Tonight Cleveland's 2001 budget will be read into City Council's record. That starts a 7+ week process of give-and-take between the administration and council as officials decide where tax dollars will be spent. 90.3's Janet Babin has more.
Janet Babin- The mayor's budget estimate of $1.18 billion represents an increase of about 4.7% over last year. Mike White calls his 12th budget as mayor the tightest -- and most worrisome.
Mike White- All of our economic trends are going the wrong way. We are in a serious situation, and we have to tighten our belts, just like the rest of the country.
JB- Many Cleveland residents aren't thinking about the economy, they're thinking about basic needs. At Smitty's Seaway Barbershop on East 88th and Huff Avenue, Huff resident Eric Severence agrees to an interview during his haircut. Severence graduated from the Cleveland School District, but sends his own children to private school. He has only one item on his budget wishlist - more money for education.
Eric Severence- I mean, right now, we're probably the worst in the country -- why? All the money gets sent towards downtown and everyone else, except for where it should be, back into the school system for the kids.
JB- In Little Italy, Linda Hansen wants to see more money distributed evenly between neighborhoods.
Linda Hansen- They have to budget the money wisely to all neighborhoods, not just to a few that have been rundown and that they (want to) restore. You have to do that all over Cleveland, not just certain areas. We're made up of different cultures and if you don't do that, (the neighborhoods) gonna fade away.
JB- City Council President Mike Polensek of Ward 11 says he feels the residents frustration.
Mike Polensek- You can't have major league sports complexes, with minor league neighborhood services.
JB- On a recent chilly but sunny afternoon, Polensek joins his son Andrew and a friend in Neff Park in Collinwood. As the kids play, Polensek points out the park's weak spots. The drab pool area structures from the 60's look dated, and the green space near the ball field could use additional landscaping. Polensek wants to spend about a half-a-million dollars here, to build a water park, with slides and water falls, just like in those payparks.
MP- For the most part, we serve kids that can't go anywhere else, they can't go to Cedar Park, so I've tried over the years to build and rebuild each of my parks.
JB- Polensek says most of the money in the city's budget goes to operating expenses. To make it easier for city council to improve communities, last year he helped create Neighborhood Equity Funds. Each Ward received $500,000 from a portion of the Workman's Compensation State refund. Additional cash came from Federal Grants. The money's there, but Polensek says many of the projects have been held up by the Mayor's Administration.
MP- Here we are... we built a new stadium in two years and yet we have neighborhood projects that have been sitting for over a year. Why?
MW- Once again, Councilman Polensek is only giving the public half the story.
JB- Mayor White says council isn't sending its projects through the proper channels. He hopes that during the budget process council and the administration can avoid such clashes and work together. The Mayor's budget estimate allocates $10.5 million for neighborhood projects (the sidewalk repair project and the housing inspectors), and $2 million to a school projects fund. But Polensek hopes to find even more money for neighborhood projects, with help from outside experts.
Last week City Council was invited to participate in a budget development seminar held at Cleveland State University. Only a handful of council members attended the sessions.
Joel Motley of Carmona and Motley Hoffman of Scarborough, New York outlined the importance of maintaining high credit ratings, to lower the city's cost of borrowing.
Joel Motley- The difference between a good credit rating and a bad credit rating could easily be a tenth of a percent, which sounds like a small amount. But when you consider what it means for debt service, it can safe a half a million dollars a year, for 30 years, that's a lot of money.
JB- Cuyahoga County Budget Commission officials explained budget basics: a mil represents one dollar for every one thousand dollars of assessed valuation. Polensek says there's no way the city's 12.7 tax millage rate will increase this year.
MP- You're gonna see no increase in taxes from Council. Most feel taxes are too high now.
JB- Charter cities have to get taxes increases approved by voters. But a proposed school tax levy could be on the ballot as early as May. Mayor Mike White will offer an overview of his budget estimate to council next week, then the budget hearings begin. Polensek's asking city council members to clear their schedules, and be prepared for some long days. He's also asking residents to attend upcoming community budget meetings, but dates for those meetings haven't been set yet. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.