Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Council Discusses Waiver of Fees While City Faces Financial Crisis

Prepared Comments Made to
September 29, 2008

At last Monday night’s Committee of the Whole, I witnessed actions that I have never witnessed in my many years of attendance at North Canton City Council meetings. What I witnessed was an awakening of how government should function when there is honest, independent input from all participants who are truly working on behalf of the citizens of North Canton.

Last week, there was an item on the agenda to waive the water tap-on fee for residents in the city who have water well. Although this proposal was headlined under the Water, Sewer & Rubbish Committee chaired by my councilman, Jeff Davies, Councilmember Marcia Kiesling appeared to be the proponent of this initiative and she led the discussions.

Although this was a magnanimous gesture on the part of Council Member Kiesling, I am disturbed that a proposal such as this would go beyond a heartfelt expression of sympathy to those families who lose access to water in a power outage. I expect that all families who choose to remain on a well are mindful of this potential problem for themselves when electrical power is disrupted.

I know how much this public body enjoys hearing praise from admirers, especially after anyone dares question its actions but I would like to switch roles tonight and heap praise on the following individuals for providing honest discussion against the proposal to waive water tap-on fees. I know first-hand that critical comment on actions of public officials conducting the public’s business is not encouraged by this council but that is democracy at its finest.

City Engineer Jim Benekos and Superintendent of Permits & Inspection Tom Hampton certainly deserve recognition for leading the way in providing honest input on the downside of the waiver of water tap-on fees. Input on a proposed legislation such as this is sorely needed and is vital to providing checks and balances to all actions of government.

I would also like to commend the four council members who also spoke against the proposal. Council members Pat DeOrio, Doug Foltz, David Wright, and Jeff Davies also merit recognition. I applaud each of you for recognizing the pitfalls of the proposal.

The pitfalls of such a proposal are so numerous that it is hard to understand how a proposal such as this could have been placed on the agenda.

Equity and fairness first come to mind. Thousands of present day city water customers have contributed to the cost of the city water system through the collection of tap-on fees. Why would anyone want to subsidize new water users at the expense of water users who have contributed their fair share to connect to the city water system? This is patently unfair and could lead to hard feelings and possible legal challenges.

Did the supporters of this proposal forget the fact that the city is projecting a budget deficit for 2009? Council President Revoldt and Finance Committee Chairman Snyder were in support of this proposal. There was no economical basis for supporting this proposal so I must conclude that your support for Council Member Kiesling’s proposal was political in nature and that is a shame.

The legislative process depends on independent thought and deliberation from all seven members of this council, not on blind political support.

This proposal was one vote away from receiving enough support to be legislation on tonight’s agenda. Thankfully, the proposed legislation did not survive last week for a legislative vote on tonight’s agenda.

Mr. Snyder, the current fee for water tap-on fees was increased in 2006 under your Chairmanship of the Ordinance, Rules & Claims Committee. The minutes show that you supported Ordinance No. 82-06, on June 12, 2006. In the minutes of that meeting, the increase in tap-on fees passed council with unanimous support.
Mr. Snyder, in your recommendation for passage of the legislation you are quoted as saying:

“[it was an effort] to go through every revenue source that the city has and bring them in line with present-day costs…[and]…would bring in additional revenue to the Water Department as the costs of the tap and the labor to install it has increased….”

The legislation to increase the water tap-on fees in 2006 was passed on an emergency.

Mr. Snyder, I do not understand your change of heart on this issue. If the legislation required passage on emergency two years ago while the city was more financially sound, why when the city today faces budget deficits, would you have any inclination to waive needed revenue? It makes no difference whether the tap fees are paid into the water fund or the general fund. The city still faces extreme financial difficulties.

Mr. Snyder, your attempt to salvage the proposal to waive the tap-on fees when support for it waned last week defies your position two years ago as the Chairman of the committee who supported the rate increase. Your support for the proposal also flies in the face of your present position as Chairman of the Finance Committee while the city faces budget deficits.

What would council have done with this proposal without input from two courageous city employees? Thankfully, city residents will not have to find out.

Ironically, after council discussed the feasibility of waiving potential revenue for the water fund, council discussed where to find needed savings to bridge the $654,000 projected budget deficit for 2009. Unfortunately, council spent more time last week discussing how to give away revenue than time spent discussing where to cut $650,000 from next year’s budget.

I do hope that every member of this council, the mayor, the administration, and city employees are allowed and encouraged to speak freely on issues so that decisions are made for business reasons and not political ones.

With the loss of revenues that the city has experienced and continues to experience, bad decisions can no longer be masked by excess revenues as they were in past years.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton