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Matt Westerhold • Feb 10, 2014 at 6:58 AM

The streets need plowed. The fire and police departments need manpower to function. The streets department needs money to fix roads and whatever funds are left over need to be invested for the future.

The mortgage payment is three days late and the car payment is due next week and all that's left in the fridge is three pieces of pizza from the other day.


The city, like may families and other businesses, isn't running on empty, certainly, but there's some serious wheezing happening in the gas tank.


The Sandusky city commission must vote on some difficult choices between now and next month, when it is required to approve a balanced budget. The state of Ohio has cut about roughly $1 million of the city's funding through the elimination of the estate tax and the elimination of the local share of other state tax money.


Those cuts in revenue must be addressed.


Lawmakers in Columbus are doing to cities what they've been doing to public education funding for the last two decades: They are slashing it and offering no real initiatives, guidance or options as to how local governments should address the difficulties that creates.


Sandusky is not alone; every city and municipality in the five-county region and across the state faces the same challenges: How to maintain services amid diminishing revenues.


Residents get it. They understand the hard choices that must be made. Many have been living with similar choices they've made for quite some time, whether it's grown children moving back in with their parents, keeping the old car or getting rid of it and sharing more rides, or eating two-day old pizza for dinner.


Most residents also understand Sandusky's city staff has been trimmed back substantially in the last decade. Many of those residents also work in environments where staffs have been cut and there are more job tasks now for every remaining employee than hours in a day to accomplish them.


More staff cuts will happen and the city is being smart to encourage and advance economic development and preserve funding for these efforts. Replacing the lost revenue taken away by the state has got to be a No. 1 priority, and economic development is the best way to make that happen.


There's just too much opportunity and too much potential — proved already — on the Northcoast to improve quality of life here to let it be beaten by the current fiscal challenges.


But when fire Chief Paul Ricci, police chief John Orzech, or city engineer Aaron Klein talk about manpower shortages, their concern is obvious. It can be seen clearly on their faces. They aren't complaining; they're just stating the facts as they see them.


It will be commissioners who make the hard choices to offset the cuts in state and federal funding. One guarantee they have is nobody's going to do a happy dance.


But commission has moved aggressively to engage a wide audience and foster a robust public dialogue since the November election. A series of public forums scheduled to begin this week will further broaden the conversation and give everyone with an opinion an opportunity to share it.


This commission also seems intent on building better relationships with other local governments. Regionalization has proved to be a way to improve services and decrease expenses. That can be seen in the Erie County emergency dispatch center at the sheriff's office.


It's no longer an option: Regionalization of services must occur if cities in Erie, Ottawa, Huron, Sandusky and Seneca counties are going to maintain the same level of services as in the past.


City commission is plowing ahead — everyone gets to have their say — at the public forums.


Go to a forum, or three


• 6 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Sandusky Library, 114 W. Adams St.

• 9 a.m. Feb. 15 at Mr. Smith’s Coffee House, 140 Columbus Ave.

• 6 p.m. Feb. 18 at Sandusky High School, Room 300, 2130 Hayes Ave.


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