CUYAHOGA FALLS: City Council has opted to hold off — for now — on a vote to use an inheritance tax windfall for employee bonuses.
Council is mulling what to do with just over $1.2 million in taxes collected in October from the estate of an 88-year-old woman. The administration wants to use two-thirds of the money to give eligible full-time employees a one-time payout of $3,500.
The remainder of the money would go to the city’s general fund.
City officials argue that in addition to forgoing raises for the last four years, employees have given concessions that included unpaid furlough days and adjustment in paid leave.
The one-time payment would provide a reward for employees’ “loyalty, sacrifice and community spirit” that allowed the city to provide “high quality services to its residents,” according to the language in the proposed ordinance before council.
If approved, council members and the council clerk would receive a one-time payment of $1,250. The bonus would be paid out Jan. 18.
Most council members said they will opt out of receiving the bonus money.
“As an elected official, I don’t think I should receive this money,” said Councilman Don Walters, D-6.
Two council members asked at Monday night’s meeting whether they could earmark their portion of the funds for special programs.
Councilwoman Mary Ellen Pyke, R-2, said she would like to donate to the police department’s K-9 program.
Vincent Rubino, D-1, said he would like to see his $1,250 go into the safety forces’ budget.
At-large representative Carol Klinger said she would like to just eliminate giving any of the money to council members.
“I think it’s offensive that we’re voting to give ourselves money,” she said.
Along with the ordinance that would award bonuses, council also held related ordinances that would amend contracts with the city’s labor unions.
Walters said union members have voted to extend their contracts through 2015 in exchange for the one-time payout. Those ordinances are expected to be discussed in executive session Dec. 17.
Firefighters Local 494 President David Witner said union members “thought this was a very good time for the city and the union to cooperate and the city to keep their payroll numbers flat and health insurance flat.”
Falls resident Terry McHugh echoed other residents who asked that the money go to the general fund instead of employees.
“They haven’t received a raise in four years,” he said. “I haven’t received a raise in five years. Save the money for a rainy day. We all struggle. I know they make more money than I do and I pay their hospitalization and I pay their retirement.”
Some residents questioned whether the money should be used to hire additional firefighters and police officers.
Finance Director Joe Brodzinski said residents need to remember this is a one-shot thing.
“This is a one-time payment,” he said. “If we were to hire five in each department, those are expenses that go on forever.”
Councilwoman Diana Colavecchio, who chairs the finance committee, stopped one resident who asked Mayor Don Robart and other members of the administration whether they planned to take the payout. She said what a city employee decides to do with the proposed bonus is a private matter.
Colavecchio, a lawyer, had concerns that the money the city received may be subject to a state audit or amended return because of the size of the tax payment.
She asked to hold the legislation so that Brodzinski can find out if state tax officials have filed a final tax liability for the large estate.
“My concern is that this money sitting in our coffers today might be subject to audit and the Ohio Department of Taxation might come back and tell us ‘you’ve got to give some of that money back,’ ” Colavecchio said.