Election day is over, and many of us are worried about the state of our state. I find myself increasingly concerned with the state of my city. Still. Even more so than while writing my prior posts in [what I thought was] a 5 part series.
If you have been following this story, get out your calendar now and enter the next UH Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, November 18th, 7:00 pm at the JCU Dolan Center before you read on.
If you haven’t been following the UH/Wiley swing space story, pour a glass of something, and take a scroll through the first 5 posts above. You, too, will likely be motivated to attend the next UH Planning Commission meeting on 11/18. I’m going to jump in right…about…here!
In October, Mayor Infeld wrote:
The City is aware that up to eight Cleveland Heights Police Department uniformed officers patrol the Heights High neighborhood on school days, particularly at dismissal. We cannot match this manpower need with our current police staffing levels and will need to hire more police officers. It is paramount that the police presence in the vicinity of Wiley matches the police presence in the vicinity of Heights High in order to keep the students safe and maintain safety in the neighborhood.
Sure. Not many people disagreed. But then the mayor demanded $1.8 million dollars to cover 5 hiring UH police officers, purchasing 5 new cruisers, promoting an officer to sergeant, hiring a part-time clerk and maybe even a partridge in a pear tree. More from the October newsletter:
The city expects this cost to be borne by the School District as a necessary cost in fulfillment of the Facilities Plan. It is beyond our financial capability to absorb this expense and would result in a decrease in other City services. Unfortunately this safety concern has not been resolved in our talks with the School District. We are currently waiting for a proposal from the School District to address this need, but may be at an impasse.
Part 6: We’ve been had, folks.
In the University Heights 2015 FY budget presented and discussed on October 27th, Mayor Infeld calls for a 15.4% increase in the police budget for 2015. With line items to cover [drumroll!] 5 police officers and 5 police cruisers. Oh, and all with a $1.2 million projected surplus. I have been warned that the budget will change now that the park bond has passed, but I can’t imagine additional funds coming in for the recreation department will negatively affect the numbers for police and capital improvements.
First, a summary:
This is the biggest UH police budget increase over a 5 year period, which just as often saw cuts. To note, the increase is actually larger than is inaccurately shown in this summary snapshot from the 60 page budget. The 13.8% increase of $466,000 shown as current is actually the increase in 2014 over 2013. The police budget increase from 2014 to 2015 is $591,000, or 15.4%.
The good news…and yet
Count me among the many University Heights citizens who will be relieved to see increased expenditures on safety services in our city. And yet. The earnest, innocent, ‘we can’t possibly police Wiley without $1.8 million from the school district’ begins to look deadpan sinister. Shockingly, brazenly so. Budgets take a long time to plan. The money was there all along. Enough money for…yup, 5 new officers and 5 new cruisers.
The resources demanded from the district—even though many of us questioned what seemed like overkill safety staffing for a high school campus, resulting in an ‘our kids aren’t thugs’ thread all its own—are the *exact* resources the city was planning to pay for anyway in 2015. Interesting. Check out the line items here, especially 51020, which is officer salaries, an increase of nearly 22%:
If you have trouble reading tiny type or viewing images: FY 2015 will see a $389,000 increase in the motor vehicle budget—more than double—over 2014’s $318,000 to a 2015 total of $708,000. FY 2015 will also see a $531,000 increase in police personnel costs, up to $2.9 M over 2014’s $2.4M.
The benefit of the doubt? Way more doubt.
I’m one to give the benefit of the doubt, sometimes more often than I should. A few people begged mercy for the mayor, saying it is prudent leadership, insisting on safety and security. Some posited that this was not about rejecting the plan, or the students and employing stall tactics, but more of a stoic reaction to a poor plan put forth by the district.
Let’s go down that road.
Set aside the possibility of ‘we don’t want those kids in our city.’ Set aside ‘the safety plan is unacceptable.’ The plan to renovate Wiley for use by the CHHS students is still stalled, tabled at the Planning Commission. The last sticking point before a vote is the safety plan, and the money to meet the district in the middle has been there all along. One wonders, what is the mayor’s motive here? What is the end goal? Kill the plan through endless stalling and blame district inaction and noncooperation? Or delay just long enough to get everyone really worried, then let Wiley finally through, and make the district [us, the taxpayers, remember?] pay through the nose?
I’m reminded of statements made by the Mayor that I read this week, as reported by the League of Women Voters. The topic was the usage of a 3rd ambulance in University Heights. At one point, Mayor Infeld said it would likely be donated to East Cleveland since they had limited resources.
Later, when council approved listing said ambulance on govdeals.com, and the ‘what about donating it’ question was posed, she said “she wanted to see how much the city can get for it first.”
I’m not much of a cynic, but I’m becoming so emotionally wizened in this process. Someone tell me it’s not something like this: sure, University Heights has dedicated line items and enough budget dollars to pay for the necessary increase in safety and security for Wiley—indeed city wide. But let’s see how much can we get from the district first?
I think I liked the fearful, overly concerned about safety narrative better.
Is this what prudent fiscal planning *really* looks like?
The mayor often responds to questions about the budgetary surplus with something quietly boastful about the city’s careful fiscal management. I am disappointed, though, that there is little respect for the fiscal goals and deadlines of any other entity. Why would the city demand, downright refuse to vote or move forward on the Planning Commission process when the money to step in and share the cost with the district was always there? This ruse has cost the school district [and UH taxpayers!] money already. Why incite public outrage in the October 2014 newsletter, vaguely threatening a cut in other city services and demanding that residents write the Board of Education members to complain? What madness is afoot here?
As Mayor and Safety Director, it is my responsibility to provide the best public safety services to the community that the City can afford and which our residents deserve. The city expects this cost to be borne by the School District as a necessary cost in fulfillment of the Facilities Plan. It is beyond our financial capability to absorb this expense and would result in a decrease in other City services.
The second half is repeated from above, but oh so relevant. We see pretty desperate inside-out-pockets language here. Hardly appropriate while sitting on a $1.5 million surplus in 2014, planning a $1.2 million projected surplus in 2015, PLUS enough allocated funds to cover the very personnel and vehicles the city is demanding the district pay for. Better for the mayor to spend a bit more time on the ‘it is my responsibility to provide the best public safety services to the community that the City can afford and which our residents deserve’ part and less on trying to get some other entity to foot the bill.
Done being duped
Many of us have been incredibly frustrated with the tone the city has taken in this process to move CHHS students to Wiley temporarily while the high school is renovated. Still, my benefit of the doubt voice always left room for a slice of ‘ok maybe the city is just doing what it can, and this is the speed of government.’
Now? Count me beyond frustrated. I feel straight up duped. If I were a University Heights resident—oh, look, I am!—I would be writing council and the mayor right about now. I might share that I feel lied to. That I am offended that my city—instead of acting as a proactive partner with the school district—would rather fleece my child, my taxes and my trust, just to add a few million to the bottom line.
The request that the district pay for all those officers and cruisers was illegal even *when it appeared necessary* to the safety plan. Good lord, what does that make it now? What if the district has agreed, and paid for those extra officers and vehicles? How would the mayor have explained that double dip? “Whoopsy, I didn’t know the rules. I was just treating the CHUH district with the same disdain that Mayor Rothschild used to.”
So many questions. But it all comes down to one…”what the [choose your expletive] is GOING ON in University Heights?”
And this time, I expect straight answers.
Then attend the next UH Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, November 18th, 7:00 pm at the John Carroll Dolan Center. Enter at the main gate, off Fairmount Circle near Pizzazz and Sweet Melissa.
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