City Budget Challenge
After 8 months of study, City Council, City staff and the members of Blue Ribbon Panel (7 Kent citizens) are now at a point where they need to make some decisions over how to balance the City’s budget. We’ve studied the data, reviewed the trends, and analyzed the problem. Now it’s time to move forward with a solution.
Opinions vary on what the solution should be but everyone agrees that we need as much input as possible. We need to hear from long time residents, retirees, young families, students, singles, small business owners, Kent retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers. We need to hear from Kent State University, city employees, and CEO’s like Joe Zeno from ACS Industries who care about Kent’s future personally and professionally.
Budgets are more than just numbers – they define what we do, how we do it, and what’s important to us as a community. So even though we need to balance the numbers this is really about deciding what kind of community we want Kent to be. Our decisions will not only affect us today, they also set us on a course that will be the legacy we leave for the next generation. So we need to get it right.
We need to know what is important to you, what you’re proud of in Kent and where you want Kent to improve. We need to know what city services you want more of and what you could make do with less of. We need your ideas for growing the tax base so that we can afford to keep doing the things that make Kent a place you’re proud to call home. And we need to understand what you’d be willing to pay to get there.
All of us want more for less, whether it’s from our city government, the stores we shop in, or the places where we work. Your city government is giving you more for less every day – the city workforce is 10% smaller than it was 5 years ago and cuts in operations have saved close to $2 million – but it’s not enough. We’re still falling behind at a rate of about $500,000 a year and after three consecutive years we’re facing a $1.5 to $2 million deficit, so it’s time for a change. What the change should be is something we have to decide together.
Thing We Found in 8 Months of Studying the City Budget
1. Compared to 7 neighboring cities Kent has greater needs (e.g., highest level of poverty in the region) but less resources to meet those needs.
2. Kent has smaller staffing levels but higher activity levels (e.g., police and fire calls) than nearly all our neighboring cities.
3. Kent residents pay less for their city government services than 6 out of 7 of our neighboring cities.
4. With 90% of city tax revenues coming from income tax and only 10% from property tax, the city makes money when new jobs are added but loses money on new houses who consume more in services than they contribute in taxes.
5. The city has not changed the city income tax in 22 years.
In September the City will try to narrow down to 3-5 options that would provide different ways of balancing the city’s budget. Those options will then be opened-up for public discussion with City Council aiming to make a decision by the end of the year.
We’re working on a budget survey that we’ll send out in the next Tree City Bulletin but in the meantime we’d like to hear your ideas. To get you thinking, I’ve included some ideas that city employees have sent me. Please send me yours.
Employee Budget IdeasWhy has the city be so resistive in bringing new tax generating business into the city? I read constantly that surrounding areas bring new resources in yet Kent is always in the dark. In contrast we seem to be more focused on tapping our resources currently in place with more subsidized housing and retirement centers that create more of a burden than currently have.
The issue of a sin tax added to the sale of beer, wine and spirits was at one time presented. With obvious influence this plays a large part on the safety forces activity supplementing the budget with what would be a trivial cost increase to the patrons of the city may have a positive effect on the budget issues.
Lastly the cost of doing business in all areas of municipal government will always increase. It is fool hardy to think that the budgets 5-10 years ago will allow the same service levels in today’s time. I would hope the tax payers would understand that as long as the tax money is not being wasted on items that city doesn’t need or already has plenty of.
I just had a thought… has there been any discussion of the city implementing a “sin tax”? I’m thinking specifically about a per-drink levy on alcoholic beverages sold in the city. It would seem to me to be a fairly easy sell to just about everybody besides the bar owners, and I don’t think they’d even have much of an argument against it, since I’d doubt that a couple of extra pennies per drink is going to prevent any of our drinking guests from doing so. Those extra pennies can add up for the city though… you may or may not know, but such a sin tax was a major source of funding for the Jacobs Field/Gund Arena project in Cleveland several years ago. Thanks for listening.
1) Charge a fee for each booth space at the Heritage Festival to go specifically towards overtime costs (including security and clean-up) of the PD and Central Maintenance.
2) I have mentioned a trash hauling fee in the past. There are 3 potential benefits: (a) reduced costs for all residents; include the cost of the once a year large item/spring clean-up; reduce the amount of heavy truck traffic on our streets. For example, in my neighborhood there are three different trash pick-up days. Reduce that to one day and we save a lot of wear & tear on our streets — think of it as preventive maintenance. A franchise agreement could be written in such a way as to provide free service to municipal facilities. I did all of the above in a previous lifetime. Took a serious amount of flack, but it worked.
3) Someone shared with me an idea of adding $1 per month to the utility bill (it could be placed either in the recycling line or stormwater line) for leaf pick-up, Christmas tree pick-up, and street tree replacement.
4) Web site sponsorship.
5) Hike all fees by 5-10%; Ask the Health Board to consider align their fees so that Board can be self-supporting, or set a goal to generate 50% more revenue than they are presently.
6) Could we realign the salary distribution in CD with the utility funds? This has the potential of saving about $175,000 to the General Fund.
Could we use the County Health Dept?
I would like to make a suggestion. The Service Dept has been holding nightly and Saturday meetings concerning the Crain Ave Bridge, Kent State Parking Committee, Stormwater Meetings, Watershed meetings etc. Perhaps theses meetings can be held during the eight hour work day or lunch hour meetings. That would certainly help with cutting overtime hours in the service dept.
What about a sin tax? Or geothermal heating and cooling for city buildings(Stanton middle school has it) ? Is there more low risk investing to make the money we have know work for us in the future?
Can we charge businesses for false fire alarm drops (every time we get one overtime is called in to protect the citizens in case of another call)?
We should encourage city employees to exercise (healthy people are happier with fewer health problems and injuries).
I just wanted to give you some of my input on some things. First of all I do agree that the city needs to come up with alternate ways of generating income. Without new businesses coming into town we need to be smart and creative too. We must make sure also to follow through with our master plan.
I read recently that council is considering changing the zoning on the old mall property to allow hi density residential there, I think that more apartments is the last thing this city needs, we need to stick to our plan and aggressively market that property to bring in income tax money.
Also, this being a college town of course alcohol is a big part of the problems this town is facing. Either we dry up the town (not likely) or take advantage of the sale of alcohol and place some sort of sin tax on the sale of it. Many of the police and fire runs are alcohol related and I’d be interested in seeing the exact percentages involved. We do have great potential in increasing our revenue, we just have to make a plan and stick with it.
Have you considered the “Buy Out” option for City employees as a way to save some $$$$ for the future. I don’t know much about municipality buy-outs, but I do know something about public higher education buy-outs. Kent State University, for instance, has been offering buy-outs for several years now. Initially these buy-outs were exclusively for faculty, and, now administrators and all other staff members have that option as well.
What about having an in-house print shop? There are still some of us that use local copy centers such as WordSmith’s, Kinko, and other shops out-of-town.