Inner-ring suburbs confab on sharing resources
Cities short on space open for development gather to share their strategies
Capital University hosted mayors, city managers, finance directors and other officials from about 20 Ohio cities Friday, Oct. 19, with a goal of listening to each others' ideas about government efficiency and resource sharing.
The Ohio First Suburbs Alternative Revenue Summit stemmed from a task force the city of Bexley convened earlier this year to explore alternative revenue streams within the city.
But Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler saw an opportunity to open such discussion into a broader arena, and with the sponsorship of Capital University, Greater Ohio and Columbus-based Hicks Partners, convened the summit.
"First suburbs" refers to suburbs that are landlocked or those generally considered to have exhausted all developable land, leaving them unable to rely on future commercial development as a source of new income.
Among the local elected officials who attended the summit were: Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard, Whitehall Auditor Dan Miller, Grandview Heights Development Director Patrik Bowman, Worthington Assistant City Manager Robyn Stewart, Worthington Finance Director Molly Roberts, Upper Arlington Commercial and Economic Manager Bob Lamb, Upper Arlington City Councilwoman Debbie Johnson, and numerous elected and appointed Bexley officials.
Other Ohio cities represented at the summit include Bedford Heights, Euclid, Lakewood, Montgomery, Oakwood, Shaker Heights, South Euclid, Wyoming, Ottawa Hills and Washington Court House.
The summit featured guest speakers from a variety of Ohio agencies focused on best practices of shared services, joint purchasing, consolidations and mergers, and similar cost-saving measures.
Local officials shared their own ideas and worked in small groups following the addresses of the guest speakers.
Kessler said Bexley faced a formidable and unique challenge to balance its budget after Ohio reduced local government funding and abolished the estate tax.
About 20 percent of the city's revenue derived from estate tax revenue, Kessler said.
Last November, Bexley voters approved an income tax increase from 2 percent to 2.5 percent, but the city still struggled to balance a budget, Kessler said.
"Any further cuts would have impacted services that our residents would not tolerate," he said.
To that end, the Bexley Alternative Revenue Task Force was commissioned and is expected to make a series of recommendations to Bexley City Council.
Recommendations include red-light cameras, speed-enforcement cameras, the installation of parking meters in parts of the city, and a public safety fee.
The public safety fee would apply to individuals who spend substantial time in the city, but do not pay any tax used to support city services.
James Bowman, chairman of the task force, said all the ideas were recommendations requiring council approval, but a prorated formula might he applied for the public safety fee and should not exceed about $10 a month for an individual.
Lavea Brachman, of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, explained how the merger of governments can reduce funding and provided examples of successful mergers, including those of Jefferson County and Louisville, Ky., and Davidson County and Nashville, Tenn.
Brachman conceded it can take several attempts for voters to approve such mergers, and there can be "big political challenges," but said significant savings can be realized.
Several Ohio officials shared cost-saving measures of their cities.
Jennifer Pae, finance director for Lakewood, said the city privatized prosecution for safety-code violations.
South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo said the city's residents have the option of contracting with the city, instead of a commercial plumbing company, to repair damaged storm water or sanitary sewer lines on private property.
Patty Alsip, a finance specialist for Montgomery, cited numerous examples of how volunteers save the city money, performing duties such as placing and removing holiday decorations, staffing a dropoff recycling center and maintaining landscaping.
Local officials voiced interest in some but not all of the shared ideas.
"There have been some interesting ideas and I hope to hear more. Some of them deserve a second look," said Maggard, though she dismissed the use of parking meters in Whitehall as an alternative revenue source.
Stewart said she attended the summit because she wanted to hear what other Ohio cities were doing in response to reduced state funding of local governments.
"It makes sense for us to discuss some of these ideas (for Worthington)," she said.
Grandview Heights City Councilman Steve Gladman shared a similar sentiment.
"I came to see if anyone else has good ideas," said Gladman, adding that, like Bexley, Grandview Heights is particularly vulnerable because it lacks the resource of additional land for development.
Other guest speakers included Steve Campbell, director of regional growth initiatives for Columbus, who spoke about the anti-job-poaching initiative of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman; Jaime Sisto of Taralogix, who explained the policy of community improvement corporations; and Jill Miller Zimon, of EfficientGovNetwork.
Zimon cited examples of successful government mergers, including those of Pepper Pike and three Cuyahoga County villages, and shared service initiatives in Copley Township and the city of Tallmadge.
The keynote speaker at the summit was Randy Cole, director of the Ohio Controlling Board, whose topics included cost-savings measures in Internet technology, emergency communication and shared health insurance.
Cole said the sheer number of local government agencies and elected officials in Ohio, coupled with a "fragmented system of delivery," has resulted in unsustainable economic practices.
Many of the practices Cole outlined are detailed on the website beyondboundaries.com, a program of the state of Ohio.
"It's a brave new world out there," said Cole, who encouraged cities not only to explore shared services, but to use the efficiencies of the latest technologies to save money.