Taxation and government spending 101

Published January 19, 2020 by justicewg


I read a lot of rationalizations from the city council members this week for the support of a new assistant position to be created under mayor Kearns. Most of it had some fuzzy or incorrect thinking about how tax money came to be sitting in the budget of the city. They need a refresher course in taxes and spending.

Government money comes from taxes

There are some fees the government collects for the use of land, or more esoteric stuff like sale of radio frequencies. That stuff is minor – most government money comes from taxes (property and income and sales, individual and business). The voters give the government the right to tax, and increase taxes, via voting.

The Grandview Heights school board once tried to tell us all that they had negotiated the rent of space on the football field for cell towers, and that because they did all the work negotiating with the phone companies, they were the owners of that money and could use it however they wanted (which at the time was to pay for new field turf).

If the board had gone into business for themselves, and started buying up property, then selling it to cell phone tower companies, they could have honestly said they owned the money. But that would be silly – school boards are not in the business of cell towers. The land those towers were built on belonged to the public. The money they received was only a fee, same as the fee for use of the field by other school teams. Those fees went into the general funds of the school, which is owned by the residents of this city.

Our city collects some money from other parts of the government, the state (which has been decreasing mostly) and the federal government. They got that money from taxes too, so … taxes are where the money comes from.

Taxes increase because we voted for the increase

Ohio has House Bill 920, which decreases the tax valuation of property because of property value increases (and Grandview has some of the fastest increases in value). There are some other exemptions and rollbacks, but generally taxes ratchet higher every year.

Taxes go up because governments convince voters to approves increases. We all want better schools, more services, faster police response, new transportation options (monorails). Our governments are supposed to be the experts who can tell us what new expenditures will be worth higher taxes, and which will be wastes of money. Unfortunately, those office holders can fall for the same poor rationalizations that cause the normal person with a high credit card balance to get into trouble.

Spending money because we have it in our hand

This is the “burning a hole in your pocket” trap, and I think many of the city council members have fallen for it. They were quick to note that the council had not spent all the money it had budgeted for last year, and this was a rationalization for more spending this year.

If we are the kind of people who carefully budget our household spending, and we end the year with money to spare, we can feel free to go out for an expensive evening, and still not cause long term budget issues. The problem comes when people use a short term surplus to justify a big ticket item on the credit card. If that budget goes negative the next year, you are in trouble.

New employees for the city are even worse than credit card spending, because if you keep up the CC bills, eventually that new car is paid off. A new employee for the city is forever – it is nearly impossible to cut city employees, unless the economy has cratered (I can’t remember the city cutting people during the 2008 downturn, mostly there were people who didn’t get replaced when they chose to leave). The cost of new employees continues to rise with seniority.

And good luck being the council member who has to tell the mayor “we need to cut your assistant due to budget problems”. The job – and the cost – is forever.

No new taxes

Councilman Smith said he felt OK about the new assistant position because it would not require new taxes.

Every single dollar in the city coffers is there because of new taxes. The 2016 tax levy was not that long ago, if there was a large surplus in the last year’s budget, then maybe that 2016 tax was too large.

As I noted above, every dollar in the city budget is the result of new taxes – some of those increases may be longer in the past, but it all came from new taxes.

A present for the new mayor

Some of the council members said they felt the new mayor deserved the staff she wanted, as a sort of birthday present. Ms Houston said:

“… The mayor also reserves the right to reconfigure her leadership staff and their responsibilities as she sees fit …”

The mayor is charged with running the city administration as she sees fit, within the limitations of the city charter. The city council, however, holds the purse – and all authority for hiring new employees.

If we are at the point where new city positions are created just to make the new mayor happy, then the council has lost its way.

Reasons I could accept

New mayor Kearns needs to stand up before the residents of the city, and make the case for her new assistant. If she is honest, she will say “yes, this new position will cost you more of your tax dollars that you voted for in 2016. It is going to shorten the time before we ask for more money. But it is a good thing to spend your money on.” And then explain how this addition to the bureaucracy will not make the mayor’s office less responsive.

Mayor Kearns wants to add to the bureaucracy

Published January 17, 2020 by justicewg

Kearns and Pat and RayOne of the real advantages of living in a small town is the direct access we have to our elected officials. I had a city council person two doors away, a school board member two houses the other way, and a council president just around the corner. That kind of direct access is missing in large cities, where officials are walled off behind an army of underlings. As her first big action after taking office, our new mayor Kearns is proposing a new position in the administration who will be directly under her in the organizational chart, with an as-yet undefined job. The proposed salary is listed as ranging up to $100K per year – this is not a secretary.

I don’t think I have ever heard the words “Yea, more bureaucracy!”

Small town mayors are part time

There are many small towns in Ohio with mayors who have to work a full time job, and do the work of the mayor at the same time. Grandview Heights, with a population of 6,536 at the 2010 census, has always elected a part time mayor. Ray Degraw earned only $40K in the last year of his 16 years in the mayor’s job. That doesn’t mean he only worked part time, I’m sure he had many weeks working full time on the many tasks of the mayor – but he never complained, he never went before the council and asked for new assistants or more pay in order to turn the mayor’s office into a full time job.

Ray always made time to listen to his constituents a big part of his work, even when he could have truthfully said “I have done enough for the city this week”. He always answered my emails within a day or two. He started the mayors blog, and posted frequent updates. He was always willing to meet and talk. I remember one occasion where he scheduled a “talk with the mayor” event down at Wyman Woods shelter (unfortunately at 6PM), and I was the only person that attended. Ray was still willing to sit down and have a wide ranging discussion, covering everything from sewers to new development.

During the election for mayor in 2019, I asked both candidates about the future of the mayor’s office. If Ms Kearns was thinking that she would require a new high level staff member for the administration, this was where she could have been truthful, and let us know her plans.

She said nothing about wanting an assistant mayor. I looked in theTVN story before the election, where she was asked directly about the staff issues for the administration. She said nothing about an assistant.

What have the council member been told?

I asked all of the council members about this new position in the administration. From my experience in talking to council members in the past, this new position was negotiated and cleared with the council well in the past. The listening to residents is over – now the job is just justifying the votes.

Council person Rebekah Hatzifotinos was the most helpful, and said this about the new administration position:

“ I have confidence in our new Mayor and the way she is intending to staff her administration. She has done extensive research and met with many other administrators in other communities to prepare and gather information.  The position that is currently titled “assistant to the mayor” is going to be a person who has broad experience in public administration and can act as a “generalist” -someone who knows about city planning but also government communications, etc.

The title is more of a function of the charter than anything- we are working on determining whether a different title can be created while still complying with charter rules. So per your first email, correct, not a secretary, but not a vice mayor either. – Rebekah Hatzifotinos

Hatzifotinos said Kearns had been doing extensive research before asking the council for this new position in the administration. In other words, this was something Kearns knew she wanted, and pre-mediated with the council members. Too bad Kearns didn’t include the voters in this planning, while she was running for office. Hatzifotinos doesn’t have a final name for the position – because they don’t know how to do what they want without breaking charter rules?

Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I prefer politicians who first read the charter and know exactly what it says, and what it allows, instead of going back to it and trying to justify what they intend to do anyway.

Hatzifotinos said she didn’t recall exactly when this new position was proposed by Kearns, but thinks it was after the election. The rest of the council members I asked just failed to answer when asked when Kearns started proposing the new position.

Councilman Anthony Panzera had more to say, but this is the meat of his email:

“…My present understanding is that the new administrative structure will not require additional funding for the 2020 budget which Council approved in December.  I also do not believe that it will interfere in any way with the accessibility, responsibilities, nor the expected public representation and leadership from the Mayor’s office.” -Anthony Panzera

I’m always floored by politician who act like the budgets are play money, and if they shift a few figures around then they can get what they want for free. This is not free money. The approximately $250K budgeted for a new I.T. director and Assistant to the Mayor is real money, paid for with the taxpayers hard work.

I can respect politicians who say “yes, this new thing I want is expensive, but we really need it, and I accept responsibility for making your taxes go up to pay for it”. So far, what I have heard from the city is – the opposite.

Panzera is sure the new assistant mayor will not be another layer of bureaucracy for the city? In what fantasy land? Isn’t adding a new assistant the definition of bureaucracy?

Councilman Smith said this:

“… Regarding my statement that the pay for this position would be at the lower end of the pay range is based on conversations I have had. No city services will be cut. Again, there is no need for a supplemental appropriation with this. With the fiscally prudent practices of the Finance Department &council—- in particular the City Council Finance Committee—- the city had a surplus of more than $400,000.00 last year. “ Chris Smith

If the city ended the year with a $400K surplus, then our taxes were too high. Maybe that money will go into a rainy day fund, but it wasn’t “free money” that can be spent as the council wants in order to help a mayor add to the bureaucracy.

Has the Mayor been answering your email?

I’m sure there will be more from the mayor on this new assistant, before the inevitable vote to approve from council. If you chose to send an email, and you get a reply, could you forward it to me? Because Mayor Kearns seems to have chosen to stop answering my email.

There will be a Tuesday Jan 21th meeting at 6pm for the Planning & Administration Committee. I expect this will be more rationalization for a decision that has already been made, but you can attend and voice your opinion.

What did the mayor tell you before the election?

Ms Kearns did pound the pavement, and spent a lot of time knocking and talking. She has been using that time getting votes as an example of how she is willing to spend time doing the job of being a mayor. But I’m not convinced – is work to get elected (which rewards her with a new job) the same as listening to constituents after she is elected, for which she receives nothing?

What did Ms Kearns tell you before the election? Can you confirm her saying “I will be trying to hire an assistant?” Post in the comment section, or send me a message in the “about” page.

Watching Grandview Heights in 2019

Published January 5, 2020 by justicewg

The top stories in Grandview Heights in the year 2019 were mostly about the school board. You might expect that, given all the action taken since the approval of the levy for a new middle school, passed in Nov. 2018. Unfortunately the school board managed to make news with some shameful votes on other issues.

The city council news in 2019 was dominated by an election, as DeGraw stepped away from a 16 year career as mayor, and two council members fought for the position.

The Grandview board brings on the shame

This story is really a two part issue, starting with the failure of the board to support a Pride month resolution (in front of some devastated kids), then in part two the board attempts to rescue some honor, and falls flat on its face.

Board resolution to support pride month fails with no second

The audio from the board meeting in May 2019 showed us a new low point for the board. Ms Wassmuth brought a resolution before the board at the May meeting, which would have expressed support for Pride Month. This was not a policy change – the board already has policies in place that would protect students and staff with minority orientations.

Mealy-mouthed, timid support was expressed by two board members, but when a second to the motion was asked, there was an excruciating silence. Imagine if you were one of the students who attended and spoke before the board, and then listened as the board sat in silence for a standard resolution of support. Those student got nothing, no even a simple raised hand.

It was a truly pathetic performance, one that will be carried as a black mark on these board members for the rest of their lives.

Board votes new Anti-Discrimination policy – doing the right thing the wrong way

The board members who failed to vote on the Pride resolution (every one except Wassmuth) must have been hearing some leaks through the wall the board wraps around themselves, and decided they would amend the anti-discrimination policy at the school. Even when they try to do the right thing, the board manages to do it the wrong way.

There was no public notice that the board would change the policy, even thought they knew from the kerfuffle over gender neutral bathrooms at the new high school that it was controversial. This was a subject that would have sparked debate in the community, and no matter which side of the gender expression controversy you stand on, the correct way to change board policy is to allow the debate to happen.

Not only were no public meetings held, it was obvious from the first reading of the resolution at the previous meeting that there was private debate going on between board members outside the meetings, which is against Ohio open meeting laws.

But debate isn’t wanted by Grandview’s school board. They just want you to be good constituents, and keep your mouths closed, because they already know what is good for the community.

Race for the Mayor seat Read the rest of this entry →

Video Format issue with the Grandview Police

Published December 12, 2019 by justicewg

CD DiskI ran into an issue with requesting a video from the Grandview Heights police a few months ago. Since I have not gotten any progress in my requests to the Chief, I’ll summarize the problem here.

After the incident on Glenn Avenue in Grandview, the video taken from the police car was released to local media, and short edits of the video were posted on all local TV station websites. I requested a copy of the full Metters police video taken outside his home on September 25, 2019.

The police department approved the release of the video, as they are required to do for all news media (and anyone else, the Open Document laws in Ohio require them to be released to anyone who asks). The problem I ran into was that the police would only supply the video in the CD (plastic disk) format.

The CD format is nearly obsolete. Like the VHS format before it, the number of users of that format is very small. Personally, I have not used a CD in the last 10 years, and I’m not even sure the CD disk player in my basement backup computer still works.

The use of CDs is bad for the environment. Every CD that is produced creates plastic that will not be recyclable (the metal inside CDs means it can’t be reused). The discarded CD – and every CD the police department produces is discarded after conversion to a digital format – will then add to the waste that Grandview sends to the landfill. The police department pays to create CDs, and then the service department pays to have them taken to the dump.

This isn’t the biggest issue the Grandview police need to address –supplying body cams for every cop on the street is a much more important upgrade the department should be working on.

But it is a connected issue – those body cams will be producing lots more video, and it will be requested more often, leading to stacks of CDs being produced by the department. That will be a waste of money and destructive to the environment. I hope the police department can be convinced to make a better choice.

Board votes new Anti-Discrimination policy – doing the right thing the wrong way

Published November 24, 2019 by justicewg

(Watch at 59:30 in the Nov 2019 board meeting video)

The Grandview Heights school board changed the non-discrimination policy of the school at the November 2019 board meeting. Although adding protection for gender and sexual expression was the right thing to do, they did nothing to ask the parents of the school how they felt about these changes – no questionnaires sent out, no meetings held. This was a subject that would have sparked debate in the community, and no matter which side of the gender expression controversy you stand on, the correct way to change board policy is to allow the debate to happen.

Now that the board has passed the levy for new school construction, the board’s concern for listening to parents has disappeared. In the past (many years ago now), a new policy that was controversial – like changes to the alcohol rules, or new valedictorian policy – was accompanied by special meetings. After the board heard hours of arguments and explanation on how the new rules might cause issues in the community, then the members read through stacks of email, the board could take action knowing they had a good handle on the outcome of changed policy. All the discussion might not have changed any minds on the board – they have always kept their personal views closed off, unless they are supporting the outcome that they know will receive the standard unanimous vote. But at least the parents of the community knew that they had a meeting to attend at which their voice could be heard. We are back to the status quo – and your voice is unimportant.

No notice given to parents

Like all new policy the board considers, there was no notice that changes will be up for a vote. There was no “action item for the board” listed on the school website. There was no notices in emails to the community. This is, unfortunately, standard for the board.

Did you watch all the way though the last posted video of the board monthly meeting in October? If you did, and listened carefully all the way to the 2:14:24 mark, there was a submission in the “other items for discussion” section of the meeting. Ms Palmisciano asked the board to consider the changes in non-discrimination policy that would add protection for gender and sexual expression. She said this was a “first reading”.

There was no announcement that the policy would be up for a vote in the November meeting, just that is was “presented for discussion”. There was no discussion at the October meeting, other than a question from Mr Bode on the wording of the policy. Present Truett said “this change can be discussed at the November meeting”, and gave no hint that the policy would be voted at the next meeting.

There was no discussion at the November meeting – the new policy was read, then immediately voted, five yes. If there was discussion going on, it was happening outside board meetings, in private conversations between board members. These private discussions are not supposed to happen, according to the open meting laws of the state of Ohio.

The answer for “why did Palmisciano ask for changes in the board non-discrimination policy?” can only be guessed, she didn’t answer my email sent after I saw the video of the October board meeting. I bet it had to do with the embarrassing failure of the board during the May 2019 meeting, during which not a single member had the courage to second a motion of support for Pride Month. Since Palmisciano will be leaving the board at the end of the year, she had one last chance to show she was not a bigot.

I guess you are not a bigot, Ms Palmisciano. Is being an anti-democratic Technocrat any better?

Unanimous vote in favor of a nondiscrimination policy

At 59:30 in the Nov 2019 board meeting video, Ms Palmisciano read out the new policy the board will be required to follow. She said the rules will now include protection for “race, color, national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, age, disability, military status”.

The addition to the policy is three categories – sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Given the controversy sparked in the community by the addition of gender neutral restrooms in the new construction at the schools, the addition of new gender protections was sure to be a move from the board that would have created some intense debate.

But debate isn’t wanted by Grandview’s school board. They just want you to be good constituents, and keep your mouths closed, because they already know what is good for the community.

Maybe it can happen here in Grandview?

Published November 15, 2019 by justicewg

Essig speaking at drug programI went to a Heroin addiction awareness program at the high school back in 2012, and was not very impressed with the content, or the number of parents who showed up (maybe 15). The general impression I left with was “not my kid” expressed the attitude of most parents in Grandview. I attended a drug addiction program last night that was very different.

The program was titled “Not Our Kids, Not In Grandview!”. This program acknowledged right from the start that shifting the attitude of “not my kid” was needed, and they laid out the facts for why this is true. The parents of Grandview Heights were more responsive to this version of drug awareness programs, more than 75 parents attended a standing room filled presentation on November 14. The facts that were presented, and the heartfelt speech given by a Grandview grad who had become a heroin addict while living here, felt more real and helpful for confronting the issue of drugs in the community.

How not to do drug programs

Please read the older post on the 2012 drug program for a more detailed take. The least helpful part was the police presentation, which stuck to the Dare program lines like “smoking pot will lead to heroin addiction”. That correlation might be true, but the fact that the majority of people don’t make that progression rendered the argument as a false statement. Correlation is not causation.

The featured speaker at the 2012 program was a parent who’s kid had died of a heroin overdose just weeks before. I don’t doubt the sincerity of a grieving parent, but the message of “you need to test your kid for drugs all the time” felt unhelpful to me. Last night’s program with the Grandview grad who spoke of how he became a heroin addict was better at piercing the attitude of “not my kid”.

I ended my post in 2012 with the guess that deaths from heroin use inside Grandview would be needed to bring parents to conclude that heroin use is an issue here. The deaths have happened, and the turnout showed that parents are ready to listen.

Speaking to the youth of Grandview Heights

I’m not sure where the group that presented the speakers – Start talking Grandview – will go from here. They have a speaker who felt honest and relatable for young people in the community. My suggestion would be for the group to drop all the old people and cops from the program, and just feature speakers like Essig. His story of party drug use, then Oxy, leading to heroin, then jail and homelessness, felt like it would engage young people who are armored with the bravado of “not me”.

I would also suggest that the group tone down the fixation on anti-vaping messages on its Facebook page. Vaping may be hazardous, but it doesn’t approach the level of danger of heroin use. The group is flirting with the mistake of previous “reefer madness” attitudes from the Dare programs.

Channel 6 news story on the program.

Grandview Mayor candidate questions – Police body cam policy

Published October 13, 2019 by justicewg

police body cam(Update – Kearns won the Nov 5th mayoral race.)

The recent incident with the spiked baseball bat wielding attacker ended with a reported wound to the hand of one of Grandview Height’s police officers. The four officers who were at the scene showed great restraint in their reaction to a suspect who was using a deadly weapon.

Although there was a dash cam showing the outside of the home, there were no body cams on the officers inside the house. If the choice made by the officers were different, and a gun was used to defend the officers, there would have been no video record of the attack. The headlines in the local papers might have been “Grandview police shoot mentally ill man wanted for a traffic violation, in his own home, no cameras were worn.”

Many local police departments now use body cams. In 2015, then Columbus Council president Andrew Ginther proposed the roll-out of body cameras. The department completed its deployment in 2018, and 1,400 officers now wear the cameras.

Whitehall became first Franklin County suburb to equip officers with body cameras in 2018. Westerville and Dublin will have all officers equipped with cams by the end of 2019. Bexley, Grove City, and Reynoldsburg have all tested cameras recently.

(edit – Reynoldsburg was late to answer my question, they now have body cams for all police officers)

My questions for the candidates – should Grandview Heights police now be using body cameras? Are you in favor of at least a test program?

Steve Reynolds – answered in one day.

First, I would echo your comments that GHPD officers showed remarkable restraint and should be applauded for their very professional response. It is my understanding the injured officer sustained multiple bone fractures in his hand and had one of his knuckles impaled by a nail. He may require multiple corrective surgeries and faces months of recovery. I certainly wish him a speedy and complete recovery.

As to the appropriateness of body cams, the department had looked into purchasing them a year or two back, but decided to hold off until implementation in other Central Ohio departments could be observed. While it may sound like a simple program to put in place, there are numerous details and considerations which come into play. The Chief could explain these with a higher level of expertise than I can, but I’ll provide a summary based upon my discussions with him and other law enforcement officers.

In addition to the initial cost of equipment, a substantial amount of expense and labor can be incurred in administering to such a program. Legal considerations such as HIPAA (i.e., personal privacy rights) require extremely careful screening and cataloging of body-cam video. This differs from dash-cam video due, in part, to the likelihood of entering someone’s home as opposed to what is readily observable to the public such as in a traffic stop on the street.

For a small department, taking up officers’ time with proper training and appropriate day-to-day operation can be a considerable allocation of resources. Some larger departments are able to employ civilians to handle some aspects of the program, but that would be especially challenging for a department our size. Long-term, secure storage of the body-cam video is also substantially more voluminous than for dash-cam video in that body cams are active for a much longer portion of an officer’s shift than dash cams.

Finally — after all that background information — I can answer your specific questions. Should the department be using body cams “now”? No, I do not believe that we have a comfort level yet with how such a program should be implemented in our own department. As I alluded to above, it isn’t as simple as just purchasing the cameras and putting them out on the street. That being said, I believe we will (and should) have them in place with GHPD within the next few years after Grandview is better able to study the experiences of local departments, both from a legal and operational perspective. Once the Chief and I are comfortable that we have reached such a point, it would then be appropriate to begin rolling out a test program. – Steve Reynolds

Greta Kearns answered after three days.

I too am grateful for the professionalism of our police officers and the leadership of our Chief of Police in keeping our community safe.

You asked whether body cameras should be used or tested in Grandview Heights Police Department. In my opinion, more information and assessment is needed before taking this step. Body camera programs require operational changes, both in the field and in the office. We are learning from other jurisdictions as they find data storage and staffing solutions to handle the high volume of public records generated by body camera video, while also meeting all legal obligations to protect privacy (minors, domestic violence victims, and personal health information, for example). Any new program needs to fit the scale of our operations and be planned within the context of budget priorities. As Mayor, I would work with my Chief of Police and the community to assess the evolving legal, operational, and technological landscape regarding body cameras and to determine if and when a program is the right step for Grandview. – Greta Kearns

Body cams are standard police gear

If you were like me, you wondered why the police video from the spiked bat incident on the local news only showed some blurry video taken from a police dash cam. Although Grandview likes to think we are “like Mayberry RFD”, we don’t pay our police department like a small town, and have up to date cars.

Whitehall is beating us in the use of modern police equipment?

The studies are out, the research done. Body cams are liked by competent cops, because they back up the word of the police officer who knows his job. The only group of police that are dragging their feet on body cams are the “we hate new tech devices” late adopters – which is where I think we are at with the present Police Chief.

Reynolds seemed to get it – the cameras are inevitable, the Grandview Police will either use them soon or be required to use them. But he shouldn’t have added “if the chief is comfortable”, we need a Mayor that is the boss, and does what is needed to keep the police department up to date, even if the Chief is uncomfortable.

Kearns was way too wishy-washy on body cams, her “if and when we use them” holds out the option of saying no to cams. That just isn’t an option that makes any sense. If she can’t tell the Chief what his job requires, she doesn’t need to be in the Mayor’s office.

Previously – Candidates set positions on the future of the Mayor

More Previously – Candidates for Mayor set positions on scooters.