See you in September

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383WE is taking a summer vacation beginning tomorrow. Baring something just too interesting to ignore there will be no posts until around September 1st, when we look forward to continuing the conversation about the future of Warren.

I want to close today with couple of thoughts. The first is that the issue of lead in Warren’s water is a more serious, and probably a more expensive, problem than the possibility of an income tax increase. I have a big stack of scientific data i’m going to try to understand in the next few weeks, but you should ask your elected officials why Warren did not properly notify residents of this potentially dangerous problem

As for the income tax increase, I’m going to have little or nothing to say until we get a formal proposal for how Doug and Enzo propose to spend the money the tax would generate. It takes some work to pull all those numbers together, and our new Auditor has only been on the job three weeks. That said, there should be no difficulty having their act together by Labor Day. Until we see the numbers I have nothing more to say on the issue.

So, “See You in September.” I’ll bet you didn’t know that was sung by “The Happenings.” I know I didn’t. That’s them above. It looks like the TV version of some very groovy guys. I’ll bet they were on “Hullabaloo.”

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Let the debate begin

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debate-clipart-Debate_LogoBlk1600wFlippedIt is now official; the question of whether or not to increase Warren’s income tax by a 1/2% will be on the ballot November 8th. The measure passed in a special session of City Council this afternoon by a 8-1 vote. John Brown (D-3) was the only “No” vote.

Council also voted 8-1 to add an amendment to the ordinance that would allow the increase to expire after a five year period beginning January 1, 2017 and ending December 31, 2021. Brown was the only no vote on that as well.

Below are abstracts from some of the remarks made by Council members and the Mayor during the discussion preceding the vote.

Larry Larson (D-1) spoke in support of the legislation and suggested that those opposed are playing “political football” with the issue, likening them to “Jonestown cult members — but I’m not drinking the Kool Aid.” He said they need to get over the idea that they lost the election and get in line.

Helen Rucker (D-at-large) spoke in support. She said the city had proven they were good to their word after the last tax increase, and she praised Mayor Franklin for his leadership.

John Brown (D-3) spoke in opposition. He said it was unfair to rush this through council so quickly, and he repeated his charge that the administration has “in no way” done everything possible to avoid this situation. He asked why the Mayor and Enzo Cantalamessa are driving new city-owned cars while talking about laying off police and firemen.

Dan Sferra (D-at-large) said he is supporting it but still wants a detailed plan for spending the money. He said we need to provide a budget for economic development as a part of any plan.

Eddie Colbert (D-at-large) gave an impassioned statement about the need for the money to provide a decent future for our children. “I have a 4 and an 8-year old at home, and two drug houses on the block. An older lady down the street was assaulted recently in her own home. We have problems that need to be fixed.” He also advocated for economic development funding, and said he hoped the debate will bring the city together.

I also attended a community meeting last evening at the Restoration Church on South Main Street, which was organized by Cheryl Saffold (D-6). Also attending were Ms. Rucker, Mr. Colbert, Mr. Brown, the new Auditor, Vince Flask, and approximately 25 citizens. Neither the Mayor nor the DPSS were in attendance. There was a pretty good discussion for 90 minutes, but not much in the way of new information. As one might imagine, those in opposition to the tax increase were probably more than 90% of the crowd. They were vocal, but respectful.

I’m not going to weigh in on the issue itself for now because my main complaint is that the administration has still not provided adequate information on which to judge their plan. It is clear that I’m not the only one who feels that way as the majority of the complaints from the crowd were about currently unanswerable questions.

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Must read

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Bad-tasting-waterRemember the lead in our water scare from last winter? The story sort of fell off the radar, but the problem has not gone away. The Vindicator’s Ed Runyan followed up this morning with an article I recommend to everyone drinking Warren — that includes you if you live in Howland. The title,  “Ohio EPA effort in 2008 to oversee Warren’s high lead levels fell short” only tells part of the story. The word “cover-up” always sounds so melodramatic, but why is it that everyone in Warren who should have known about this either denies knowing anything or isn’t talking at all?

And where is the oversight we should expect from the state?

Runyan also wrote the best piece on the problem in January. If you need a refresher on the issue the best place to start is here.

For those of you with a serious interest in this topic, download the City of Warren’s study here: City of Warren File 4

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Tax to be temporary

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According to an article by Raymond Smith in today’s Tribune, the city administration has decided to make their request for an income tax increase in Warren temporary. The tax increase of 1/2% to 2.5%, would be in effect for five years beginning January 1, 2017. The change was suggested by Councilwoman Helen Rucker (D-at large) and echoes a comment made Thursday evening in the Finance Committee meeting by former Warren Councilman Ron White, who said he would only consider voting for it if it were temporary.

I’ve had to rely completely on Smith’s reporting for this post as my cell phone must not have been working yesterday — neither Doug nor Enzo called to tell me about the change.

assortment of smiley face expressions including very happy, smug, happy, mild surprise, shock, neutral, chagrin, sad, dead, skull with teeth

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Downloading WE files: Some readers have had problems accessing PDF files that have been imbedded in a post. Normally you click the file and are taken to a second page that also shows the file. Click that, and the PDF should open. Occasionally that process doesn’t work. When it doesn’t, all I can suggest is that you email me at info@warrenexpressed.org, and I’ll send you the file directly. If you think you know how to fix the problem, please keep it to yourself; there is no IT department here and I refuse to mess with this stuff.

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Time to vote

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Person voting

A final Finance Committee meeting was held last night to discuss the income tax increase. Council will vote on Tuesday (August 8) at 3:00 PM. I expect it to pass without much opposition. Most Council members seem to feel that the voters have the right to decide, so the issue will likely be on the ballot in November.

Last night the administration made the case for the tax increase for more than an hour, followed by four public speakers, all of whom opposed it.

DPSS Enzo Cantalamessa spoke at length after distributing a five page document outlining the administration’s position. (Enzo_memo ) There are a lot of words in the document but nothing we have not heard before and we still have seen no numeric argument for the tax increase. Budgets are done on spreadsheets for a good reason, and it would be nice to see a mathematical argument made for their case.

Chief of Police Merkel spoke again, and gave some specific examples of what cuts in service the public should expect if the tax fails. He expects to close the “street crimes unit” which works on drug cases, since most of the cuts will be to younger cops, older cops will move to street duty and few crimes will receive follow up investigation — probably only those involving aggravated violence. Burgler alarm responses will be reduced.

Fire Chief Nussle said failure to pass will mean there will likely be only two operational truck crews at the one operating fire house on Main. Fire inspections have already been eliminated. The average fireman is already 46+ years old, and the age will rise.

[See yesterday’s post for copies of the two Chief’s prepared reports.]

City Engineer Paul Makosky, who has been very successful bringing state and federal grant money to Warren for fixing roads — more than $35 million — told the audience it costs $150,000 to pave a mile of city streets, and we have 185 miles to pave. Mayor Franklin called fixing streets, “a public safety issue.

Councilman John Brown (D-3) continues to be the main critic of the tax increase and the threat that the police and firemen bear the brunt of the pain. He called “page two, point #1” of Enzo’s memo untrue, asking how only police and fire can be made to suffer when the city employs 400 people.

Doug Franklin said that more than fire and police will be laid off, and challenged Brown to show them how to cut $1.3 million without laying off police and firemen. Al Novak (D-2) supported Brown’s argument, and called for a reduction in the number of management personnel at the city by creating a Department of Public Works to oversee a broader range of city works.

The public speakers were unanimous in their opposition and had similar themes. Several, including Liz Ballant of the SE side, asked why the Mayor and other officials aren’t offering to take pay cuts as part of this emergency situation. Former City Councilman Ron White of the SW side said he would not support a permanent increase until he has seen how the administration deals with upcoming union negotiations. White said, “once you have money, everybody wants the money.” White “might support” a temporary increase.

Greg Greathouse of the north end asked why it is always police and fire on the chopping block, and echoed Mr. White’s question of why the Mayor waited so long to act on a financial situation that was years in the making. Debbie Magos of the NE side hammered home this same point, noting that the Mayor’s spending down of more than a $1 million surplus, and procrastination in taking action, had painted us into a corner; she added that a tax increase will further discourage businesses from starting or expanding in Warren, and will speed the city’s downward spiral.

Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold (D-6) is hosting a town hall-style meeting this Sunday, August 7 at 6:00 PM at Restoration Church, 760 Main Avenue, the former Rebecca Williams Community Center.

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