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Stow council mulls budget cuts, tax reduction

By admin Published: October 20, 2010

By Gina Mace
Special to the Beacon Journal

STOW: A city councilman wants to cut property taxes despite the city's budget problems.

Mike Rasor made the proposal at last week's council meeting. Rasor, Matt Riehl and Joe Hickin voted against suspending the three-readings rule on a resolution to accept and approve the property tax rates for 2011.

That action held up the resolution and allows Rasor's proposal to be discussed during today's finance committee meeting.

Owners of a $200,000 home in Stow pay approximately $582 in property taxes to fund city services, such as fire and police pensions, EMS, capital projects and general expenses.

Rasor wants to take a half-mill from the general fund's 6.6-mills — or about $30 — and return it to property owners.

Finance Director John Baranek said the loss to the city would be about $400,000.

Mayor Karen Fritschel said the cut would cause more harm than good.

''To sacrifice services to our residents to give back $30 is not good management,'' she said.

Rasor said the city can find another source for the lost revenue by making other cuts in next year's budget. He said some of those cuts could mean layoffs.

''The budget has to be a painful
process,'' Rasor said. ''In every city that's doing well, they've had to make painful cuts. In every business that's doing well, they've had to make painful cuts. If we don't make layoffs, we're losing money.''

At-large Councilwoman Sara Drew disagrees.

''It's a nice idea,'' she said. ''The reality is, if we cut the general fund in a significant way, we won't be able to cherry-pick where the funds come from. It will impact our ability to pave roads and fund the safety forces.''

Rasor said the city can trim as much as $2 million from the budget without affecting services to residents.

He suggested pay cuts for all elected officials and department heads, raising the employee contribution for health care, leasing Fox Den golf course to a private entity and cutting the clerk of courts' budget.

Drew and Fritschel said the city can't afford to lose more employees.

''We're 35 employees down, including 10 from police and fire,'' Fritschel said. ''We've abolished all part-time positions and eliminated all but emergency overtime. There's a point where you have to have people here to run the city.''

Fritschel agrees the employee share of health-care expenses should be raised, and it is something that is being discussed in negotiations with the city's unions.

''It's not something you can do quickly, at least for the labor unions, and that's 75 percent of our work force.''

Union concessions saved $220,000, and voluntary retirements saved additional money. The remaining workers have taken on additional responsibilities to make up for lost positions, Fritschel said.

''[Rasor's] premise is that the city is not spending money wisely,'' she said. ''I think the city has looked at our expenditures, we've put a lot of control measures on them and tried very hard to control expenditures.

''I think it's reckless to throw out an amount of funding to be cut with no thought or planning behind it. He did not approach Finance or Planning or myself to talk about it.''

Rasor said he would not be proposing a tax cut if he wasn't confident the budget can be cut. The average municipal share of the property tax in Summit County is 7.1 mills — more than 2 mills less than Stow's 9.5 mills, he said.

''The fact that we're overtaxed disturbs me,'' Rasor said.

''If we can do something like this — chip away at money the city brings in — it might be helpful for people deciding whether to support a school levy,'' he said.

Drew said no one likes paying taxes, but Rasor's proposal isn't good for the city or its residents.

''All of us want to be as efficient as possible,'' she said. ''But we still need to give people the level of services they need, want and voted for.''

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