Top 10 on the table

New term, commission votes could stall — or spark — progress.
Andy Ouriel
Jan 1, 2014
Sandusky faces a crossroads of complex questions — some as old as rock ’n’ roll — that could see some resolution in 2014.
 
There’s no list of resolutions from the new Sandusky city commission just yet — the new term and the new board’s first meeting is Friday. Commissioners are expected to select a colleague to serve as ex officio mayor.

Here’s a compilation from the Register of what it calls Sandusky’s Top 10 questions heading into the new year:

1. How will Sandusky balance a budget projecting a $1.1 million deficit?
The only way to offset this red ink by March is to lay off workers.

Payroll accounts for up to 80 percent of Sandusky’s $16.3 million budget in 2014.

Municipal governments, such as Sandusky, must have a balanced budget, where income levels either match or exceed expenses. Commissioners must balance the budget by March.    

City commissioners recently agreed on a working model to reduce the deficit, which includes axing six full-time firefighters and one full-time police position in addition to other cuts.

Other departments — parks and recreation, streets, engineering and the greenhouse, among others — are also being scrutinized for possible cuts.

2. Is a 53-person full-time staff the right number for Sandusky fire?
A $1 million federal grant obtained in early 2011 to fund six full-time firefighter positions expired a month ago. City funds, backed by local taxpayers, are paying for these salaries today.

But with a massive shortfall, city funds can’t cover the estimated $500,000 a year needed to keep these six positions.

City commissioners recently rejected a funding plan proposed by Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci to swap $500,000 from a vehicle and equipment account into payroll. Ricci’s now trying to leverage an additional $177,000 from the federal government in hopes of funding these positions through May.

Ricci said the department must maintain 53 full-time firefighters to ensure minimum response times.

If cuts do occur, some possible consequences include officials possibly closing two of three fire stations, giving priority to certain calls — rather than responding to emergencies on a first-come, first-served basis — and neglecting non-emergency activities, such as volunteer opportunities and community events.

Commissioner Julie Farrar recently lobbied for a tax hike to inject more income into city coffers.

“The income tax has been 1 percent in this city for (almost 50) years,” Farrar said. “What is wrong with this picture?”

Sandusky’s top revenue source is a 1 percent income tax, tacked onto people working within city boundaries.

At 42 percent of total annual revenues, income taxes should generate about $6.7 million in 2013.

A 1.5 percent tax rate, under the 2013 projections, would collect $10 million annually — seemingly solving Sandusky’s financial woes.

But would city residents support a hike? Any increase would need to be approved by a majority of voters during an election.

4. Will the new trio of commissioners — Dick Brady, Dennis Murray Jr. and Naomi Twine — improve city government?
Murray’s fresh off of completing two terms as a state representative in Columbus, bringing more legislative experience than any other commissioner in recent memory, and perhaps the most ever for a commission seat.

Murray also previously served as a city commissioner and ex officio mayor from 2005 to 2008. He said he wants to become ex officio mayor again. The position’s main responsibility involves setting discussion topics for public meetings and leading meetings.

Brady, who supports Murray for ex officio mayor, also brings experience to commission, serving one year as an appointed official in 2011.

Brady said he’ll use his business background — he owns Sandusky-based Brady Sign and Brady Electric — to make sound financial decisions for Sandusky. He’s also been outspoken on multiple issues facing the city previously ignored by other commissioners.

For the past two years, Twine has headed up Sandusky’s human relations commission, a volunteer committee handling problems residents may have with city services.

Twine also offers strong administrative experience, based upon her role as a top assistant to the Ohio Veterans Home superintendent. She, too, has voiced candid opinions about concerns regarding the budget.

5. Will commissioners make a decision in 2014 whether to sell, stay or renovate City Hall?
Many commissioners and officials have expressed displeasure with City Hall’s condition.

Case in point: Sandusky Municipal Court Judge Erich O’Brien’s courtroom leaks and lacks proper security.

The judge pleaded with commissioners a year ago to make a decision on whether to move, renovate or keep City Hall as is. But no decision has since occurred.

Sandusky’s chief building official George Poulos previously urged commissioners to not renovate the energy-guzzling facility.

Poulos, who prefers to build an entirely new complex rather than renovate City Hall, estimated it would take about $6 million for necessary upgrades inside an almost 60-year-old building.

The City Hall address, 222 Meigs St., could fetch a nice haul if sold to a private developer. This address is valued at $1.72 million, according to the Erie County auditor’s office.

6. Will a partnership with BGSU Firelands occur to revitalize the Sandusky Bay Pavilion?

BGSU Firelands Dean Bill Balzer and other college representatives envision students, both in college and children enrolled in local school districts, coming to the East Water Street facility to study Lake Erie’s ecosystem.

This past fall, Balzer sent a letter to city officials about the university’s interest in either locating an educational center or creating research opportunities at the Sandusky Bay Pavilion. Former city commissioner Diedre Cole spearheaded the initial dialogue with the college about the partnership.

The letter from Balzer came after commissioners voted 4-3 to keep the run-down pavilion property public and not sell it off.

If college representatives make an investment in the pavilion, it could help remedy various environmental concerns, including a contaminated wave pool and many other health hazards, and retain it as both a recreation and education center.

7. Will the Keller Building meet the wrecking ball?
Commissioners in October signed a contract for an excavating company to remove asbestos and complete other environmental work before demolishing the Keller Building.

Commissioners budgeted $550,000 for all related work, which should occur sometime this year.

The property’s demise follows many other blighted buildings coming down in recent years, including the Apex Building on First Street.

8. How will city manager Nicole Ard fare during commission’s new term?
It was smooth sailing for Ard — at about $129,000 annually, she’s the highest-paid city worker — with commission’s majority coalition during the 2012-13 term.

She had strong support from five of the seven commissioners, rarely questioning her leadership skills and constantly defending most of her actions.

But two commissioners, Diedre Cole and Wes Poole, raised serious concerns about Ard based upon a variety of failed initiatives she oversaw.

Cole, in an exhaustive performance review, determined Ard had failed to meet any of the 12 goals set for her in 2012, her first full year as city manager.

Erie County commissioners, meanwhile, also complained about Ard’s lack of interaction.

Members of city commission’s finance committee also nailed Ard for neglecting to present a thoughtful, well-documented budget proposal to address the looming deficit.

City commission spent almost no time publicly reviewing the 2012 and 2013 budgets, documents Ard must present to the elected officials, leading to the financial mess Sandusky faces today.

Brady, Murray and Twine have all been vocal about improvements Ard must make.

9. When will an $8.5 million water lawsuit filed by the city against Erie County see resolution?

Some meetings with lawyers and officials have happened in the past few months, but no major developments providing any sort of closure have occurred since.

In November 2012, city commissioners agreed without a vote or any public discussion to file a lawsuit against Erie County.

The city contends, among other issues, that the county failed to live up to a prior water agreement. The city wants $8.5 million in damages and attorney fees.

10. Will the new commission propose a change in the number of commissioners or other charter changes?

Brady, Murray and Twine all supported decreasing how many commissioners serve, from seven today to five or three in the future.

“I envy Perkins Township and Erie County because you only need (two out of three people) to get something accomplished in these types of governments,” Brady said. “In this government, you need to find three friends to get a 4-3 vote”

Said Murray: “When you have seven people on the commission, it’s too easy for someone to hide and sit in the weeds. You want to gain more cohesiveness? Then the commission needs to be reduced”

And Twine? “I would support going down from seven to five commissioners” she said.

Comments

T. A. Schwanger

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You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

Abraham Lincoln

## Somehow the City Building renovation cost has risen to $6 million from a questionably high $2 million a handful of months ago.

## The newly elected commissioners have discussed changing the City Charter eliminating term limits and going from 7 commissioners down to 5 commissioners. Imagine eliminating term limits and being stuck with the very underperforming City Commission the Sandusky Register has dubbed the "majority coalition"--elected via popularity contest.

## Agreed a Charter change is needed--there is absolutely no accountability or representation with the way commission is currently structured promoting special interest and personal agenda politics.
Citizen led conversation has started to change the Charter to a 4 Ward-3 At-Large City Commission system.

## Historically, due to citizen displeasure with how the City spends money, lack of decent wage jobs, City Commission noninterest in raising the Amusement Admissions Tax, and other various circumstances, Sandusky taxpayers have overwhelmingly rejected three attempts at raising the income tax over the past 20 years.

Jack518

I can't wait to see what the new commissioners do with their positions and whether they spark some new life into the present mundane commission meetings. I am hoping that they do not have a "business as usual" attitude and make positive changes to this city.

It would be a refreshing thing to see things COMPLETED for once instead of tabled week after week with nothing accomplished and nothing to show for it except lame excuses. I, for one, don't see a public election as a "popularity contest" but more as an election of statement that the citizenry is standing behind those who think someone will do a good job.

Change usually does come from the people and that is how it should be. I don't know where some people think it should come from? It comes from citizens speaking to their leaders and hoping they are listening. If others feel their voices are not being heard, perhaps they are not saying what the "powers that be" want to hear any longer. Or perhaps they have been hearing it far too long. Who knows? At any rate, at one point in time or another everyone must be heard at some time in their lives. Perhaps the so called "special interest groups" to whom Mr. Schwanger is referring are just getting their turn. Seems to me he has had his turn at one point or another.

I remember very well that Mr Poulus stated it was $6 million to fix and repair that Meigs St. building not $2 million. He also said it would be cheaper to build new than to fix and repair for that amount.
Funny how we hear what we want to hear when we listen with ears that we want to hear with, isn't it? When we don't want to hear something that we fear or which we disagree? Happens a great deal. But that is the way we human's are.

At least we should give the new council people a chance to get started before we rip them to shreds. They haven't had the chance to do anything yet and already we are setting them up for failure or success by suggestions. Lets give them some time and space before we go judging their potential or reactions shall we? It seems only fair. The ballots are barely dry yet. Just saying.

The Bizness

Good post

T. A. Schwanger

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@ Jack

The year was 1991--City government was in the process of selling the taxpayers on selling City Hall to make room for private development on the City Hall site and surrounding property. The sales pitch--it would cost "$1 million to renovate City Hall".

The year was 2006--City government was in the process of convincing taxpayers the need to sell City Hall to make room for private development on the City Hall site and surrounding property (300 condos, a hotel, etc.) The selling point--it would cost "$2 million to renovate City Hall".

In 2013--continue to artificially escalate the dollar figure ($6.7 million--$4.4 million City--$2.3 million O'Brien Court) to once again trick taxpayers into believing a new City Hall is needed.

Fireside

agree

The Bizness

Those don't seem to far out of touch. If you want an efficient, usable, modern building you need to spend some serious $$

The Bizness

Get things accomplished please!

totallyamazed

.
Old, needed projects are starting to take place. Keller & crayon factory are coming down and Apex is gone. The real question is what will be done with the land. Will it be argued about for the next 10 years or will the commissioners be progressive toward allowing NEEDED economic development.

On topic, concerning stalling or sparking progress in this town. How about taking steps to battle the crime in this town, the outrageous rental to owner occupied percentage, and other quality of life issues we have. Companies want to locate to an area like Sandusky with all that our area has to offer except for the fact that our quality of life is (still) slipping.

Oh, as a final statement: sell the property from the pool to city hall (including the city hall).
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Stop It

I don't have a dog in your fight as far as living in Sandtown. But the crayon factory location would be a prime site for a recycling center IMHO. The tracks for shipping are right there.

Jack518

The time has come for this city to stop living in the past and start looking toward the future if it is to survive. Looking to the past is only a good thing if you wish to learn from it, like not making the same mistakes you did before. From this point on, the new comissioners need to have the remaining commissioners follow them into the future by showing them that "holding things up" isn't the way the government works. They also need to show Ms Ard that she needs to "SPEAK" when spoken to and that she answers to the council on each and every point. She can no longer afford to remain mute nor absent from anything like budget meetings or other meetings. From this point on, she must show her work whenever they ask for it.

This town needs JOBS which means courting the industries to this place. To get them here and keep them here, yes, we need to knock down the crime level a bit which means the city police are going to have to step it up a bit. They can't be everywhere or anticipate what happens, but the court system is going to have to come down harder on the people that get brought in: like it or not, we have to depend on that. It means nothing if the courts don't do that.

As for this constant bickering about city hall, maybe we do need a better place for it. We are housing a lot of things in a building that needs a lot of work. Perhaps it's time to move into better facilities. Just do it and get it over with. Enough fighting over who is right and who is wrong. Heaven knows just the police alone could use the space as well as the courts.

As for the pool and the pavilion: They are not being used and if we cannot afford them, then sell them off. Its time to get rid of them to someone who can afford to take them over. Either way, a drain is a drain. We cannot have it both ways.

I have faith that some of the new people have brains. Perhaps this time they can do something besides sit there and do nothing. At least one of them understands the workings of the government pretty well. Give them a chance.

It is time for all of Sandusky to work together and stop trying to tear this town apart with special faction groups working on only what they want to see happen. Now is the time to start working together for the good of this town before it is destroyed beyond repair.

Stop it....that is a good idea, along with other things I can think of as well.