The June 15, 2009 meeting of Lakewood City Council lasted about one hour and forty-five minutes. Councilperson Brian Powers (At-Large) was absent. Around 20 people were in the audience, many of whom were present to support Councilperson Thomas Bullock’s (Ward 2) effort to permit leashed dog-walking in city parks. You can review the full docket here.
Budgetmeister wants to take long view during 2010 budget discussions
Councilperson Michael Summers (Ward 3), who is the chairman of the Finance Committee, read from a report he prepared regarding preparation for the 2010 municipal budget.
He said the city’s 2008 budget issues were Lakewood-centric, meaning they were able to be corrected by realizing value through streamlining city services. 2009 budget woes were due to external forces, like the foreclosure crisis.
He noted the city will see about $800,000 less in property taxes each of the next three years due to declining home values. Income tax revenue – in the best cast scenario – will remain flat. Money provided by the state, grappling with its own money problems, cannot be expected to remain steady.
Summers expects these types of economic problems to persist for at least the next three years, so he wants to begin discussion on not just the 2010 budget, but also plan ahead for 2011 and 2012. He believes focusing on an integrated three-year fiscal plan will help the city weather the on-going financial storm. “The 2010 budget isn’t just about 2010,” he said.
In order to figure out how the city will cope with the challenge of providing quality services in the face of decreased funding, Summers said that residents, the administration, and city council will have to ponder some serious questions, including a reexamination of priorities.
In observing these public meetings, I get the strong impression most of the members of city council and more than one member of the administration don’t have a very good handle on the overall budget situation, and tend to go along with whatever they are told. The lack of independent thought is a significant concern.
If you’re Lakewood resident and care about the well-being and viability of your city, be sure to pay special attention to the 2010 budget process.
City-owned properties at Waterbury and Webb will be available for sale
Council gave unanimous approval for the city to enter into a 120-day contract with a realtor in order to unload city-owned houses at 1667-69 Waterbury and 1346 Webb.
The house at the intersection of Webb and Northwood was badly damaged in a house fire in September of 2008. The house was vacant at the time of the incident. The owner believed the fire may have been intentionally set, but city fire officials did not reach that conclusion.
The house was not insured and the owner essentially handed the property over to city in order to avoid legal and financial headaches. Nathan Kelly, Director of Planning and Economic Development, has said the owner of the adjacent property has a strong interest in buying the parcel in order to expand his yard.
The fire-damaged house will be razed, but Kelly will not permit the neighbor to merge the two parcels. He wants to ensure the possibility that a house can be built there in the future in the event strong demand for housing in Lakewood develops.
Tearing this house down is a good move. Anyone who has visited the site (see pictures) can see the house is in terrible condition. It’s a postage stamp-size house on a small corner lot. It’s great to see that the neighbor had the financial ability to step forward and buy it.
The house on Waterbury is an entirely different story, but may have the same outcome. It is not an eyesore and is in actually pretty decent shape considering it sat vacant for a few years. It is structurally sound. The roof is intact. The foundation is solid (See pictures).
The city acquired the home from HUD for $1, and with some repairs, it could be turned into a productive property.
Kelly, however, has a strong preference towards selling the property to one of the three adjacent mixed-use commercial buildings so that they can demolish the house and expand their parking lot. Some of the neighbors are not pleased with this proposition.
Councilperson Mary Louise Madigan (Ward 4) assured everyone the fate of the Waterbury house would be “best for the neighborhood and fiscally prudent.”
I attended a recent Housing Committee meeting on this topic and learned a few things which I will share in a different post.
Dog-walking in city parks: A simple concept made difficult
At the June 1st council meeting (which I didn’t get around to blogging about) Councilperson Bullock introduced a request to the administration to permit leashed dog-walking in city parks. Dogs are currently prohibited from the park.
Bullock’s request was very simple and very straightforward, but some of his fellow council members felt the request should have been accompanied by an ordinance codifying the requested change.
Bullock returned to the issue at the June 15th meeting and presented the first reading of an ordinance revision that essentially would allow dog-walking in city parks at the discretion of Public Works Director Joseph Beno. Beno would be responsible for making the rules governing dog-walking.
“I’m a little confused,” Councilperson Nickie Antonio (At-Large) said. “I don’t understand why we’re doing this.”
Antonio indicated she felt like council was abdicating its responsibilities to Beno. “I don’t support putting this on the public works director,” she said.
She said she was not in favor of Bullock’s proposal because there wasn’t enough room for input from citizens and city council.
Bullock likened the ordinance revision to mandatory recycling. Council approved the act and left it to the public works director to manage the details of the program.
Councilperson Madigan also voiced concern: “We’re not sure what Joe Beno would come up with.” Further, she said, “What might work in Lakewood Park, may not work in Madison Park.”
Councilperson Summers said he was “disappointed the ordinance has no details.” He figured since there are only 3,100 registered dogs in Lakewood, a number of non-dog owners might oppose opening the parks to dogs.
Summers said his personal opinion was that dogs could be allowed in the park, but he needed to see more details on the matter such as identifying who would be responsible for policing the program to make sure dogs are leashed, and what additional costs would be involved.
Council voted 5 to 1 to refer the matter to the Public Safety Committee for further discussion. Antonio provided the lone vote in the negative.
Madigan requested the committee meeting be scheduled after regular working hours so that it would be easier for the public to attend.
Before voting, council heard from citizens interested in the matter.
Cove resident Deborah Suleiman said she doesn’t drive and is limited to walking her shy 50-pound pooch up and down the street. She said she cleans up after her dog and felt letting dogs into city parks would not cause any problems.
Roberta Ratcliff, of 1020 Roy, moved to Lakewood three years ago and said she was “shocked and amazed” to learn the city banned dogs from its parks. She said the parks would be safer if dogs were permitted and more single people would feel comfortable walking the trails.
Donna Klein, of 1080 Forest Cliff and head of a citizens committee seeking to allow dogs in the park, said Rocky River, Bay Village, and Cleveland all allow dogs in their parks. She claimed to have signatures from 680 Lakewood residents supporting a change in the rules. Klein said she may not have moved to Lakewood in the first place if she knew dogs were prohibited in city parks.
Coletta Graham, of 1286 Chase, felt dogs should be confined to the dog park, and not permitted in city parks. She questioned whether or not the city had the resources to monitor dog dropping violations and felt the situation would invite “mass confusion.”
“I really think this is just a bad idea,” she said.
Some city refuse workers spared the axe
Mayor Edward O. FitzGerald announced the union representing some of the refuse workers scheduled for termination due to the switch to automated front yard pick-up agreed to healthcare concessions. The concessions will allow the city to keep the employees on in other capacities. The union agreed to a 90/10 healthcare model adopted by the city’s other unions.
Correction: Some city refuse workers MAY be spared the axe
Correction: According to Lakewood Law Director Nora Hurley, the union will vote on the administration’s offer to stay the lay-offs in exchange for health care concessions on July 1st. The lay-offs are scheduled to go into effect on July 2nd.
City wants to give stray shopping carts to Easter Seals
Council had the second reading of a revised ordinance introduced by Public Works Director Joseph Beno to clear out the city’s inventory of approximately 60 stray shopping carts. The carts, currently residing behind the Refuse Dept. building, were unclaimed and the city no longer has an annual auction at which to dispose of them. Beno said there is little monetary value to be gained from recycling the carts, and wants to donate them to Easter Seals.
Income tax amnesty and more
Council heard the first reading of a couple of tax-related ordinances. One ordinance would create a tax amnesty period running from July 21st to September 30th to give debtors the “opportunity to resolve their delinquent income tax accounts without penalty.”
Another proposed ordinance would allow the city to enter into an agreement with the city of Cleveland for services related to collection of delinquent taxes and pursuit of non-filed returns.
Council also approved a resolution to keep property tax for 2010 to remain steady at 17.4 mills.
Judy Frankel donated graphic design services and brochures valued at over $1,000 to the city to support Dana’s Legacy, a program that allows the purchase of memorial plaques at city parks.
Eligible Lakewood senior citizens can get 10, $5 coupons towards the purchase of produce or honey from authorized participating farmers at roadside stands or farmers’ markets. The program is funded by the USDA and run through the Western Reserve Area Agency on Again.
There was a small reorganization in the human resources department. Two vacant positions, one full-time and one part-time, were consolidated into a new position at pay grade 27, $31,982 to $45,281
Consideration of a new D1 liquor license for El Tango Taqueria was deferred until the next meeting.
Mayor, councilperson fear traffic ‘precedent,’ ignore persistent Graber resident
Mary Mendyka, of 1440 Graber, made her third visit to council in an effort to get the small alley next to her house closed to traffic. “It’s been a long time for nothing to have been done,” she said. “Just close it.”
Her quest began in February when she presented council with a petition bearing the signatures of some of her neighbors. She produced the petition and collected signatures at the request her councilperson, Kevin Butler.
In April, an emotional and tearful Mendyka reappeared before council begging for relief from the disruptive traffic situation. The city had not taken any action on original request.
Mendyka said she has owned the house for 14 years and there used to be a sign prohibiting traffic. At one point, she claims, the alleyway was the property of the adjacent homeowners.
She indicated she’s been e-mailing Butler about the situation for three years. Butler admitted the delay in response is his fault.
“I don’t think a decision has been made,” Butler said. “From my perspective, it is a dangerous precedent to set [in closing a public right-of-way.]”
“Changing traffic patterns is a very tough issue,” he said. “It deserves some very serious consideration.”
Mayor FitzGerald explained he gets about two dozen requests per year to change traffic patterns. “By default, we don’t accede to those things,” he said.
FitzGerald said traffic is like water. If you block it off from one point, it will travel somewhere else and affect other people.
“Because of your councilman, we keep looking at it,” he said. “I’m still looking at it, and I have an open mind.”