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Proposal made to eliminate Council wards

Charter review commission says having only at-large reps would 'keep it simple'

By JEFF SAUNDERS Reporter Published: June 11, 2017 12:00 AM

MUNROE FALLS -- Voters next November may have the option of deciding whether the city will continue to have wards.

Another decision might be whether changes can be made to the city's income tax credit without voter approval.

Those were among four written recommendations for possible city charter amendments that the city's charter review commission presented to City Council June 6.

"I believe the issues are all pretty well explanatory," Council President Steve Stahl told commission members. "I do want to thank all of you for your time and effort."

Commission Chairman Brad Sisak said the commission, which has met weekly since mid-April, has scheduled one last public meeting in the City Hall Council chambers on June 14 at 7 p.m. for any Council members who want to attend and discuss the recommendations with the commission.

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The four recommendations include:

Eliminate the city's three wards and make all seven Council seats at-large, rather than have the current four at-large and three ward representatives.

Sisak said the commission felt the city is not large enough to justify having wards.

"Keep it simple for a small community," said Sisak.

Stahl also said he does not believe Munroe Falls is large enough for wards. He also said he did research going back to 2003 and found there were "a bunch of uncontested ward races. Every at-large race has been contested."

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He added, "I don't think uncontested races are necessarily the best thing."

Councilor John Hegnauer, however, said having ward representatives on gives residents in each ward a Council member who specifically represents their part of the city.

"My concern is there won't be representation for everyone in the city," said Hegnauer.

A recommendation eliminating a requirement that says changes in the city's income tax credit can only be made with voter approval.

Sisak said that such a restriction "appears to tie the administration's hands."

The tax credit currently is at 100 percent, meaning that residents who work in a community that has the same or higher local income tax rate as Munroe Falls, now 2.25 percent, do not pay the Munroe Falls tax. Residents paying less than 2.25 percent to another community would pay the difference between the two tax rates.

Mayor James Armstrong told the Stow Sentry June 7 that a change in the credit is "not planned" since voters approved both an increase in the local income tax from 2 percent to 2.25 percent and a 2.8-mill police levy in May, as well as a 2-mill capital improvements levy last November. Combined, these three tax increases are projected to bring in nearly $800,000 in additional revenue annually.

But Armstrong said that prior to the May ballot, the city was facing a severe financial crunch and reducing the tax credit was considered if the tax issues did not pass. But this was complicated by the need for voter approval, said Armstrong, and after looking at a number of other communities it was found the requirement for voter approval seems to be unusual.

"We have no such ability to do that," said Armstrong. "Even though we're not going to do it now, I can't foresee what will happen 10 years from now if we again find ourselves in the financial circumstances we were in."

A recommendation to reduce the number of the city's park board from nine to five members, the level that it was at in the past.

Sisak said the commission had little communication from the park board, but included this as a recommendation because commission members had heard park board meetings often lacked a quorum.

"We felt that five is an easier number to get a quorum," he said.

But Councilors Chris Ritzinger and Gary Toth, who serve as Council representative and alternate representative respectively to the park board, said board members want to maintain the current number.

"The reason why they want to stay at that number, the reason why it went to that number, is because they can't find volunteers," said Ritzinger. "They feel they have nine volunteers. That's why the board was increased and why it's where it's at."

Although not a recommendation, the commission included a "suggestion" that the Council park board representative be made a voting board member.

"What [the park board] would prefer is actually go to 10 members and the 10th member would be a voting member of Council," said Toth.

Sisak said the park board made its request to the commission as the commission was finalizing its recommendations and there was little discussion of it. He said therefore it is not a recommendation, but the commission decided to make Council aware of it.

Stahl said such a change would require a second amendment eliminating a charter provision restricting park board members to residents who do not hold any other office in the city.

A recommendation authorizing the city's law director to make changes to the charter, such as fixing typographical errors or making language gender neutral. Such changes would still be subject to Council approval and cannot alter the "construction, meaning, substance, or intent of the charter as adopted and amended by the people."

Sisak said such changes would simply "clean up and make [the charter] more on point."

Recommendations presented early

The commission, which is appointed and meets every five years, is early in concluding its work since the charter requires that the commission present its recommendations by July 1.

Sisak told the Stow Sentry June 7 that this gives Council extra time to consider the recommendations before it has to meet an Aug. 9 deadline to file issues with the Summit County Board of Elections for placement on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

"They aren't under the gun to get something going on this," said Sisak, adding that the commission worked well together.

"It went smoothly," he said. "There was never any bickering or hard feelings."

He said commission members accept that it will be Council that decides which recommendations go on the ballot, as well as any modifications that are made to them.

"We're good with whatever changes they make," he said. "If they accept our recommendations, fine. If they don't, we don't have any hard feelings."

Email: jsaunders@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9431

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Brella Jun 12, 2017 5:04 PM

I can agree that we are a small community--possibly after the next census we will no longer be a city! I totally disagree with doing away with ward representation. When voters decided to have ward representation , they did so with the hope that they would have a Council member to go to who would understand the unique issues for their part of the city and who represented them at Council. Without wards, there is a strong possibility that some members on Council (past and present since wards went into effect) would not be serving. A big discussion at the time was that people running to represent a ward would not have as big a financial burden as running for an at-large seat. It's just logical then that we are getting a better representation of the citizens of the city. Studies have shown that ward representation creates more involvement from more citizens. According to the Commission's suggestion, the next logical step would be to cut the size of the Council itself!