When budget time and political season intersect much is left unsaid

The City of Hudson is in a strong financial position. For many, that’s all they need to know about our City budget.  So let’s stipulate that from the start.

There are some challenges City Council faces as we begin the annual budget process, but those are challenges of

shell

conflicting priorities. Unfortunately, every other year the budget process coincides with City Council elections, and the subtext of an election may affect what is discussed.  Aspirations are represented in the 5 year forecast, but the solutions and hard decisions wait until after November 7th.

Consider Phase 2.  I wanted to have a serious discussion about the direction, the size, the look, and most importantly, how much the City would have to contribute to the project.  The majority of Council thought it was too soon, a discussion was deferred until later in November, after the Election.

Road improvements?  Same thing.  We know the City will have to put more into maintaining our roads, but projects like Broadband have limited our ability to borrow.

The only way to fund all of our priorities is a tax increase. But we won’t use those words because that’s strong medicine.  Better to hide it in a term like “income tax credit reduction,” and wait until after the Elections to bring it back for consideration.

Not the best way to do a budget, but that’s where we are.

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Ward 3 Forum – Fall Edition.

Monday, Oct. 30 7 PM Barlow Community Center.  

Come out and share your thoughts and questions about anything City-related. Good opportunity for Q&A. We usually get a good group and most residents tell me they enjoy it, and come back. It is political season, and I am running, but this is not a political rally.

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City Council endorses Schools Facilities Issue 30, but did we need to tell citizens how to vote?

Remind me …Why do we need more Housing Density in Hudson Phase 2?

It was the leading topic at my August Ward 3 Forum, and it isn’t even in Ward 3. Here’s why I think we need to hit “reset” connected to community

At the last Council Workshop (Sept. 12) I asked that the process for development in Phase 2 come back to City Council for a discussion, since the first time it was on our meeting horizon was an executive session (not open to the public) scheduled for mid-November.  Members present agreed it was a good idea to discuss the process again in an open meeting.

My request comes out of my recent Ward Forum, where there were many questions and concerns, and a proposal I made that had some traction with the group.

It may be too late to make any serious changes, despite resident concerns. One of the many questions about Phase 2 was “do you think the City will have an agreement in place with Testa (the proposed developer) by the end of the year?”

My answer was “no,” given what I know about the number of meetings we have scheduled, both private and public.  But Assistant City Manager Sheridan’s answer was  “yes.”

There were a many questions raised at my meeting, answered here in bold with what I know. (Disclaimer: I am not speaking for the City of Hudson, nor City Council. I may not be correct, it is subject to what I understand and believe)

1.) How much has the City spent on development, including purchase of Windstream, building a new bus garage, relocating the salt dome, relocating HPP, etc.?  I am not sure. I asked staff for this number a few weeks ago, hasn’t been presented yet.

2.) What will the developer pay for in terms of infrastructure improvements, parking etc, and can these be made public?  Still to be determined, and yes, I think the costs will be made public, but perhaps after the agreement is signed.

3.) How will traffic on Owen Brown be handled to preserve the neighborhood.  Also TBD.

4.) Who will pay to pay to mitigate the extra traffic on Prospect and other feeder streets? Likely the City. 

5.) Concerned that  architectural standards will not be the same as Phase 1 and town character?  Phase 1 was built as a frame and character built around it. We will get to the outside “skin,” right now we are focused on what will be “inside” (apartments, townhomes, offices, retail) because that drives viability and costs and returns. 

6.) Can’t we build a park/ rec center/nature preserve in the Phase 2 spot and build the development out at the old YDC?  We are too far down the road for that, too much has been invested. The question now is how will we make the development work.  Phase 2 was not as high on my priority list as other projects, like commercial development at YDC, but City Council as a whole voted to move forward with Phase 2 as a priority. The vote was taken, the decision has been made, and I am committed to making the Phase 2 project a success both financially, since tax money is going into it, and with the community, that has to live with the results. It doesn’t mean I buy into the whole premise. 

The Million Dollar Question (though the number is far higher, to be sure) is “Why so much Density?”  Why don’t you build something that is familiar to us, that mirrors what we have instead of this plan? 

The City’s answer, if you follow the website, is “it was in the 1995 and 2015 Comprehensive Plans, and in the long range plans for Phase 1.”

My answer at the Ward Forum was “It was in the 1995 Plan and 2015 Plan, so what, it’s not subject to change now?” It’s not some kind of Scripture, handed down from on high.  I sat on 2015 Comp Plan committee, and I can tell you the community input was minimal, as you would expect on a conceptual plan for the next 20-30 years. This current proposal is reality, and it is coming up fast. There is a great deal more community input now, doesn’t that count for more than a vision from 20+ years ago?

I suggested that we go with what we know on the residential portion of Phase 2. Instead of the housing density proposed by Testa for the Morse-Owen Brown corner, we open that parcel up for another Villas of Hudson type development, right next to the existing Villas. Realtors tell me the Villas is a hot property, people know it, they like it. Those attending seemed supportive of that proposal. It is still more dense than single family construction, but about half the density of the proposed apartments and townhomes. There is room for another Villas sized development there, along with the “boulevard” treatment of Owen Brown between Morse and the railroad that flows into commercial/office south of Owen Brown. A Villas-type development clearly attracts empty-nesters, but may not attract young professionals.

villas to phase 2

I question the premise on the website that somehow Hudson has to accommodate young professionals. The site calls this part of “workforce development” when most of this proposed “workforce” will come home every night and leave their income tax in their work city rather than the City of Hudson.  The idea that Hudson will create a nightlife and attractions equivalent to those of Cleveland or Akron that is so much a part of a “live-work-play” lifestyle is ludicrous. We don’t have to be all things to all people.

Is it too late for a “reset?” City Council may not have the opportunity for serious discussions of the direction. Council and the public may have to wait until after an agreement is drafted later this fall. If that is the course of action, it is too late. If you are concerned about the direction of Phase 2, come to a Council meeting and tell us to keep talking about this publicly.

 

Let’s talk about Phase 2 and other Hudson issues Monday night at Barlow

Ward 3 Community Forum

Monday, August 28, 2017

7:00 – 8:30 PM – Barlow Community Center, 41 S. Oviatt St.

Let’s talk about Phase 2 Plans, EMS funding, the proposed development on Stow Road, medical marijuana in Hudson, broadband, whatever’s on your mind. You set the agenda! Should medical marijuana facilities be permitted in Hudson?  Its one of the topics we may discuss at the next Ward 3 Forum. 

Please join me for the summer townhall-style community meeting.  Come anytime, stay as late as you like. Though I’ll be sharing some news on developments in Ward 3, all residents are welcome to attend and discuss any issues relating to Hudson.

I’m available to update you on some topics in the news –  broadband, road repairs, park improvements, road projects.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Ward 3 Rezoning Request withdrawn, PC votes against Medical Marijuana, Ward 3 Forum Aug 28

Quick takes on a few issues, A Ward Forum Reminder and I am running for Council again.

Planning Commission is the first stop for consideration of land use issues, and PC this week deferred one issue and advanced another.  The property owner requesting a change in zoning for the property on Stow Road at the Turnpike withdrew that request before the Planning Commission meeting on Monday. The request was to change the zoning district and the definition of “density” to allow for multi-family units to be built there.  The issue is dead unless the owner or developer files another request, which would restart the PC/Hearing/Council process.

The other issue before Planning Commission was to render an opinion on whether to allow medical marijuana grow facilities or dispensaries in Hudson. The Commission voted 5-1 to recommend to City Council to not allow these facilities. Council is free to vote for or against after a public hearing and meeting next fall.  A “no” vote does not prohibit Hudson doctors from prescribing nor patients from using medical marijuana. It only limits where it can be grown or sold.  The applications are already in for growers. The state announced Summit County will have a total of three dispensaries. Logically, at least one would be in Akron, probably another south, and one north in our area.  Either way, dispensaries would not be as prevalent as a CVS, patients would be expected to travel a few miles.

I’m hosting another Ward 3 Forum on Monday Aug. 28 at 7 PM at Barlow Community Center. If you are blogsite reader, please consider this a special invitation to come out and say hi. We can discuss Ward 3 issues, or city issues, the audience decides the agenda. We can discuss downtown Phase 2 or anything else. Lots of give and take.

You may have read I am running for Council at Large this fall. I am proud to serve Ward 3, and will continue to work for you regardless of the election.  I’m running because I believe new voices on Council are needed. Clearly what we have now is not working for some in Hudson. If voters agree, if they like my approach and elect me to Council at Large, a new person would be appointed to fill the two years left on my Ward 3 term.  I would represent residents throughout Hudson for four more years.

Why you’ve not heard much from City Council on Phase Two, EMS ballot and proposed housing on Stow Road

City Council learned of revised plans for Phase Two from Testa Companies, the City’s proposed development partner,  at the August 1 Council meeting.  The new plans were based on input from Open Houses and group meetings.  Afterwards,  severalDocument (1) residents shared their questions and concerns.   Many commented that the plans presented by Testa development firm did not “fit Hudson,” that we were making a traffic problem downtown worse with more development, and that we were “moving too fast” with plans.

Since height and density were common issues, I asked that we see a comparison of the new plans with existing city blocks and neighborhoods. Density in particular is a concept that often has negative connotations, not just in Hudson. Here’s a good description of the concept.

It may seem that we are moving fast, but from my perspective, the more detail we can see in proposals, the better feel we will have about Testa. Keep in mind that we have no agreement with Testa, all this can be see an “audition” for actually hiring them once we know whether what they propose fits our collective vision and our cost parameters. As I said in the meeting, this is “our” (Hudson’s) project — not one being laid out on private property.

Council may decide it wants to go in a different direction. It’s not unheard of –the City of Cleveland Heights just parted company with Fairmount Properties when they couldn’t agree on the vision for a mixed-use development like ours land that has been vacant for decades. Fairmount may be familiar to Hudson readers – they are responsible for First & Main and were a bidder on Phase Two.

So there’s much to discuss yet. I have concerns, as do other Council members. With more details on construction and financing we will get closer to a finished project.

The public sessions on Phase Two are over, but if you would still like to comment and question plans, you are invited to my next Ward Three Forum, 7 PM Monday Aug 28 at Barlow Community Center.  We normally focus on Ward 3 issues, but I will make time once Ward questions are asked to have a Q&A about Phase Two. Full disclosure – I was not a leading proponent of the priority for Phase Two or need for housing.  Since a majority of Council voted to go forward and we have invested in the process, I am committed to make it a success.

We may also discuss the proposed housing on Stow Road at the Turnpike and future funding for EMS if the audience that night wants to know more. For a summary of where we are presently, see my link to Notes from the Recent Council meeting.

Reports may give false impression Hudson EMS service could be compromised

EMS Life supportTo paraphrase Mark Twain, “reports of the critical condition of Hudson EMS are greatly exaggerated.”

“Hudson EMS on life support; plan proposed” reads the headline of the July 17, 2017 Hudson Hub-Times.  The story opens  with “The Emergency Medical Service needs resuscitation or it will be in crisis, a city committee reports.”

This could put some unnecessary uncertainty into many residents, particularly those who may be in poor health and their caregivers who may worry that EMS services could somehow be compromised.

I want to state upfront, that  I believe all of Council and staff will do anything necessary to assure the continued level of support of Emergency Medical Services that Hudson residents have come to expect.  Period.

Everything else is a discussion of how we go about funding that service.  I feel EMS service, along with other safety services, is Job 1 of any City.  We will find a way to get it done.

The story goes on to do a good job of explaining the results of a City committee report –that levels of volunteers are down, and that revenues have failed to keep pace with our expenses.  As the report explains, EMS revenues come from two sources, roughly 2/3 from a portion of the City Income Tax and the remainder from billing of health insurance where applicable.

In recent years we have added a third source, money from the general fund.  This is our “backup,” and the City’s general fund is healthy. We are able hire the recommended staff now to provide the coverage, so as I said, there is no crisis when it comes to level of care.

The income tax allocation was put in place by Hudson voters in 2004, replacing specific property tax levies that had dedicated purposes. The City Income Tax increased from the existing 1% to 2% with portions allocated to Parks, Schools, Fire and EMS. The solution that was proposed was to pool the Fire and EMS allocation to allow more discretion in future funding.

Again, please read the news story for details.  I note that the online version linked here has been rewritten from the print edition, with a “toned-down” headline and lede paragraph.

The issue for me is that this has been brought to our attention with only days to consider before must take action.  Council can’t act on the change, but it must pass legislation to go the Board of Elections before August 9th for the issue to be on the November 2017 ballot and the funding to be available in 2018.  As I said at the July 11 Workshop, working under a tight deadline does not promote a thoughtful discussion and understanding of the problem.  I had hoped that we were working towards  getting a better perspective on the long-term challenges facing the City, to avoid just this type of situation.  Council has known EMS staffing and funding was an issue, but not to the extent presented on July 11th.  That structure is in critical condition, to bring us back to the start.  It needs more discussion and understanding before November.