Below are comments I wrote early this morning and read later this morning at Pepper Pike City Council's Special Council Meeting today. I want to thank every single person who has engaged in any way and/or communicated with me and/or any member of Council or fellow resident who then in turn communicated to us their sentiments over the last four months regarding how to attack and resolve the City's fiscal situation. Please don't stop. It is what gave me confidence to hold my ground when and where I did, but also gave me the sense of need and direction for making the final decision today.
I could not have imagined, when I was addressing Pepper Pike residents as a candidate for City Council just over seven months ago, how much my thoughts then would ring through my brain during the last four months.
Back then, I talked about how I see Pepper Pike as a community that is taken care of and takes care of itself. And I said,
…the present and future challenge in taking care of our city is this: If Pepper Pike was ever homogeneous in terms of the life phase in which our residents were enjoying our city, it is far less so now. We have multiple constituencies for whom taking care of our city may have different, even competing meanings.
I also did not imagine that literally within days of being sworn in on January 13 that I would be launched into one of the most intense problem-solving processes I have ever experienced in my life, in any setting. And I was an Ombudsman at a mental health agency.
I have experienced the same emotions and asked the same questions and demanded the same explanation as many Pepper Pike residents. The key difference – due to my decision to run for City Council and the residents’ decision to let me serve them on City Council – is that I am no longer allowed to advocate for just my position, as I was able to do from the audience.
More than a few people have asked me about that and suggested that perhaps I would be more effective in the community if I did not run for office.
I believe that the result we’re going to accomplish today demonstrates that the value of my desire to be here, at the Council table, instead.
I agree with my colleagues now, as I have since February, in the need for the City, at this time, to raise additional revenue beyond its current capacity. And that solvency is the top priority.
But in seeking to do so, I also have demanded that whatever revenue-raising option we ask the residents to vote on, it embrace equity, transparency, accountability, an ability to keep pressure on Council and the mayor to find efficiencies in cost and service provision and a way to let all residents share in the burden of bringing the City’s revenue stream into line with the cost of the services residents desire, deserve and need.
Based on the assumption of how much revenue was needed by those Council Members who had coalesced around a .75 percent income tax increase, I came up with a proposal that would have increased the income tax credit – and given a break to income earners who work outside the city – and a small road levy (a property tax).
Many arguments were made by me in favor of this proposal, as were arguments made against it by my colleagues. The legitimacy of the arguments coming from both sides is part of what has kept us from being unanimous – there simply is no perfect solution – although I obviously thought mine came awfully close to it! And I appreciate the support that I have received for my approach.
However, the option now before us – a lower tax increase overall, a lower income tax increase in particular, and with no property tax but with a sunset that will allow you to vote again and judge us on how well we’ve managed and assessed the needs of the community in a time when we do not have an acute demand for raising revenue – represents to me an embrace of transparency, accountability and pressure to keep looking for cost efficiencies that the original .75 percent income tax increase proposal lacked completely.
As for the equity, this .5 percent increase with a sunset and a charter amendment which will put in place a budget approval process also previous absent from the city administration's procedures, does represent less inequity. And that is an achievement, even if not the precise achievement I had advocated.
Finally, as for all residents sharing in the burden of helping the city recover from where it is now, that will be something I hope those who do not have taxable income will think about when the school district seeks funding next year, for that system’s strength greatly affects the health of Pepper Pike. Likewise, residents voiced support for fees as well as for specific purpose levies to add revenue to those services we most enjoy and need and want and that is something I know will remain a topic of discussion.
This process of coming into fiscal health is far from over. We have only just begun. And it is with the knowledge that where we are now is only the result of having fought from the start to be at a different place than originally was being proposed that I will vote in favor of placing this lower .5 percent income tax increase, with a sunset provision and a charter amendment for our budget approval process on the ballot for August.