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.

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Quick takes on Hudson City Council considerations, development, broadband, medical marijuana

City Council is on a two week break for the Fourth of July Holiday, a good time to catch up.  Here’s some additional perspective on some issues City Council has considered and will be working on for the rest of the year.

Downtown Development, Phase 2.  At Planning Commission June 26, the developer unveiled a concept plan with reduced office space, over 200 housing units, and a possible hotel.  I’m not impressed with what I’ve seen;  nothing has been formally presented for City Council, and these are related, in my opinion.  Hudson is laying out taxpayer funds to assemble these properties, and will undoubtedly be asked to pony up more as roads and possible parking structures are required.  Council had some income tax revenues calculated into this spending, but all of this seems to be immaterial to these plans.  We can’t say we want to maximize valuable downtown land by not locating city facilities there, and then propose some of the least generating options as the centerpiece.

Hudson leaves Community Block Grant Program.  This is a program administered by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Read more here. HUD makes the rules, if cities choose to accept their grant money they must play by their rules.  Their rules have changed a great deal since we joined in 1993. HUD now considers stormwater mitigation, landscaping buffers and sidewalks to be “barriers to affordable housing” that must be overcome.  Summit County administers the HUD plan.  The risk is the County and HUD could get us to change our standards  to accommodate low income housing.  The benefits lost are less than $50,000 a year, utilized by an average of 10 households in the past five years.  The rest of the social benefits that Hudson and the County would lose by our leaving (we voted 4-3 to leave on June 20) are greatly overstated, to be polite.  There are other programs that address addiction, senior care, veterans, etc. more effectively than HUD.

Relocation of City office to Terex Road PASCO site.   This is the most economical route to accommodate our city offices over building new.  Some would prefer a downtown location,  but land is too expensive there (unless you are building a taxpayer-subsidized apartment or hotel, apparently.)

Broadband.  You may have City Council recently approved plans to consider offering Velocity Broadband to businesses outside of Hudson but near our border. My concern was that we get some kind of income tax sharing if we are adding value to property  outside of Hudson.  City Council has committed millions upfront to Velocity as a business enhancement, neither these businesses nor their respective cities  contributed to that upfront funding.  You did not read that Council  turned down a proposal to expand Velocity to “home based businesses.”  My objection to the home based expansion is that it is a backdoor plan to offer residential service. I’m against residential service at this time because our limited Velocity footprint means only residents in the old village area would get the service for many years.   I said a few years ago in the is column, and it bears repeating:  for the foreseeable future, and without a significant outlay of more public funding, you stand a better chance to get broadband if you are Boston Heights business than a Hudson resident living outside the village limits.

Medical Marijuana facilities in Hudson. Don’t get too worked up over this. City Council already made a decision. All we will get from hearings is political and moral posturing, a few interesting sound bytes or quotes. Some will want to argue the merits of weed good or bad. Ohio has already decided this, medical marijuana is legal, nothing Hudson City Council or the Planning Commission can do will change this.  Council is allowed to decide whether or not they want grow facilities or retail locations (dispensaries) in town. We have a moratorium on granting permits until 1/1/2018. By January 2018 the interested parties will have secured locations and been granted licenses by the State of Ohio; they have to be operational by Sept. 2018. Even if Council somehow reverses three previous votes and decides to allow the marijuana business in Hudson, it will be moot.

Credit where credit is due on one Akron Water problem.  There are many facets to the ongoing dispute between the cities of Akron and Hudson over the water service Akron provides to some sections of Hudson. While the largest issue, the rates Akron charges, is still unresolved, there was one small recent victory to note. Many individuals and neighborhoods are unfortunately “collateral damage” in the dispute when it comes to neglected repairs and service, and the St. Andrews area was one of them. Read more here.  Many residents came to a Council meeting and made us aware of their almost weekly problems with line breaks and fire hydrants that have been out of service for years.  As a result, the respective attorneys met and allowed the respective service personnel to fix the broken hydrants and take steps to fix the ongoing line breaks. Kudos to Hudson City staff for responding, for Akron for cooperating and starting repairs and for the neighbors who politely but forcefully articulated their case.

Council Elections this fall. Three City Council seats at large are up. So far no one new has decided to run.  Some may read this as a sign that everyone’s pleased with the direction of City government. I’m too close to it to be able to tell. But I do think some new faces, some fresh perspectives would be good.

Comment on City and Schools plans on one night, in one place: Ward 3 Forum and Hudson Schools Community Forum both at Barlow Community Center May 31st

These are exciting times in Hudson. This spring the City of Hudson introduced some concepts for Phase 2 of the First & Main project in the area of Owen Brown St. and Morse Roads.

Also under consideration are new city facilities for Public Works and a City Hall building. We are beginning work on a revised and updated Land Development Code that could impact the look of many neighborhoods, and sidewalks and paths are moving closer from concepts to construction.

At the same time, Hudson City Schools have introduced a new Master Facilities Plan which involves the future of school buildings and the grounds for the next few decades.

Public input is always welcome; it is an unusual opportunity for residents to comment on both City and Schools plan in one night, in one place.

  • Spring Ward 3 Forum Wednesday, May 31st starting at 7:00 PM at the Barlow Community Center.

  • Hudson City Schools Master Facilities Plan Community Forum, May 31st from 6:30-8:00 PM at Barlow Community Center.

Read more details on this under the Events tab.

Consider applying for a City board position if you want to make a difference in Hudson

Hudson has a quite a few seats coming open on City Boards and Commissions this spring.  It may be a great opportunity if you want to make an impact in your community, even if you don’t have a great deal of time or experience. The only requirement of most Boards is that you’ve lived in Hudson for two years and you are a registered voter.board

The level volunteerism in Hudson amazes me. At the top of the list are the contributions of our volunteer EMS and Fire staffs. We all benefit from the  high level of quality and hours provided by the mostly volunteer staff in Safety services. As an aside, if you want to learn more about EMS, or thank a member, stop by the EMS Open House this Saturday May 10 from 11AM – 3PM. Fire or EMS volunteer work is not for everyone; we have many “desk jobs” on or boards and commissions.  Most board seats are limited to three, 4-year terms in order to assure we always have new faces and voices advising and assisting City Council.

City Council appoints over 60 citizens to seats on ten City Boards or Commissions. Collectively they give back on average of 6000 hours of service each year to Hudson. Can you spare a few hours and want to make a difference?  It’s not that hard, and judging by the number who re-apply and those that serve 12 years and “termed out,” most find it rewarding!

I’ve pasted the details from the City of Hudson website below, which includes links for more info and an application. These Boards are an extension of City Council functions, and members are appointed by City Council after an interview session.

Here’s my quick take on the open board positions, ranked not by importance, but rather time commitment.

TREE COMMISSION. Time involved: Less than 6 hours a month. Meets monthly (last Thursday).  Good board to “get your feet wet” and find out if serving on city boards is for you. No particular knowledge of horticulture or biology required (there are plenty of training opportunities once you are a member.) The City has an arborist; the Board’s role is more of an advocate for trees, advisory role to Council, and an educational resource for the Community. The Tree Commission was instrumental in advocating for street trees in the new Main Street project, for example.

PARK BOARD. Time involved: 6+ hours a month. Currently meets 6x a year (third Monday), active monthly subcommittee meetings on specific areas. With 1128 acres spread across 20 City parks, the Board balances active and passive park interests. It advises City Council on uses of a $1.5 million park budget and recommends long term strategies. With many “moving parts,” subcommittees have included Finance, Playgrounds/Ball fields, Trails, and Environment so there are many way to contribute.

ARCHITECTURAL AND HISTORIC BOARD OF REVIEW, also ARCH Board or AHBR. Time involved: 10+ hours of month. Meets 1-2x month depending on work load (second and fourth Wednesdays).  The Architectural and Historic Board of Review (AHBR) reviews and approves/disapproves applications for zoning certificates other than for industrial buildings in industrial zones. The AHBR also issues certificates of appropriateness to construct, alter, remove or demolish structures, buildings or landmarks within any historic district. The AHBR maintains the high character of the community and protects public health, safety, and welfare. It reviews projects against the Architectural Design Standards. Members don’t need a background in architecture, planning or design, but are expected to do a fair amount of “homework” by reviewing cases before the meeting.

Hints when you are applying:  Put down more than one board you may be interested in. We frequently will have more qualified candidates than slots for one board, but we may find that an applicant also would work on another board, and when a vacancy comes open, we appoint them to their second or third choice.  Do your homework about the board before the interview. Read the meeting minutes, look at the agendas, and if possible, view a view minutes of the minutes of their meetings online.

City Council will have three at large seats up for election this November if you would like to join us and serve that way. Go to the Summit County Board of Elections http://www.summitcountyboe.com/Default.aspx in Akron to get started with filing to run for office.

If you want more info, you may also call or write me.  Good luck!

(from city website:)

Council Accepting Applications for Boards and Commissions

Hudson relies on volunteer boards and commissions as part of its government process. City Council is accepting applications for openings on the following boards and commissions:

Please complete the online Boards and Commissions Application to apply to be considered for one of these openings. Alternatively, residents may print and fill out an application and return it to the Clerk of Council at City Hall, 115 Executive Parkway, Suite 400. The forms are available at the link below.

To qualify for a board or commission position, applicants must be a Hudson resident for at least two years prior to the appointment and remain a resident during the entire term. Only registered voters will be considered for the openings.

To learn about each board or commission, visit the Boards and Commissions page. For questions regarding the application, please call Hudson Clerk of Council Elizabeth Slagle at 330-342-1795

Problem in your Neighborhood? Tell us about it!

Road conditions, stormwater conditions and questions about sidewalks and paths are the most frequent concerns residents share with City Council members.  While City staff monitors these conditions, it is a good idea if Council members can see first-hand critical issues and potential long-term (and big ticket) items for future discussion.  This is the rationale behind the Annual City Council Road Tour.   While we travel a predetermined route, set by the City Engineer, we can and do make “side trips” to look at local conditions that may be pointed out by members or residents.

I’m sharing this year’s Road Tour route to prompt any suggestions on certain conditions we should consider. Please send them to me akelemen@hudson.oh.us before Saturday at 9AM and we’ll try to have a look as a group. If you can’t get it to me before then, no problem, please send them anyway.  It will still get attention, we just won’t see it as a group.

We will discuss all the findings of the Road Tour back at Townhall later that morning, and that meeting will be televised. I will provide a link later on at this site.

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4/25 City Council Meeting Updates

We had an interesting couple of recent City Council meetings. I have some opinions that diverge from some on Council on issues like accepting the Hudson Elementary land “donation,” the focus of Phase 2, and the contributions City Council can and should have in long-term City plans. More on those as they develop after future meetings.

In the meantime, if you like following spirited Town Hall discussions, follow the link below to the video of our April 25 Workshop. The main topic was an analysis of our Public Works Division, which employs a majority of our employees and is about 50% of our budget.   It is a 2.5 hour meeting, but you can go to the 1:55 mark to pick up the conversation and debate – whether trying to understand the functions of a department that touches so many residents and has such a large percentage of the budget somehow shows a lack of “trust” in what they do.  As someone who has only worked in the private sector for over 35 years and has supervised staff I find this assertion truly bizarre. I can only conclude that there are some on staff and City Council who must think we are elected to only pass resolutions and wait for items to be brought to our attention. Not what I signed on for! Watch for yourself  

Thoughts on Flags, both the City-kind and the Red ones

two flagsThere was a routine piece of legislation 17-46 at the last City Council meeting (3/21/17). It was an ordinance repealing the Code section designating an official City Flag.  The same evening we passed another piece of legislation 17-38 – a two- year economic development electric rate extension agreement with Allstate Insurance. I asked for clarification on the flag legislation, and the short discussion that followed ended up as a front page story in the Hudson Hub-Times, with nothing reported on the rate extension.

The rate extension extends the two year period for a special electric rate we originally offered Allstate for business retention.  They are one of our largest employers, so it is not unheard of to offer a special rate as incentive to retain jobs and taxes.  If you look at the kilowatt rate stated in the legislation, it is less than the cost the City pays for the power wholesale.  The difference is a loss in the hundreds of thousands per year. This is important, more important than retaining or eliminating a city flag. But one you read about, the other not.

I am not arguing against a discounted rate; Allstate generates critical income taxes and property taxes and stability to the community.  What I am saying is when you read about Council actions they often seems trivial because it is easier to report that type of news.  The bigger, complex  issues often don’t make the paper, or are lost in the meeting if you are watching. I don’t blame the paper or reporters; I find it difficult to share this type of info without going into pages of detail.

City Council has initiated extended departmental reviews in an effort to understand dynamics of our City budget in issues like electric rates for Allstate and how broadband may help our tax base.  Hudson City Council operates at a disadvantage compared to our neighboring Councils like Twinsburg , Stow and Boston Heights.  Those Councils assign areas of responsibility and oversight into committees. That affords them the opportunity to go into more detail on departmental operations.  We have chosen to go at it with a “Committee of the Whole” format (we call them”Workshops”) which limits the amount of time to the two to two-half hour segments along with all the routine business we discuss.  The reviews are a step in a direction to gaining more information for better Council decisions.

We are concerned about “flags” on Hudson Council –operational “red flags,” or maybe “yellow flags” if you are a race fan.  We’ve seen a few of both in the past five years. They represent critical decision points, opportunities where we as your appointed representatives have to stake out a direction.  I tell residents that if we (Council and staff) are doing our jobs correctly, Council is really not governing in 2017, but rather 2022 or 2027. The present day issues are mostly operational, and staff does a good job handling those.  We are paying attention to potential cautionary “flags,” on the road ahead.  The warning for the public is that is doesn’t make for a very compelling headline or riveting television.  Just know we are concerned with more than “city flags,” even if you don’t hear about it much!

Medical Marijuana facilities in Hudson put off again…probably for good this time.

City Council passed 5-1 (Weinstein-no, Wooldredge-amed-mjbsent) an ordinance continuing a six month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities in Hudson until September, 2017.  This likely means Hudson will not be the home to a medical marijuana grow facility.

The question of permitting a grow facility was a topic at my recent Ward 3 Forum.  We had a good public discussion, with several interesting points of view. One was from a local author, Susan Terkel, who authored several books on the topic, including  “Should Drugs be Legalized?” The majority opinion that night was similar to this email I received the next day:

“Good Morning….Thank you for your service….Thank you for taking the time to listen to your constituents….Thank you for discussing a controversial topic in a fair and balanced way…… I strongly oppose the operation Of any type of government sanctioned marijuana centers …”

Some of the discussion at the Ward 3 Forum was the same type of comment I hear today, discussing the merits of medical marijuana. That is not the issue. The Ohio Legislature already decided last year that medical marijuana was to be legal in Ohio. The only decision left to municipalities was whether or not to allow its manufacturing and retail locations (dispensaries) in their communities. Not having a grow facility or dispensary in Hudson will not limit the accessibility for anyone in Hudson who needs it and is allowed to use it.

Immediately after the state law took effect, Hudson followed the lead of many cities and unanimously passed a six-month moratorium on any decision as to allow or restrict, pending the release of more details from the state regulatory authorities. That original moratorium expires March 6, 2017.  We voted last night to “punt” on the decision for another six months. As far as growing facilities are concerned, due to the timing of permits and lead time to build, a 6-month moratorium is tantamount to saying we don’t want that facility.

This  article does a good job explaining how the grow industry works and why that marijuana ship has now sailed for Hudson.  It’s about a proposed site in Eastlake, a city that is open to a grow facility, and has received a full proposal and details about the operations.

Hudson was under consideration for a grow site this winter, but then the proposal was withdrawn.  While those details are not public, the Eastlake article goes into detail on what we may have missed.

A 25,000 sq. ft capacity grow facility is currently the largest allowable site, one of 14 to be permitted statewide.  The Eastlake group is proposing that size,  with 30-50 employees projected and a payroll of $1.5 million. The payroll tax, if it were located in Hudson, would be $30,000 a year, plus property taxes to the schools, and income from fees.  This means the average job pays $30k, hardly high end tech. The building itself would be about 60,00o sq. ft. The Eastlake developer says they need a site selected in time for a June application deadline, with plans and construction to begin in September, 2017 –right about the time our moratorium ends. By the time Hudson City Council acts again on whether or how to allow grow facilities, the growers and sites will have been determined. No great loss as far as I’m concerned.

Some say that Council’s opposition to facilities in town is putting morals or personal attitudes about marijuana above public health or economic development. The economic development upside is not that great.  Council is able to choose whether we want this type of business because Ohio grants cities that privilege with this new legal industry.  I‘m not enthused about the downsides of association with the “growing” marijuana industry. How do we promote a program  on “Nobody Starts with Heroin” one night and cash the check from the marijuana industry the next day?  If Ohio gave City Councils the right to prohibit a tobacco grow facility, a distillery, or gun range, I would feel the same about all those legal enterprises—adults can feel free to indulge, and other cities can profit, but they are businesses I would rather not have in Hudson.

Apparently I’m not alone on the issue. You can’t gauge public opinion by letters to the editor, Facebook “likes” or tweets. The best indicators are voters at the polls. There was a state ballot issue in 2015 that would have legalized marijuana both medically and recreationally.  The number of proposed grow facilities was considerably less than permitted under the current law, but one of them would have been in Hudson. Hudson stood to gain significantly more in taxes under that 2015 proposal than it would now. Hudson voters rejected the issue by a 3 to 1 margin.

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For more on City Council actions at the February 7th meeting, including the results of the NEORSD stormwater vote, see “Notes from the most Recent Meeting

A reminder – I’m available to address your neighbor group or homeowners association. I’d love to come out and chat with you for a few minutes. I have two slated so far this winter, send me an email or call me with your invite!