ages.

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