What does it take to be a successful small community?
For years, these questions have kept me awake at night: What does it take to be a successful small community and why is it so difficult?
I suspect some residents ask themselves similar questions as they look at their household budgets wondering how they might afford a new car or roof or college expenses for their kids.
The simple answer is that it takes money. But, there’s much more to it than that. Only a rare few have the means to do all the things they want or need to do. That goes double for government whose primary sources of revenue come from income and property taxes paid by residents.
Keeping it simple, the job of municipal government is to provide core services including public safety and infrastructure that residents and businesses value. These things not only make a community more attractive to current residents and businesses but also encourage people to move to the community or establish a new business.
But, it all comes with a cost and I wonder if residents realize what it takes to provide these services. It’s more than paying the salary and benefits for each employee. There are many required additional costs.
Some are set by the federal government – Congress, the executive branch, the Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve Bank, and other federal or quasi-federal entities like EPA, OSHA, Transportation Dept., and so on. Like the federal government, the state of Ohio adds an additional layer of policies and mandates, all having costs associated with them, whether from ODNR, State Auditor and so on.
Some examples might help. When we put street sweepers onto the streets, just like a vacuum cleaner, they collect debris. However, we are mandated to place road debris in a specially lined dumpster which is then hauled away for proper, legal disposal.
By law, police and firefighters are required to take training. The training costs money, but, more importantly, there is costly overtime pay involved as we maintain service while sending others to training which they are paid to attend.
We are required to monitor anything that goes into the lake from our pump stations. It’s called outflow and the purpose is to keep human, animal and industrial waste from contaminating Lake Erie, which is our source of drinking water. I suspect you have read or seen media reports about incidents that continue to occur at other lakeshore communities following a big storm. When sewer systems are overrun, waste gets into the lake.
There’s no cutting corners or ignoring any of the regulations and mandates. To do so, results in a fine at minimum but sanctions that could hurt the entire community.
I’m not saying regulations and laws are bad things. They have contributed to a cleaner lake, well trained personnel and making communities safer, more appealing places to live and work. However, the cost associated with each mandate can place a lot of stress on city budgets – especially in small highly developed residential communities like Sheffield Lake.
Our main sources of revenue are income tax and property tax. We have nearly 9,000 residents, including children and retirees, and approximately 3,700 households.
While some feel taxes are too high, I believe it’s important to point out that just 15% of the property tax bill paid twice a year comes to the city, and some of that is mandated for specific funds like police and fire pensions. Our income tax rate is 2%. In all, that generates $4.1 million for the city to operate.
We’re very fortunate to have obtained grants to help cover additional expenses and have other smaller sources of revenue from things like state/county local government funding, building permits and franchise fees from cable companies.
But our reality is that expenses continue to increase, whether for insurance, electricity or gas for vehicles – things that you have seen impact your own personal budgets.
And, they will continue to increase. Our challenge has been how to make the best decisions about spending priorities knowing that there are only so many households and some many employed persons contributing revenue to the city through their taxes.
It’s a real tightrope act. I realize some residents want to see more done whether it’s street paving, or a splash pad or free programs at the Hanks Community Center. However, once we budget for existing personnel and all the mandates, there just isn’t a lot of money left. I wish there was. I’d love to be able to do more to boost Sheffield Lake. However, state law requires that we maintain a balanced budget – we do not spend what we do not have, unlike the federal government that has spent us into trillions of dollars of debt. I know residents feel the pinch of taxes which is why they have not been raised.
I hope this provides some information to help residents better understand the challenges we continually face providing quality essential services, given many mandates, while holding the line on your taxes.