Hudson doesn’t need NEORSD’s Stormwater Plan Web

Like the spider in the poem, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) entices Hudson to sign a contract and get $110,000 anspider-to-the-flyd “assistance” in handling stormwater projects.  Like the poor fly, once we sign on, we’re stuck, and who knows what consequences it will have for First & Main Phase 2 or development of the YDC property.

City Council will reconsider a tabled resolution authorizing us to enter a “Regional Stormwater Management Program Agreement” which allows us to receive assistance in stormwater-related planning, inspection, emergency response and construction activities in downtown and the northeast section of Hudson – the Brandywine Creek watershed.

The program is funded by stormwater “fees” charged to all property owners in the district. NEORSD is able to run this program because the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that they had the authority. The lawsuit was brought by several communities, including Hudson, as well as developers and landowners.

Having lost in court, Hudson and other communities are forced into a “shotgun wedding” – to sign an agreement with NEORSD that gives us 25% of the fees back to use in Hudson on Brandywine projects.  This is the $110,000 a year, and I am willing to pass up this “offer” because it comes with too many potential “strings.”   If we vote “no,” to the agreement, the residents still pay the fee, but NEORSD keeps its hands off Hudson. Approve it, and there’s a potential that Hudson may have to wait for NEORSD’s approval of developments like the Barlow Community Center pond improvements, the look of Phase 2 downtown, or determining how, if at all, we develop an office park at the YDC site. All of these are in the NEORSD management area.

What we give up if we sign is the right of NEORSD to review our plans, and we have to comply with “Title V” of their Code.  These are the “webs” that will be our legacy.  Right now they are just reviews and consultation, but there is a strong possibility that will change, with only the Courts between us and a new set of planners and regulators. History has shown us that NEORSD plays by its own rules. What starts as theoretical discussions today, small steps to agree to oversight,  form legally binding associations tomorrow, especially when dollars start flowing.  Welcome to the web, Mr. Fly.

NEORSD started stormwater discussions over 10 years ago as an advisory group. Our Mayor participated in those discussions in the spirit of regionalism, and it ended up working against us when we tried to argue in court that we were not part of the proposed stormwater district when it finally came together.  The State Legislature created Wastewater Districts in 1971; it took until 2015 for the Courts to rule “stormwater” was the same as “wastewater” and gave NEORSD a new political authority that it created for itself.

Who knows what new authority to regulate development  “Title V” will give NEORSD in the future. There is an active school of thought in Cleveland planning circles that all their problems would be solved if only development (“sprawl”) could be curtailed and more activity channeled into the central city areas.  The NEORSD stormwater fund may be managing water on the surface, but what is really flowing downstream to Cleveland  is our wealth and our power.

2017 Promises Changes and Opportunities for Hudson

happy-new-year2017 will be an important year in Hudson.  Certain years stand out in the progress of a City, and next year will be one of those years. Decisions we make next year will shape the way our City will look for many years. As the issues present themselves, we will have many topics to discuss, there will opportunities for public meetings, campaigns will be run, and some of us may choose to take a more active role in City Government. We will see some projects starting to take shape, and endure more construction and some changes in our routines and holiday traditions.

A year from now, the City and School facilities at the corner of Owen Brown and Prospect will hopefully be vacated to new locations on Hudson Drive, setting the stage for demolition and later construction of First & Main Phase 2.  We will be discussing what that development may look like in the course of meetings during 2017.

2017 will also see the completion of the Main Street construction project, with the finishing touches going in to the southern portion constructed this year, and work moving  to the section from Clinton St. north to Owen Brown in the spring.  What you see there now is just the portion wrapped up for the season. Expect the finished project by the summer. At the same time, work will begin on improvements to the Prospect St. intersection.  Stay tuned for potential impacts to the Memorial Day Parade.

We already know that the Taste of Hudson is returning in 2017 in a slightly different form. Hopefully all the enjoyable elements remain, while minimizing the impacts on residents and businesses.

The City will consider part of the former Youth Development Center property for a service facility next year, and perhaps proposals for the remaining developable portion will come forward.  Business development elsewhere in Hudson looks promising; with announcements expected soon.

The question of emergency dispatch services may be resolved in 2017.  The State of Ohio has put increased demands on personnel and equipment that will require some hard decisions at the local level.  Ohio is pushing municipalities to consolidate dispatch services, and their

The election calendar will be busy in 2017, with several ballot issues and many local offices up for vote.

The Hudson City Schools have already announced a 1.5 mill PIF levy for the May ballot.  There is also the possibility that the Schools Master Facilities Plan may require a levy later in the year.  The Master Facilities Plan discussion includes determining the future for the current Middle School, which should be another discussion topic for 2017.  While the City is ready to assist in the discussion and planning for future uses, it bears repeating that the City of Hudson has no interest in using the building for current City operations.

The City Council put off a vote on tax increase of its own for the May ballot. It still has a chance of reappearing for the May or November ballots if Council votes in favor. The issue would remove a portion of the income tax credit that Hudson residents receive if they work outside of Hudson.  Currently, if a resident pays at least a 2% local tax through their employer to their work city, no tax is owed Hudson.  The proposal, which a Council vote would put on the ballot for voter approval, would reduce that credit, increasing the local taxes paid and providing the difference to Hudson.

If City Council approves that issue for a vote, Hudson voters could be facing both a School tax issue and a City tax issue on the same ballot in 2017.

The majority of both City Council and School Board are up for election in 2017. Voters will be asked to elect 3 out of 5 School Board members;  4 out of 7 City Council seats also up in November.  What will City Council and School Board look like in 2018? That depends on who steps up to run, and what the voters decide.

Happy New Year! Should be an interesting one in Hudson!

A tax abatement fails, then later passes, a Council vote on October 18. Here’s why I voted “No.”

Resolution 16-160 entering into a CRA agreement with Hudson 21 LLC. The exemption is for 50% of the assessed value of the project for 15 years.

I voted “no” on this abatement, as I feel this deal hurts our school system in terms of lost revenue, lost opportunity and unnecessarily complicates the working relationship between the City of Hudson and the Hudson City School District.

The Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) Program is a direct incentive tax exemption program benefiting property owners constructing new buildings.  This program permits municipalities or counties to designate areas where investment has been discouraged as a CRA to encourage the development of new structures.

City Councils are entrusted to make a judgment call on CRAs of this size and scope without an affirmative vote from the affected school boards. School systems receive most of the money from property taxes, so in essence we are voting as to whether or not to give away a portion of their future revenue.  It is not a call we should make lightly, and not be given out to every developer as an opening bargaining position.

The size of this development, the type of development and the jobs created do not warrant this type of sacrifice from the schools.  The projected payroll in the first year is less than $400,000, with 30 jobs.  This is less than $14k a job.  The square footage is 21,000 square feet of office and mixed use recreational and educational. Read about the development here.

I feel a CRA should be a tool reserved for signature projects.  We should be weighing the benefits to our tax base, and to the community. We should consider the risk and reward if we turn down the abatement as to whether the project would still go forward.   I don’t feel the City did any of these things, which is I voted no.

The initial vote for emergency legislation failed 4-2 for lack of a supermajority. (Councilman Hanink joined me in voting “no,” Councilman Weinstein was absent).  It was only through some extra rounds of voting, with the “emergency” clause removed, that the vote passed by simple majority of 4-2. This means 30 days must pass before the legislation takes effect, rather than immediately.

I am in favor of competition, but only when the terms are fair.  The principal tenant of this development is Goldfish Swim School. At an earlier Council meeting, Council heard from the owners of Life Center Plus, informing us of their new relationship with the Hudson Schools HCER swim program, and fact that this new swim school would be a direct competitor. They did not feel it was appropriate as a taxpaying business that a competitor be given a tax break.  The developer has previously publicly stated he passes the tax breaks on to his tenants.

Not only will the Schools will be losing potential revenue that does not need to be abated, it will be helping underwrite a competitor to its own educational programming.

Road and infrastructure improvements are only “critical” when you are being asked to pay for them

A week can really change perceptions, or so it seems. On August 16, Council members were told that we needed to pass a resolution putting a tax increase on the ballot for May 2017.  Tax increases, or in this case a reduction in the income tax credit, require approval by Hudson voters per our Charter. Council must decide first whether or not to put this issue before voters, and what the “terms” are.

The urgency for a Council vote on August 16 was in order to meet a Board of Elections deadline to put the issue on the November 2016 ballot. When it looked like the majority was no longer in favor of a decision this fall, the issue could have been shelved for future consideration and discussion.

And there are many factors to discuss- the amount of the “ask,” the number of years we would ask for the additional tax, and how we would define its uses.

We were told then that the need was urgent, there was no reason to delay, we needed to get started on these projects as soon as possible, including a more aggressive road improvement program.

Forward one week to our August 23rd Workshop. Faced with a decision as to whether or not to spend a projected $300k budget surplus on infrastructure, the road repair program this year, Council decided that the need doesn’t seem quite so urgent. “We’re not certain the surplus is real,” we are told. We’re also warned that there are many “irons in the fire” like the new school bus garage (paid for by the City)  and Downtown Phase 2 planning that are competing for dollars.  “The roads are in pretty good shape,” we’re also told. Read more in the Hudson Hub Times. 

I don’t know if we will or won’t have a budget surplus this year. Whether we do or don’t, the $300k won’t hurt our budget. We spend that kind of money on many discretionary, unbudgeted items in the course of the year.  Repairing the roads on the 2016 additional list moves all projects that follow it up by a half year just the kind of aggressive program we were told was needed.

It seems that roads and infrastructure improvements take on more of an urgency when the discussion is whether you should be asked to pay more in local taxes.

Read more on this and other issues, including whether or not Hudson restricts medical marijuana operations, under the section Notes from the Recent Council meeting.

 

Should a majority or a motivated minority of Hudson voters decide on an income tax increase?

A lesson for Hudson tax increase proponents from Tuesday’s election results in Macedonia

Hudson is considering a tax increase, we call it  “reducing the income tax credit,” but it is a tax increase nonetheless.  It would mean a 25%  local income tax increase (from 2% to 2.5%)for most residents who work outside of Hudson. It would go toward road projects, sidewalks paths and other infrastructure needs.  It may be “sunsetted,” (expired or reduced after a limited time) that is still up for discussion. City Council will decide next week whether to put the issue before Hudson voters in an off-year, off-time election like next May.

Macedonia also considered a 25% income tax increase to be spent on roads and sewers. It also would be sunsetted. Macedonia City Council decided that August would be a good time to hold that vote. Election Day was last Tuesday. The issue lost, by a 2 to 1 margin.

Why would Macedonia call for a special election on August 2 when the General Election is only 3 months away?  I can’t say for certain. But I do know from experience with similar tax campaigns that some government bodies like to put tax issues up when turnout is low, rather than risk the results when the turnout is high, like in a Presidential Election year. The reasoning is, you hope the “nos” may not show in great numbers and you try to motivate  your “yes” base to prevail.  Six different government bodies (schools, cities, libraries) in Summit County decided to take their chances with a low turnout in an August election. Three passed, three failed.  So I guess they are batting .500.

But isn’t the real point of an election is getting the best representative sample of the electorate, not the smallest one?  Turnout in these August or May elections when taxes are the single issue bring out only 25 to 30% of the turnout of an election like this fall. Macedonia’s results bore this out.

A campaign committee can certainly do everything in its power to assure a positive outcome. A government body, like a City Council, should be more impartial.

I am not sure if I’m in favor of an increase. What I think doesn’t really matter.  Hudson’s Charter leaves that decision up to the voters. I want to hear from the greatest number of you, not whatever small sample that can be influenced to show up in a special election.

City Council will decide the “if” and “when” of a ballot issue on Tuesday, August 9, as a deadline for putting it on the November ballot is approaching.  If you have influence with anyone on Council, tell them if you think a majority should decide on a tax increase, and not a small minority. No special elections. We need a fall election to get a representative vote, either this fall or November 2017, when the a majority of Council is up for vote.

A reminder – Ward 3 Open Forum  – Fall edition  Monday, August 29, 2016 7-8:30 AM Barlow Community Center.  Tell me what you think about taxes, roads, whatever you want. Come for a few minutes or all evening. Sorry this is early, before Labor Day, but it’s when I could get on the calendar. Hope to see you there!

The first thing the City and Schools need to build as part of Phase 2 Development is Trust

City Council members took turns expressing disappointment with the latest negotiations between City Council and the Hudson City Schools Board of Education at the April 21st meeting.  Council rejected the latest changes proposed by the Board that would have required the City returning for negotiations should the residential portion of the project exceed our initial estimates.  Council did not feel this approach was feasible, nor necessary under State Law.

Phase 2 of First & Main is the area on the west side of Morse Road at the intersection with Owen Brown.  The project is really two projects, a commercial developmPhase 2 residential sideent with offices on the southwest corner (the Windstream property) and a residential or residential /mixed use on the northwest corner (the City and Schools properties.)

To build the residential portion would require moving the School‘s bus garage and city facilities, and creating a development that would place this property on the tax rolls. Currently, as public properties, the north side pays no taxes.  The cost of moving the facilities and building a new garage for the Schools requires some public financing.  The School Board must approve the terms under State Law, since the new property taxes they would receive would be deferred for several years.

The City and Schools first met to outline the project in November, and we have had several rounds of negotiations. The City will pay for a new bus facility, deed that new property to the Schools, and pay the Schools $135k a year to agree to the financing arrangement. We had this agreement in principle. Council is ready to have its third reading and pass the legislation at our next meeting.

Last week, we were informed that the School Board had concerns with how we may be spending the money on the project, which is defined to a certain parcel and can’t be used under Ohio law for other purposes.

Council felt that the last minute change showed a lack of trust of the City’s motives.  We had felt this was a “win-win” for both parties. My impression is that it may not seen as such from all members of the School Board, that we are not on the same page.

This is unfortunate, since most residents consider the City and Schools as one, but yet we are not acting that way. I understand that the Board is bound to get the best deal it can for its system. The City is operating from the same perspective, to protect its tax base.  Consider that Phase 1 of First & Main started making its first property tax payments to the Schools last year.  These payments would not have occurred, and we would not have enjoyed the benefits of 10 years of First & Main without previous negotiations. It took some shared sacrifice, and some trust.

I don’t know if the School Board will still approve our agreement without their latest change. I do know either way, we will have to rebuild trust, because our mutual success, and the success of Hudson depends on it.

Why having broadband discussions out of public view should matter to Hudson

 

I voted “no” to go into executive session for a broadband discussion on April 5.  A fairly routine vote to go into executive session, we have had at least 3 other such meetings in the past 18 months.  Why the big deal now? Now we are into some serious spending, and setting the template for future expansion, including residential.

Council voted a month ago to release $1.18 million in 2016 spending on the Velocity Broadband system, on top of $800k we spent in 2015. All of the business discussions were conducted out of public view, in executive session, as permissible by state law under the category “trade secrets.”   We consider broadband a “business” and not a “utility.”

Ohio law allows for this; Ohio is one of 30 states that does not regulate municipal broadband operations.  So we can (and most likely will) continue to have executive session discussions on broadband expansion plans, up to and including how and where broadband will serve residential areas.

FairlawnGig
Fairlawn does not keep their broadband plan a secret from their residents, everything is open.  Hudson should do the same. 

That is the root of my concern. Currently there is no projection (source: public records- the budget) for any cash flow approaching the cost of expanding to residential service.  Yet we have city officials promising residential service “soon.” Here this reporter tells us that “everybody will have access in the next five years.”

I am not permitted to disclose what we discuss in executive sessions, but I can say that most of you will be very disappointed to find out what “soon” means, particularly if you live in Ward 3 and areas outside of the old village boundary.

Contrast this with our neighbors in Fairlawn.  They are also introducing a city wide fiber and wi-fi system.  Fairlawn City Council considers FairlawnGig  a utility, and none of their discussions were held in executive sessions.  Fairlawn residents know all the details, including what “soon” means.  Hudson could do as Fairlawn does, hold open discussions on our plans.  Instead we treat it like a “business,” where the “investors” (the taxpayers) don’t get to know how we are going to spend their money, and when they will get a return.