Riordan’s listening tour comes to South Park

We had the city manager and the Mayor come to South Park tonight as part of their budget presentation/listening tour. On my way in Dean Lovelace called to me from a car- and asked where the meeting was- I pointed him to our parking lot and helped him walk in.

Tim Riordan is a finance guy- and numbers are his bailiwick. The slides showed the increases in costs- much pegged to “inflation” and the drops in revenue- mostly pegged to the exodus of jobs from the city.

And when he showed Dayton compared to Ohio’s other cities- we were at the bottom of the heap with the biggest gaps between “inflation” and revenue. Columbus and Cincinnati are both still OK- Akron and Cleveland only started having problems in ’08, but Dayton has been in a slide since 1996 with a bigger and bigger gap between expenses and income.

Riordan says he believes that he has to keep investing for tomorrow- which means continued paving, equipment replacement schedules etc. He shows a chart on how many positions the city has abolished, and talks about all the investments that have been made recently- almost all from government with the exception of the Kroc Center.

While  he asks to cut services, investments or raise taxes to balance the budget- it’s almost a forgone conclusion that his only option is to raise taxes or fees. He has slides about what raising property taxes or income taxes would mean – and how big the increases would have to be to solve the budget shortfalls.

Then has asks for ideas – sharing the e-mail [email protected] and opens questions to the floor.

While he tries to respond to every question- sometimes, answers aren’t really answers. The best thing to do is to listen, ask more questions- and thank people for their input. Often times, the answers sounded more like excuses- or thanks, but we already tried that.

The problem is- we’re still trying to play by rules that were set when the game was different: property values didn’t decrease rapidly, we had a middle class, corporate welfare wasn’t required for every single company move or threat to move. At no point were big picture ideas accepted as solutions- even though he agreed fully with the following two issues that were raised:

  • Investment by the Federal and State Governments that heavily subsidize developments like Austin Road – where companies can relocate, with subsidies from County government, to an area where income tax isn’t collected hurt our established core cities. A solution of a single income tax rate for the entire region- to be divided up per-capita was an idea he supported, but was answered with it won’t happen until hell freezes over.
  • With the only growth in the region being Meds, Eds and Feds- all of which escape paying property taxes- when the suggestion was made that if they can pay people over a million a year- they should be able to pay for property taxes, he liked, but didn’t think it possible. When a suggestion was made to pass a special higher income tax rate on any income earned over a million a year by an entity that pays no property tax- he admitted that it was an interesting idea- and that they hadn’t looked into it either.

The ideas like easing zoning requirements to encourage adaptive reuse by small entrepreneurial businesses was handled with denial- even trying to foist the problem onto the County. There were more than a few people in the audience who suggested he really hadn’t a clue on what the experience with “Inspector Gotcha” is like.

When asked about liquidating real estate owned by the city- he seems to believe they’ve already done that- and most of it is empty lots. He claimed only 72 or so buildings. When asked if the city could provide an inventory with descriptions- the answer was to go do a search of the Treasurer’s records:

Too bad the response on the site says “Query Results are limited to 100 Rows ..Please narrow your search criteria.”

The Mayor spoke briefly about giving neighbors permission to clean up others’ messes and his plan to start identifying the 20 strong neighborhoods out of the 65 and to start to focus on those. How this is going to solve the budget crisis is questionable – unless we’re talking about cutting services to marginal communities.

One suggestion that did get a positive response was the idea of cross training workers to identify problems- like trash collectors and street sweepers calling in probable abandoned cars, or maybe meter readers reporting back on dangerous housing violations. Of course, there may be people who think that this may put some city employees at risk- and others who may just resist doing more, but, the ultimate cross training- that Oakwood has with “public safety officers” being cops, firemen and medics isn’t even on the table in Dayton.

Suggestions like Segways to replace cars for meter readers- much like the Greene- were laughed off, “what would you do in winter” from the Mayor- and “get rid of parking meters” from a n00b in the audience- but this is what happens when we try to do everything by committee, instead of hiring the professional and then demanding performance.

Do I think Riordan could solve the budget crisis- if he really had the kind of power a City Manager is supposed to have? Probably. But, getting all the elected chiefs to realize that they aren’t the smart ones is a problem that is bigger than the financial problems we’re facing.

Riordan’s best move would be to identify and groom his replacement, so that he can do the dirty work- then leave when the fan hits the brown stuff- and then let the replacement come in and take us where we need to be.

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