Issue 38 will mean cuts to city services: by Charles Slife
Sep 25, 2023
This editorial was published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and on cleveland.com
CLEVELAND - This November, Clevelanders will vote on a proposed charter amendment seeking . If it is passed, City Hall would need to set aside an amount equal to 2% of the General Fund, estimated at $14 million, for PB.
Then, a paid 11-person panel, appointed by the mayor and City Council, would accept spending proposals. Residents aged 13 and older who choose to participate would then vote on a short list of proposals to spend down the money.
PB proponents aim to boost civic participation, which is a commendable goal that I share as council member for Ward 17. Yet I cannot support PB as proposed. If it passes, city services will suffer. That is unacceptable.
This is not a case of fearmongering or a politician clinging to power. Rather, impacts to city services and jobs are an inevitable outcome when one weighs the city’s financial position against Ohio law requiring a balanced budget.This is not a case of fearmongering or a politician clinging to power. Rather, impacts to city services and jobs are an inevitable outcome when one weighs the city’s financial position against Ohio law requiring a balanced budget.This is not a case of fearmongering or a politician clinging to power. Rather, impacts to city services and jobs are an inevitable outcome when one weighs the city’s financial position against Ohio law requiring a balanced budget.
I encourage Cleveland voters to join me and vote “no.”
Understanding the ramifications of PB requires a crash course on the General Fund. Simply put, it is the city’s checking account that collects revenue sources (largely income taxes) to fund city services. It pays for police, paramedics, pothole repair, and park maintenance.
Three-quarters of the General Fund pays salaries and benefits for public employees, who deliver services and are organized across 34 bargaining units.
City services do not fall from the sky. They are provided by garbage collectors, firefighters, snowplow drivers, and lifeguards (and many more).
The General Fund is not the city’s only money. But, and this is critical, it is its most flexible. This is why the General Fund is the only realistic source of dollars for PB.
Proponents want PB to pay for “programmatic and capital expenses,” which typically get funding from non-General Fund accounts that have spending restrictions.
PB would require council to set aside millions of dollars before end uses are defined and without knowing whether those uses will align or conflict with various eligibility, timeline, and legal requirements. In other words, PB requires maximum flexibility, which only the General Fund can offer.
To reiterate, by law Cleveland must have a balanced General Fund. Gathering $14 million can only happen by making $14 million in cuts.
That is not hysteria. It is accounting.
A 2% cut to departmental budgets sounds modest. But for example, a 2% cut to EMS would take an ambulance out of service. Are PB proponents prepared to suggest which neighborhood should lose a ambulance for yet-to-be determined projects?
Residents express frustration that parks and vacant lots are not mowed frequently enough. Cutting the Public Works’ budget will not help grass-cutting, it will hinder it.
It is easy to suggest how to spend money when one can avoid answering the all-important question: What city services are to be sacrificed for PB?
The General Fund primarily pays workers, and $14 million is tantamount to cutting 140 positions from the budget.
City workers are already asked to deliver more with fewer resources. PB would intensify this by expecting them to do even more with even less.
In 2016, Cleveland voters raised our income tax rate with the promise of improved city services. Council members receive calls, emails, and messages throughout the day. If you ask any member of council what is on residents’ minds, the answer will be “city services.”
I proudly represent Cleveland’s highest voter-turnout ward and work tirelessly to increase voter turnout further. I welcome increased partnership in this important work.
However, PB is not a path to growing civic participation and trust. It is a recipe for exacerbating mistrust of City Hall as residents see their city services decline. I encourage Clevelanders to vote “no” on Participatory Budgeting in November.