Why I am running for Beachwood City Council
I believe our elected officials’ primary responsibility is to ensure that the city is in a financial position to provide the high level of services we enjoy. These services and low taxes are two of the many things that make Beachwood a wonderful community. However, these things are only possible if the city’s finances are managed well. While Beachwood is a great city, I am running for City Council because we can do better if we acknowledge and address some of our shortcomings.
There are real opportunity costs to inefficient and irresponsible spending. For instance, when we overspend by $8m-$10m on a backup fire station, that money is no longer available for things residents have been asking for like 1)Better lighting on side streets especially in the walking neighborhoods near the Shuls; 2) Making the Shaker Blvd median east of Richmond (the I-271 side) a nice park with playing fields, picnic areas, places to throw a frisbee and a walking trails instead of just a walking trail; 3) Spending money to fix the infrastructure that causes flooding in many parts of Beachwood; 4) Put in sidewalks on the streets that currently don't have them; 5) Spending city money to fix the issues with the High School pool since it is also open and used by residents. Many cities with much less revenue than Beachwood pay to build or improve recreation facilities at their schools that are used by the community but this idea has always been ignored.
Since most of the City's revenue comes from income taxes paid by non residents working in Beachwood, many residents don't see the City's overspending as something that takes money out of their pockets. However, every resident should realize that while most of your property taxes bill goes to the schools, 5.8% goes to the City and Council can choose not to levy these mills which would lower everyone’s property taxes by 5.8%. (Click here to read more about this in the Letter to the Editor I wrote which was published in January).
Sadly, all of our City officials refuse to publicly acknowledge, discuss or consider this option as they would rather residents didn't know this was possible and easy for them to do. Some have privately told people that without the $2.5m the City receives from property taxes, they wouldn’t be able to deliver the level of services residents expect. Here is what everyone needs to know...
Even at our current spending level, without a single cut or attempt to operate more efficiently, the City is projecting a $2,364,132 surplus for 2019. This surplus would cover 92% of the $2.5m the City would forgo by choosing to lower everyone’s property taxes by 5.8%. I am sure the response to this will be that running a surplus and adding to the General Fund balance/ reserves is what responsible cities do. While true in some situations, here is what they don’t tell you...
The unencumbered balance of our General Fund is $25,432,198.06 (as of 5/31/19) which is 2.5x higher, or $16m more than the Ohio Auditor’s office suggests is a healthy balance (25% of our $38m in annual General Fund expenditures). Without any attempt to operate more efficiently and even if we weren't on pace to run surpluses, when our General Fund reserves are $16m higher than the suggested healthy level, the City could afford to forego the $2.5m to lower everyone's property taxes for 4 years and the General Fund balance would still be $6m higher than the suggested healthy level.
You might ask what is wrong with building up our reserves so much above the suggested level? For some cities with fiscal discipline, this might work fine but in Beachwood, recent history has shown that when we have so much more money than we need, our City officials find crazy and illogical ways to spend it. As a result we have a $14.3m backup fire station, a half empty service garage we spent $10m to buy and renovate, heated sidewalks at City Hall and $165k dog park with 100% artificial turf when other cities create very nice dog parks for $20k-$40k.
There doesn't seem to be any desire to stop this type of spending as now our City officials are talking about building a pedestrian bridge over Cedar and building a new police station for $12m-$18m. We already have one of the nicest police stations around and while not perfect, all the flaws can likely be fixed with less than $1m. We can do better and think of what the City could do with the $11m they save if they only fix the problems instead of build an entire new station.
In a year where almost every home owner saw a significant increase to their property tax bill, at a minimum the option Council has to lower everyone’s property taxes by 5.8% deserves to be discussed and considered. Instead, every City official is ignoring the idea hoping residents don't learn it is possible and can be done with a simple vote.
We are fortunate that Beachwood's City leaders in the 50s, 60s and 70s, had the foresight to set aside so much of the land for commercial development. As a result, Beachwood is only 48% residential when most cities are 75%-90% residential. Because of this large commercial tax base we have so much money coming in that we might be able to afford to spend wastefully and irresponsibly. Just because we have the money to be wasteful doesn't mean we should or that residents should accept it. We can do better.
During this campaign I will be specific about where our spending is out of line and can be corrected without any loss of services. For now, I will leave you with the following chart. I welcome you to reach out to me to discuss these things. You may email me at Mike@BurkonsforBeachwood.com or call me at 216-832-6771. Also, if you would like a yard sign in the fall, send me an email so I can make sure I order enough.
Beachwood is a great City but that shouldn't be the excuse for why we are reluctant to make changes to address shortcomings. We can do better and I look forward to earning your vote.