Cleveland City Council members are knee deep in numbers, trying to wade through the city's finances and come up with a balanced budget. City budget hearings have been ongoing since last week when Mayor Jane Campbell formally presented her proposed 2002 budget. Campbell's plan includes laying off about 140 city workers to help make up for a $56 million deficit. With the assumption that there's no surplus from last year, combined with state cutbacks and decreasing permit and tax revenues, this year's budget process is particularly grim. Still, as 90.3 WCPN's Renita Jablonski reports, even after a week of hearings, council members are doggedly optimistic.
Renita Jablonski: No one said it was going to be easy - then again, no one's really complaining either. In fact, it seems as if the majority of City Council has seen the silver lining in the budget cloud and they keep referring to it over and over again. While money's tight, the new working relationship with the Campbell administration has council members confident that the city will come out on top. Former Council President Mike Polensek says this year's go around with the budget is night and day compared to last year's.
Mike Polensek: With the new administration you feel that they're coming to the table and being open and honest with you versus the White Administration where you had to pry and drag everything out of them and even at that point you didn't know whether or not they were telling you the truth at the table which in some cases we know now was not the case so it is a different attitude.
RJ: And there's plenty of evidence of that attitude - take for example the relationship between current Council President and Finance Committee Chair Frank Jackson and the mayor.
Jane Campbell: We've been meeting with Councilman Jackson on a day daily basis trying to stay together and we're going to work really hard to reconcile the budget together.
RJ: But, as Polensek points out, when it comes down to it, the fresh mood in city hall does not change the fact that Cleveland is facing a significant financial dilemma.
MP: The financial situations that we are dealing with today from sure balancing the budget are greater than what we experienced in the late 70s and early 80s. Even from the days of default we only were dealing with about a $15 million deficit.
RJ: So to try and combat the $56 million budget deficit that's looming now, Council is trying to uncover every possible source of revenue while trying to find ways to restructure the city to work more effeciently. Councilman Joe Cimperman offers an example.
Joe Cimperman: Health department says that they're in a lease right now where they pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000 to rent property. The city owns property that the health department could move into.
RJ: Cimperman says maximizing city assets will be key in efforts to not only balance the budget, but ultimately, save city employees' jobs. Council President Frank Jackson says that's where council's priority lies.
Frank Jackson: Our goal is to minimize lay offs, hopefully not have any and at the same time maximize the service that is given to the citizen.
RJ: While all of council agrees with the goal, some members, like Polensek believe it is not likely that a balanced budget will be passed without any lay offs at all. Yet even with that possibility and lots of inevitable penny-pinching ahead, Council members like Ward 16 representative Mike O'Malley say there are still other reasons to remain positive.
Mike O'Malley: The reality is under the previous administration there were many councilmen who were prevented from moving forward with neighborhood projects and quite frankly my ward was one of many wards that the mayor would just not act on neighborhood projects so I anticipate seeing much more city activity in my ward in the next year or two than probably in the previous decade.
RJ: O'Malley says things like long overdue road repairs and improvements to parks in the Old Brooklyn area will finally become a reality. Brian Cummins is director at the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation located on the other half of the neighborhood next to O'Malley's ward. He says hearing about projects developing in other parts of the city is encouraging.
Brian Cummins: I think it's really exciting. A lot of our commercial district, although it's in ward 15, there is some of that commercial activity that carries over to ward 16.
RJ: Meanwhile, budget hearings will continue the rest of the week with a second reading of the budget set for Monday. And as Councilman Cimperman put it, there's still a lot of work to do before it's smooth sailing... or flying rather.
JCi: We're in the middle of the air right now repairing an airplane and you know, the runway is still 500 miles away. You know, we're doing a good job repairing it, the plane's running, it's up and moving, we're discovering different things that you know we need to find out to make sure the solvency and the health of the city is intact but we're not, we haven't landed the plane yet.
RJ: According to City Charter, a balanced budget must be passed by April 1st. In Cleveland, Renita Jablonski, 90.3 WCPN News.