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For the second year, Munroe Falls Mayor James Armstrong's message during his annual state-of-the-city address is that city finances need shoring up.
"Last year, I gave my inaugural state-of-the-city address after only being in office one month. I had a chance to look at the finances from 2015 when I came in and my last state-of-the -city address, my inaugural one, was rather somber because I had to inform everybody that the finances were not good," said Armstrong during the Stow-Munroe Falls Chamber of Commerce's monthly luncheon at Silver Lake Country Club Feb. 21. "Last year, at the end of 2015, we had an operational deficit of over a half million dollars, or approximately a half million dollars. In other words, the city spent more than $500,000 than it took in in revenues. This was the second time in a row that happened."
Armstrong said said 2016 ended similarly and this is why the city placed three tax issues on the general election ballot this past November; an increase in the local income tax rate from 2 percent to 2.25 percent, a 2.8-mill police levy, and a 2-mill capital improvement levy.
And it is why, said Armstrong, that with voters only approving the capital improvement levy, the other two issues will be on the May 2 ballot.
Armstrong said that when those who were campaigning for the levies last fall were canvassing neighborhoods, "many of our residents were surprised when we were telling them how serious the financial condition was. Since 2010 the City of Munroe Falls had lost nearly $630,000 in annual revenue. This resulted from the state's elimination of the inheritance tax and the reduction in sales tax, along with the non-renewal of the [city's ] 4.25-mill [capital improvement] levy in 2014."
Armstrong said that in a recently released report, the Ohio Auditor of State's office rated city finances, through the end of 2015, on 16 financial indicators, giving the city a positive rating on 10, but critical ratings on two and cautionary ratings on four. He said this means that residents no longer have to just believe city officials of the need for more revenue.
"The auditor's financial health indicators resulted from the simple fact that the cost of providing basic city services is exceeding our revenues," said Armstrong. "The state auditor has said we have some serious financial issuesThe city cannot continue to pick up leaves, maintain our parks, city vehicles, city buildings, provide police protection while continuing to receive less money than it costs to perform these duties."
Armstrong said the city is shuffling money around just to pay for the estimated $18,000 it will cost to replace the City Hall roof, which has begun leaking water into Council chambers. A tarp was placed over the roof earlier this month.
City has new engineer
"On the positive side, we actually have an engineer for the first time in 10 years. GPD Group was contracted to be our engineer, and address our engineering concerns," said Armstrong. "The first thing they did was evaluate our pavement conditions and rank city streets based on pavement conditions. Since GPD was appointed near the end of 2016, if you wonder where we got the money for that, we didn't spend the money we originally budgeted for the law director so we took some of the money out of the legal services and used that to address the streets study."
Armstrong said GPD will also do a stormwater study, using money specifically earmarked for stormwater costs that the city has received from Summit County and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
"The plan this year is to do the engineering on these projects and then to set up a priority list," said Armstrong, "and then to begin actual construction in 2018 if everything works out well, and we're optimistic about that."
Armstrong added, "This will be a very challenging year for the City of Munroe Falls, but with help of our citizens at the ballot box and giving us the resources we need to move forward , we will begin moving our city forward."
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