Murray: Fire, police cuts on the table

By late March, officials must balance the budget, which calls for laying off at least four firefighters in addition to other reductions.
Andy Ouriel
Feb 14, 2014

 

For Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr., transparency’s the best medicine to cure a feeble relationship between city government and the community.

So he doled out large doses of public clarity to about 30 community members attending a town hall-style meeting Thursday night at the Sandusky Library.

Murray, who just started his second stint as a city commissioner, organized the first of three question-and-answer sessions in hopes of better informing people about pressing city issues.

He hosted these types of meetings as the area’s state representative, serving from 2009 through 2012.    

Much of the 90-minute presentation focused on Sandusky’s fiscal crisis.

The financial fiasco is highlighted by a $1.1 million shortfall in the city’s projected $16.3 million everyday operating 2014 budget. The budget funds many services, including police and fire.

By late March, officials must balance the budget, which calls for laying off at least four firefighters in addition to other reductions.

Murray tried explaining Sandusky’s current state of affairs while raising questions for all to consider in possibly solving these quandaries.

Among the unanswered issues:

Layoffs coming?
Anywhere from 75 percent to 80 percent of Sandusky’s everyday operating budget covers salaries.

To offset the budget — and to avoid other financial shortfalls in upcoming years — commissioners must realistically consider downsizing staffing levels without compromising public safety or quality of life.

Layoffs are a common practice in Sandusky. Case in point: Sandusky’s full-time staffing levels have decreased about 25 percent over the past decade, from about 280 workers in 2004 to 214 as of December 2013.

Despite staffing levels decreasing, salaries continue to skyrocket.

Union-represented employees obtained a 1.5 percent wage increase in their latest contract. Pay for police officers, firefighters and others jumps 1.5 percent in each year from 2013 through 2015.

The total extra payout equals about $400,000 in added salaries during this three-year stretch.

Past and present commissioners — not Murray, he wasn’t elected yet — approved the increases about a year ago knowing full well about these budget problems.

Then add in health insurance costs. Sandusky officials expect to spend $3.4 million on health insurance for city employees in 2014, a 21 percent uptick from a year ago.

About the same number of employees are on the city’s plan this year compared to 2013.

Cut police, fire?
The fire and police departments collectively consume about two-thirds of Sandusky’s annual budget.

While other employees, such as those working at the greenhouse and on streets, suffered staffing setbacks in recent times, few reductions have occurred to police officers and firefighters.

Gutting their budgets only seems fair and reasonable to address money woes, Murray said, and further decreasing other departments already whittled away would make the city “dysfunctional”

“We have to take a look at police and fire” Murray said.

Raise the income tax?
At 1 percent, Sandusky’s income tax rate is among the lowest in northern Ohio.

Norwalk, Port Clinton, Elyria and Lorain all have higher rates, according to Murray’s presentation.

The income tax, tacked onto people working within city boundaries, generated about $6.7 million for Sandusky in 2013.

Commissioners could consider raising the rate to 1.25 percent, which would generate almost an extra $2 million per year, based on 2013 figures.

A majority of voters during an election must approve any income tax increase.

Many residents at the meeting said they would approve an increase if — and only if — commissioners reserved these funds for specific improvements, such as extra workers, road repairs or park upgrades.

Community members also want to see a visual return on their money if taxes increase. Some examples involve more police officers to deter violent crime, or firefighters slashing response times.

Fix it or quit it?
Murray classified City Hall as a grossly inadequate facility.

In 2013, the building’s total utility costs per square foot totaled $2.57 — triple the cost of what an energy-efficient building’s bill would be.

A recent analysis by Sandusky’s chief building official, George Poulos, determined city officials must spend $6.7 million in taxpayer money to make necessary upgrades inside the almost 60-year-old building on Meigs Street.

Many commissioners have said they prefer moving to another building. Poulos said he could build an entirely new structure for $3.3 million, half the renovation expense.

Murray said he’s willing to sell City Hall, temporarily move City Hall offices elsewhere and find a building better suited for Sandusky’s needs.

Some residents seemed fearful officials could parlay money from a hypothetical tax increase and place it toward upgrading or relocating City Hall.

Comments

donutshopguy

Folks, when 80% of your budget is tied directly to wages and benefits for the police and fire departments only, those departments must be included in the discussions of reductions. Ignoring those departments will lead to total disaster in city funding.

Babo

Gee, here's an idea, at least double the Admissions Tax from 3% to 6% or more ideally 8% and make the tourists pay for the services and infrastructure improvements. Sandusky should have a lower income tax rate than surrounding communities because the people of Sandusky should not have to pay for the extra services used by tourists and the wear and tear on their infrastructure.

Does the fact that the law firm Murray and Murray represents Cedar Fair have anything to do with the fact that Commissioner Murray refuses to consider the obvious solution to the City's money problems? Conflict of interest or legal ethical consideration anyone?

City workers ought to start demanding consideration of an Admissions Tax increase prior to sacrifice of services.

Tribester

RAISE THE ADMISSIONS TAX! 3% is a joke. Does Cedar Fair honestly believe tourists will stop coming to the park because admission tickets cost two dollars more? It doesn't stop people from going to Disney World or Universal Studios or Sea World, and it won't stop them from coming here either. What do you think they are going to do, close the park and leave town? It is a cash cow, give me a break. RAISE THE ADMISSIONS TAX!

Nor'easter

Orlando has an 8% Admissions tax, NO INCOME TAX and Freshly paved smooth streets. They also have a thriving economy outside Disney and Universal. Cedar Fair is not going to pick up and move Cedar Point amusement park.

kritter080

Here is another idea why doesn't everyone take a slight pay cut (God forbid that this is an idea to consider, no one would ever talk about that) to off set the budget, so we don't loose the one people that actually protect us, heck we all know sandusky is nowhere near being safe for the tax paying citizen of this town to lay off any police or firemen. This is absurd to the highest level. As a city citizen of sandusky we need more police for this town especially in the summer.

bigdad1205

Absolutely Babo this is a tourist town. Whether they want to admit it or not. For this to work the tourist need to pay. Listen to a scanner once and hear the 5 calls per day to Cedar Points dorms they use our resources as well.

GoBigLex2001

Cedar Point PD is the primary responder to the dorms.

Babo

True, it's a private police force that is supposed to operate under the auspices of Sandusky PD but keeps its reports secret. Believe this was one of the issues (probably the real issue) behind the drive to fire Chief Nuesse as she wanted to bring that department under control of SPD.

Tom Sawyer

I think the should tax welfare checks!

donutshopguy

You have two choices. Reduce expenditure or increase taxes.

My guess is that expenditures related to Cedar Point don't effect the overall cost of police and fire services by 10% over the year. If someone has specific numbers please correct my estimation. Raise the admission tax accordingly to cover those costs.

But, my guess is that added tax will not cover the amount of deficit we presently show.

The loss of business and jobs with the additional burden of more entitlement have caused this monetary shortfall.

Stop kicking the can down the road. Sandusky is a city on decline. Let's keep it from becoming "little Detroit".

Comrade Boose

Hardly a "Little Detroit" Sandusky has a $4 million plus carry over, Detroit is $17 BILLION in DEBT. Hey wait a minute if the city has a $4 million dollar carryover why are we laying fireman off???

Babo

Sandusky is in decline because of the failure of city leaders to raise the Admissions Tax to 8% years ago. You forget the huge infrastructure costs associated with traffic and a seasonal influx of over a million people.

Sandusky has a world class Amusement park and it ought to have the revenues from that status to support the infrastructure of a city that is a major tourist destination. No other city with this type of facility would shift the burden onto its taxpayers and businesses in the form of higher income taxes while allowing tourists to get a deal.

Far from being in decline, Sandusky ought to be a shining example of rust belt revival if it took advantage of the resources that are already present.

reader

Raise the admission tax. To not even consider that option shows a blind obedience to the corporate masters at Cedar Fair.

Nor'easter

Remove the City Income tax and raise the Admissions Tax to 8%. Unless you would like to Match Las Vegas, Theirs is 10% with NO CITY or STATE INCOME TAX.

The governed

Perhaps if 1% er deadbeats were paying their taxes and public utility bills instead of wasting that money partying on Kelley's Island we wouldn't have this problem.

Steve P

Wasn't employee raises granted when he was a commissioner the first time. Cedar Point control his law firm, no way he will talk about the admissions tax increase.

Comrade Boose

When you cut jobs from other departments in the past you were not putting peoples lives in danger. Cutting police and fire jobs is a safety issue to everyone involved period. My understanding on the contracts was that the employee is paying more into their health insurance and cut some higher paying position. Also the Grant money did not create new positions it just filled in fireman that were already laid off. "Save City Services Tax the Tourist"

Dcfred20036

Maybe sandusky needs to adopt a strong-mayor system...that way, he/she would be directly accountable to the voters. From what I have seen, the current structure is a financial drain on the taxpayer: paying a city manager over 100k to mismanage and preside over a fiscal deficit of over one mil. When in a hole, stop digging!

Darkhorse

The admission tax is the big elephant in the room. Why keep tapping the taxpayer for every little thing. Our pockets are empty.

donutshopguy

Dark,

I agree with our pockets being empty but when do the increased taxes on businesses drive away those businesses?

Are we solving a short term problem while killing the golden goose?

Sometimes we need to look at a bigger picture.

Just food for thought.

Babo

The Admissions Tax is not a tax paid by Cedar Point but by tourists who buy the tickets, similar to the sales tax you pay on purchases. There is no sales tax on Admissions sales in this State.

The 7% sales tax probably doesn't prevent you from making purchases, so why do you think an 8% admissions tax paid for by the purchaser/tourist will deter them from continuing to patronize Cedar Point? Cedar Point doesn't pay the tax, but collects it from their customers who pay it, just like any store collects sales tax from its customers.

YouMustBeJoking

Murray has financial ties to Cedar Point. Therefore he DOES NOT have the best interest in the city of Sandusky or Sandusky residents. This is the biggest conflict of interest I've ever seen. He should be forced to remove himself from this ordeal entirely. Due to his personal business relationship pertaining to this matter, he should NOT have a say. It's obvious that the smartest thing to do, which is to raise the admission tax to 8% is the answer. The question is why not raise the admission tax? Murray not even mentioning an admission tax increase, is laughable. And his proposal for us city residents to pay more and more , is a joke. PS. Murray , your greed is unbelievable, and quite sickening.

Comrade Boose

He did state if income tax is raised .25% it will generate $2 million dollars, but no one on the commission has said how much increasing the admission tax to 8% would generate. Matt Westerhold you are needed to find this out.

Comrade Boose

He did state if income tax is raised .25% it will generate $2 million dollars, but no one on the commission has said how much increasing the admission tax to 8% would generate. Matt Westerhold you are needed to find this out.

Babo

Here's a link to the Supreme Court Rules of Conduct governing the Bar: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov...

Citizens who feel Commissioner Murray has a conflict of interest may file a Grievance with the Disciplinary Counsel of Ohio.

Babo

The SR did a mailbag story on the issue of Admissions Tax on February 5, 2014. Here's the link to the story:http://www.sanduskyregister.com/...

It is reported that the 3% tax raised $2.81 million in 2013. That means CP sold $93,666,667 (almost 100 million) in tickets in 2013. If raised to 8% based on 2013 admissions an 8% tax would raise $7.5 million.

By raising the Admissions tax to 8% the maximum allowed by law the City would realize almost $5,000,000 more a year. This in turn would allow a reduction in income tax to 0.5% which would make the City of Sandusky more attractive to new businesses and residents!

The City would have a net gain of $2,000,000 a year with this scenario. Also as CP ticket prices increase, admissions taxes also increase.

I don't know why the City Manager isn't providing her own ideas to counter Commissioner Murray's self serving proposal that is hostile to 99% of the people and harms future economic and business development.

T. A. Schwanger

###

@Babo and others seeking an increase in the Amusement Admissions Tax.

What we need to understand is every time City leaders discuss budget concerns and new revenue, the issue of relocating City Hall is brought up in the same sentence. So is the urgency of the budget real, or a way to trick residents into a tax increase clearing the way for more deficit spending?

While the amusement tax points and figures you detail make perfect sense, City leaders will brush those aside as killing the goose that hatches the golden egg.

Babo

Then Commissioners and Ms. Ard (why isn't she leading this discussion?) need to explain how tourists paying the tax, kills the goose before asking voters/citizens to pay more! Moreover, City employees need to start demanding that the Commissioners raise the Admission Tax before going to voters for more money.

I do believe that a new City Hall is a ruse used to gain support from City Employees. Once they understand that raising the Admissions Tax to 8% eliminates the budget deficit AND provides funds for obtaining and retaining a more efficient infrastructure, city employees will abandon any support for an income tax increase.

reader

Raising the admission tax is the best way to preserve staffing of our safety services and repair our streets.

It's only fair that those visiting the Point help support the city's infrastructure.

reader

Without an increase in the admission tax, any attempt to increase the city income tax will fail at the polls.