Monday, March 12, 2007

Taxpayer Funds Destined For CIC Should Be Used For City Services as Intended

Prepared Comments Made to
March 12, 2007

Last week North Canton Police Chief Michael Grimes made a presentation to this body urging that funding be made available to allow him to hire an additional patrol officer. Chief Grimes clearly and professionally defined the city’s need to restore department staffing levels in the police department. Council’s response was that the funds just are not available.

For weeks, the residents of Lipton Avenue have appeared before city council pleading that the city make good on promises made since 1997 to fix storm water drainage problems on their street. Council’s response was that the funds just are not available.

Funds are available. There is $1.3 million that is available that has not been disbursed to the North Canton Community Improvement Corporation and I am surprised that there has been no public discussion on using this source of funds, as they are desperately needed.

In 2005, former Mayor Tom Rice asked that council transfer $2.0 million dollars from the general fund to provide seed money to the North Canton Community Improvement Corporation (CIC). Then Finance Chairman and President of City Council, Jon Snyder made the following statements at a March 7, 2005, Council of the Whole meeting:

“…I have reservations about the amount, and reservations about doing it….The city is not in a position to do this….I am against using the liquidity of the city….”

At the same Council of the Whole meeting Director of Finance, Julie Herr, remarked:

“…The figure that is floating around, $2.0 million, of course I have concerns over that. That is almost twenty percent of our carryover….Are there potential uses for this seed money or is it going to sit there for six months?”

“… Are we going to see results this year?...Is there any plan that might start seeing results of this seed money this year, next year, two years from now?...If two or three years down the road, the results of that CIC are slower than what we expected, there might be some more difficult decisions to make down the road, because that $2.0 million is not going to be there.”

Then Finance Chairman Jon Snyder subsequently submitted a proposal to fund the CIC for $1.5 million dollars. This funding was to be released in increments of $100,000 per year for fifteen years. The legislation received its third and final reading by council on May 9, 2005, as Ordinance 67-05.

The statements made two years ago by both Mr. Snyder and Mrs. Herr in response to the request to use taxpayer funds to fund the CIC was prophetic. This should be clearly evident to everyone at this time.

The city was not in a position to fund the CIC two years ago as then Finance Chairman Jon Snyder stated. Mr. Snyder, you were correct in that assessment. And without a doubt, the city is not in a position to fund the CIC today.

From her comments of two years ago, Finance Director Julie Herr was clearly looking for some kind of return on the money that she was being asked to remove from the general fund.

Finance Director Herr advised this council two years ago that if the CIC failed to provide results in a timely fashion, then the city would be facing more difficult decisions down the road. Mrs. Herr, you also were correct in your assessment regarding the impact of removing taxpayer funds from the general fund to fund the CIC. Each of you gave your best advice and it was ignored.

The legislation funding the CIC was forced on to the ballot as a result of a referendum and the citizens of North Canton approved the funding of the CIC, known as Issue 31, at the polls in the November 2005 elections.

Contributions from special interests groups totaling more than $13,000 supporting Issue 31 likely influenced its passage. The reality was that the public was mislead on what Issue 31 would or could do for North Canton with rosy pie in the sky predictions. That was truly unfortunate.

On or around December 31, 2005, $1.5 million dollars was removed from the general fund and placed in an escrow account. At this same time, the first $100,000 installment was made to the CIC. In June 2006, a second $100,000 installment was made to the CIC. At present, the CIC has $200,000 in its account and the escrow account under the city’s control has $1.3 million remaining of the original $1.5 million.

The remaining $1.3 million dollars needs to be restored to the general fund. As this council knows and as the public has learned, funding must be put where it will generate the most good for the citizens of North Canton. It does not make any sense whatsoever to continue to bleed the city of $100,000 a year when those funds are desperately needed elsewhere.

Economic development has to begin with a city that provides the necessary amenities that citizens naturally expect. The city must have visible police presence. Without strong safety forces you will not only fail to attract new business, you will likely lose the businesses that you have.

Without strong safety forces, all you will attract to your city is the wrong element as Chief Grimes described in his presentation.

Without a strong visible presence of law enforcement, you will see a decline in the quality of life in our neighborhoods. It does not happen overnight. It begins slowly.

This council’s failure to maintain the needed staffing in the police department is counterproductive to economic development prospects for the city.

I urge you to move quickly to rescind the legislation funding the CIC and recoup the remaining $1.3 million. These funds are desperately needed to maintain both the level of safety forces patrolling our city streets and to make the needed infrastructure improvements for the residents on Lipton Avenue.

What better way to promote economic development in the City of North Canton than providing good police protection for residents, visitors, and businesses and protecting the investment homeowners have in their homes with needed storm water improvements?

Thank you
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton