Budget and tax increase update



There was a joint Finance committee/Citizens Oversight committee meeting with City Council yesterday. Here are a few updates:

  • January General Fund revenues were $84,000 greater than expenses. Total carryover is about $300,000.
  • The closing of the Kellogg distribution center will cost the city $50,000 in lost taxes this year.
  • A change in the way the state collects business taxes will cost us another $16,000.
  • GM closing for 3 weeks will also have a negative affect but the number is not known at this time.
  • The city’s payment records for 2016 are now online at ohiocheckbook.com. 2015 will be added soon. You can search to see all payments made by the city to any entity.

As for progress made relating to the use of the tax increase:

  • Both the police and fire departments are a little behind the curve on hiring the addition staff promised. This is due to the limited number of people who have taken the Civil Service exam and qualified for the positions. Another test will be held March 4th, and more people signed up this time. The administration seems confident that they will hit their targets this year, but they intend to be selective and not just hire anyone who happens to pass the test. “We are moving with all deliberate speed, but our top priority is to hire good people,” said Mayor Franklin.

The longest discussion related to street repair. The city has budgeted $500,000 for street repair in 2017. There is normally no budget at all for this out of the General Fund. A couple of years ago the bond issue raised $2.5 million for repairs, but that has all been spent.

City Engineer Paul Makosky said he is able to get all the city’s main thoroughfares maintained using a combination of state and federal funds, but most of Warren’s other 185 miles of streets have had no regular repair budget for some time.

Makosky says those streets need to be resurfaced every 15 years, and to do so requires an annual expenditure of about $1 million at an estimated cost of about $175,000 per mile per 2 lane street. So the half million is clearly not enough to do what is needed.

Makosky will give the Mayor a list of the streets most in need of work by the end of this month. The Mayor will make the final decision on which streets get attention. Many streets in clear need of work will not make the cut. The Mayor specifically promised to work on the list based on need, but said some adjustments will be made based on the population and/or the traffic of a given street.

There followed a pretty funny exchange among council members about whether Makosky would be using “west side asphalt or east side asphalt” — an inside joke born of someone complaining at council a few years ago that the city uses an inferior grade of asphalt to fill west side potholes. Makosky assured everyone that the city only buys one grade — the best available.

For anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the cost and issues surrounding street repairs in Warren, Makosky has prepared a “Street Resurfacing and Maintenance Program Financial Planning Report.” It’s an inch thick and filled with charts, maps, photos and details. It is too costly to pass out to anyone who wants one, but Makosky is hoping to get it on line soon, or you can visit the engineer’s office at 540 Laird S.E., and examine a copy there.

Finally, the last whole ten minutes was devoted to the topic of economic development, because, of course, it is our last priority given how strong the local economy is today. As always the conversation focused on “solutions,” since it is our practice to skip over any discussion of the nature of the problem or the setting of goals, which many organizations find useful to discuss prior to identifying a solution.

Some days I am low on hope.

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Warren Homecoming returns!

Warren Homecoming
to Repeat in 2017
Weekend of September 22-25
Warren, OH February 7, 2017

The Trumbull County Fine Arts Council (FACT) announces today that the highly successful Warren Homecoming, held for the first time last September, will be back again this year.
The dates will be September 22-25, 2017.
“Warren Homecoming was a huge success last year. There were more than 30 events during t he weekend, and large crowds converged on Warren, including many who returned to  Warren for the weekend. The whole city got into the spirit of Homecoming, and we are very  happy to be the organizing sponsor again for 2017,” said James Shuttic, FACT Chairman.
Warren Homecoming will be comprised of events organized and hosted by individual  organizations. A Homecoming committee, overseen by FACT, will coordinate and assist t hese individual organizations, but their principal job will be to promote the weekend as  a whole.”Many of the groups participating in Warren Homecoming operate on very small budgets that do not allow for much promotion or advertising. By raising funds for an overall marketing campaign for the weekend, we are able to promote in ways that would not otherwise be possible,” added Shuttic.
The two largest 2016 events will both repeat this year. The hugely popular  “Taste of Warren” will again provide the Big Top under which everyone will have a chance to sample Warren’s  iconic foods in one, highly-social location. “Taste of Warren” will again be sponsored by the Trumbull 100Diane Sauer Chevrolet and the Tribune Chronicle.
Trumbull 100 President Jordan Taylor said: “We were thrilled to be part of the first Warren  Homecoming as a sponsor of the Taste of Warren event. It was great seeing the community  come together to put on a weekend full of events that reconnected people to Warren. We are looking forward to participating in Warren Homecoming again this year.”
Another repeating event will be the “NFL Legends of Warren Reunion” sponsored by the  Warren Gridiron Club. This is actually several events over the weekend, including Sunday’s  “Legend’s Celebration Dinner,” and Monday’s “Legends” golf outing. “Last year’s NFL Legends weekend was the most successful fund-raising event in the Gridiron Club’s long history,” says club President Virginia Holmes, “and that was because of the support of the community and our decision to move it to Warren Homecoming weekend, which significantly boosted attendance. We have some new surprises in store for 2017 and we look forward to continuing our relationship with Warren Homecoming.”
Another 2016 sponsor, the Warren Area Board of Realtors is also looking forward to this year.  Said WABOR President-elect Darlene Mink-Crouse, “Last year was such a successful and  enjoyable event, we are really looking forward to another opportunity to showcase Warren’s  many beautiful homes to both residents and visitors.”
For those wishing to keep track of progress on our many activities, please “like” us on  Facebook, where we can be found by searching “Warren Homecoming 2017.” If you are  interested in participating in Homecoming as an event sponsor, please contact Julia Shuttic at
FACT at either (330) 883-6489 or jastaj7@gmail.com.

The Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County (FACT) was established in 1971 when six community organizations recognized the need for mutual support & coordination of the arts and cultural organizations.
 Our mission is “to improve the quality of life in Trumbull County, by fostering the arts.” FACT receives funding through corporate, foundation and individual donations.
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The battle explained


Last week I promised to boil down the fight over transferring Enterprise Funds to Community Development in under 500 words. Here it is below in about 400. It will take two minutes to read this version, but the non-linear, opaque way the city government addressed the problem generated countless hours of non-productive arguing and general agita. I still don’t think most of Council understands what CD does.

Mike Keys and his Community Development staff of four people, administer the CBBG and HOME grants received annually from HUD. In addition, they preform various services for the city that HUD characterizes as “economic development (ED).”

From those grants they are permitted to use up to 25% for administrative costs, which is how the five salaries and related expenses are paid. The value of the CDBG grants dropped from $1.655 million in 2001, to $1.044 last year. This means they lost about $150,000 of their support funding over that period, which had already forced them to reduce head count by two people.

The latest funding reductions would require finding alternative funding, or a reduction of an addition two head count. If head count was to be reduced, some of CD’s activities would have to be scaled back; either they would support fewer local non-profit organizations with CDBG money, or the departments economic development activities would have to be curtailed.

The administration did not want to do either, and suggested transferring Enterprise Fund (EP) money to CD so that they could continue doing both. They received a legal opinion that they felt gave them the authority to transfer the money.

Several members of City Council were very much opposed to reducing the number of non-profits receiving funds, and would never support that option. The administration did not want to give up the ED support and never made that an option.

No one on City Council or the administration attempted to examine the tasks on CD’s plate with the idea of using a scalpel rather than a meat clever to reorganize their duties.

The administration asked for a transfer of $233,000, the maximum their outside advisors felt they could request in EP funds, but never publicly mentioned that they were only likely to use half of those funds for CD work and planned to return the rest, which might have at least softened the opposition a bit.

The budget passed the last week in December by a vote of 7-3, although it was closer than that, with two Council members switching sides at the last moment.

16174854_1394379223919793_2500420396501166767_nThe fight over all of this took place over the course of at least six months, and spilled into February, when City Council got a two hour presentation of CD’s duties — only a month or so after the horse had already left the barn.

If someone from the administration had calmly explained it all this way back in June we could have saved a lot of trouble. Mr. Keys would probably say that he did just that, but the important story was wrapped in so many layers of political swaddling, that the core message never got through.

(On the other hand, if they had then maybe Josh would never have created some of his most entertaining memes, like the one above, which I reprint because Mike has a sense of humor.)

My next post will attempt to describe the type of economic development work being done by CD, and explain why it probably isn’t what you think of as economic development work.

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Sorry about that


16427218_1409469579077424_7859372693524396881_nIf you attended last night’s special City Council meeting on my recommendation, I’d like to sincerely apologize; that’s two hours of our lives we will never get back.

Rather than a discussion of the future of economic development in Warren, what we got was a two hour justification for why Community Development Director Mike Keys has a job. That’s not hyperbole, that was literally what it was.

Mike (at right, watching old city hall burn in 1896) began with a 30 minute Powerpoint presentation on the basic responsibilities of his job, which is the administration of the CDBG and HOME grants from HUD. This was heavy on photographs of very thick files crammed with paper, and assurances that there is a lot more work there than you might imagine.

He rolled directly into Part 2 of the Powerpoint, other stuff he does that is outside his duties in Part 1. That was another 30 minutes of densely packed slides listing lot and lots of projects he was involved in. This portion of the presentation was built on a long Warren political tradition where you list every thing that happened regardless of how much you had to do with it.

“Involved in” is the operative phrase. It reminds me of the axiom that both the chicken and the pig are “involved in” your breakfast, but the pig is a lot more committed to it than the chicken. But that’s neither here nor there.

In Part 3, 4-5 speakers from government, non-government agencies, and the private sector  came to the podium and told the crowd how valuable Mike’s services are to the community. That took another 30 minutes, and Mike spoke about 10 of those.

The final 30 minutes were a Q&A in which Mike talked another 20 minutes. Now, Mike is a pretty good public speaker and a generally charming guy, but at the two-hour mark I was ready to run screaming from the room. That may have been the idea. It’s another Warren tradition for speakers on controversial topics to talk as long as possible, exhausting the audience and lowering their capacity to sit any longer to ask tough questions or (God forbid!) participate in an actual dialog.

Mike Keys’ role with the city is a controversial one. A lot of people disagree with the way he does his job, and many more people don’t understand what his job is. Mike, and his bosses, have created much of the problem themselves by not communicating what the job is, or what the issues are, very well, or at the right time.

For example, this presentation would have been so much more useful had it been given six months ago, when City Council and the administration were locked in a battle over whether or not to permit the transfer of $233,000 from Enterprise Funds into Community Development, so that CD could continue to do what they do.

Council and the Mayor argued for months over that question, but the Mayor eventually won in a December vote. Why they waited until now to explain their reasoning is a mystery to me.

I think this was way simpler than they made it, and to prove it, I’m going to try to explain it in under 500 words in my next post.

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Special City Council Meeting


goldentrian-mainThere will be an unusual meeting of the full City Council this Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. The topic will be the future of economic development in Warren. It is hard to imagine a more important topic. According to Census Department data, about 10 people move out of Warren every week; week-in-and-week-out. And they’ve been doing so for four decades. Warren’s population has dropped 36% since 1970. Every departing person means lower tax receipts and one less customer for some business.

I spoke briefly to Mayor Franklin today who said that Community Development Director Mike Keys will be presenting an overview of the economic development work the city is doing currently, and that his hope is that this meeting will get everyone on “the same page moving forward” since not everyone is referring to the same activities when they talk about economic development.

I think he is exactly right about that final point. Most people think about going out and finding a new factory to bring to town, the way Joe Max Higgins, does in Mississippi. You may have seen a piece about him on 60 Minutes recently (photo), which you can read here. It would be great to bring him to Warren, but he already makes $250,000 a year, and guys like Joe Max don’t grow on trees.

Not everyone will want to believe it, but we may not even be ready for a Joe Max. Read the 60 Minutes piece closely and you will see that a lot of work had to be done before Joe Max brought job #1 to town.

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