City hosts second town hall meeting

By DANIEL HERATY
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS – A proposed amendment override, and ways to fix the city’s budget were the topics of discussion at a second town hall meeting held Sept. 26.

An estimated 700 residents filled a gymnasium in the Richard A. Young Recreation Center, 5400 McKinley, for the event, which followed one held Sept. 19, to hear Mayor Daniel Paletko and City Councilors discuss the proposed override of the 1978 Headlee Amendment, which requires that voters approve any tax increase not authorized by charter before the amendment was adopted. It also prohibits state officials from reducing state-funded programs and reducing state spending below 41.6 percent, set in fiscal year 1978-79.

The measure will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Voters will be asked to approve a proposed three-mill tax increase that would help eliminate a $5 million budget shortfall for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which started July 1. The tax increase would generate about $3.4 million for the general fund, sanitation fund and the Police and Fire departments.

Councilwoman Marge Horvath said the override will determine the future of the city.

“If the override fails, the possibilities of what could happen are pretty abysmal,” She said. “The city could be assigned an emergency financial manager and all of us (councilors) could be gone.”

Under state law, an EFM can terminate collective bargaining agreements and recommend bankruptcy proceedings, in addition to changing or eliminating local governments.

Paletko said the main reason for the loss of funds had been a decline in property values, which he said have dropped 28 percent since June 2010, adding up to a $4.1 million loss, which he called unprecedented and devastating.

“The last two years, we have experienced double-digit declines in property values,” Paletko said. “We have people selling homes for under $10,000. I never thought people would be selling homes for under $10,000 in 2011.”

Treasurer John Riley Jr. said average property values are expected to drop another seven percent on average in 2012.

Paletko said the proposed override is just one measure to solve the problem. Other measures taken to help eliminate the deficit include layoffs of about 69 full-time staffers since June 2010, a 10 percent wage concession from all city employees and non-emergency building closures for Fridays.

Resident Susan Smith said a possible solution to the budget problem would be to grow businesses in the city.

“We have to make something attractive for people to come here,” she said. “It takes leadership and vision, looking to other cities (in the same predicament) to see what they’ve done.”

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com.)