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Dennis Murray on the choices Sandusky faces

Tom Jackson • Jul 18, 2014 at 10:08 PM

[Blogger's note: This is the short speech that ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. gave at Monday's city commission meeting. I thought some of you might be interested in his presentation on Sandusky's fiscal woes. The "Mr. Wobser" he refers to is Eric Wobser, who attended his first meeting Monday as Sandusky's new city manager. After Murray's speech, the commission voted unanimously in favor of the motion he proposed. After he spoke, I asked Murray for a copy so I could post it on our website.  — Tom]

Sandusky finds itself at a crossroad. For forty years, we have watched our city decline. Our decline has many causes – urban sprawl, the national loss of manufacturing jobs, population loss, to name a just a few. But today we face the results of something new – namely neglect from our state legislature which has cut our funding without regard to our obligations to our citizens. Although Columbus has eliminated the estate tax and cut the local government fund in half, we must still protect our citizens and business. We must still care for streets and neighborhoods and parks and trees, but with increasingly inadequate resources. 

How does this end? This year’s budget will burn through a part of the reserves that we need to properly and responsibly run the city. Next year’s budget will be worse. Columbus is about to enact so-called reforms to municipal taxes that will take away yet more revenues. And 2016 looks even worse. 

We have cut far beyond the bone. We can no longer continuously operate three fire stations, and are currently browning out Number 7. What next? Do we close station 7? Do we brown out station 3 as well with its dramatically higher call volume? Do we cut the police force? Do we sell off the parks because we can no longer maintain them? How will we address the 800+ dead and dying trees in tree lawns?

Some mistakenly argue that Sandusky needs to trim down. But we have cut nearly a third of our workforce in the last 10 years. Spending is down 25% in constant dollars, even on a per person basis. 

On our current path, at some point in the future we will be unable to effectively patch potholes, let alone undertake the long-term task of rebuilding streets. Where does this end?

At some point, we will see our infrastructure crumble to the point that we are unable to repair it.

We have virtually eliminated code and zoning enforcement over many years in an attempt to maintain safety forces. We can plainly see what that neglect is doing to our city’s homes. They are crumbling before our eyes as a result of owner neglect, usually bad landlords who know that we don’t currently have the personnel necessary to attack this blight, usually absentee landlords who are only too happy to collect the rent and stick us with the blight when they eventually abandon the building. Where will this end?

I have been unable to completely address the revenue issue facing our city because I was representing Cedar Fair before I took office. No more. I have resigned that position because we as a commission must address this question before it is too late.

I had hoped that we might have a little more time, but a group of civic-minded citizens has been working to place an important issue on the ballot, to raise the admissions tax from 3% to 6%. But with all due respect, it is too much and places the entire burden of replacing lost revenue on our largest corporate citizen, at the risk of alienating them and even causing them to relocate their headquarters. They would not put it that way, but it is no secret either. Nor will Cedar Fair say this, but it is also reasonable to expect that they will actively oppose a 3% increase. There are no winners in that fight. And however it turns out, we will have soured the atmosphere necessary to attracted new investment in our community, without which we cannot grow our way out of the present situation.

I have learned from Mr. Wobser that Cedar Fair representatives approached him about a cooperative effort to raise city revenues. Cedar Fair understands our predicament, and wants to be a responsible partner. But it also wants a fair solution that spreads the burden to all beneficiaries of city services. I do not know what such a resolution looks like – one that replaces lost revenues and stabilizes the city’s finances so that we can invest in safety forces, firefighters in particular, in streets, in critical code enforcement, in parks and trees and in economic development – but I would like to see this commission authorize our city manager to continue those discussions with our support. And so I request a motion to do just this so that we can offer our citizens a solution in time for the August 6 deadline by which we must take action or risk one of two very bad outcomes – alienation of our largest corporation and largest city funder – or a proposed increase so large that it cannot pass, leaving our budget hole larger still with each passing year.

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