HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — Mayor Chuck Brunello Jr. delivered his second State of the City address Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Highland Heights Community Center.
He spoke of a city that, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, remains “a wonderful place to live, raise a family, work or even own a business.”
He also took the time to explain in detail a problem with the Nov. 8 vote, he said, with the city’s needs being passed as municipalities will be called upon by the state to pay an increasing share of pensions. police and firefighters.
Brunello began his talk, which lasted just over half an hour, by recounting how Highland Heights was recognized in 2021 by Cleveland Magazine as one of the top 20 suburbs in its annual “Rating the Suburbs” and how the city was cited by Crain’s Cleveland Business as one of the 10 wealthiest suburbs.
“We appreciate this recognition,” he said, “because this kind of positive public relations greatly increases the appeal of our community when potential home buyers and businesses are looking to relocate.”
Brunello then gave an overview of the events that have unfolded in Highland Heights over the past 18 months. Some of the items he covered were:
— In finance, Brunello said the city is “strong” with a general fund balance of over $8.3 million. Local taxes increased by approximately $185,000, or 1.7% year-on-year.
“The city received $438,000 in (federal) ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding, in which we used $105,000 for technology upgrades and new seating in our council chamber,” he said. he declares.
The renovated and modernized council chamber was reopened last November.
Brunello said the city has taken a conservative approach to spending due to the pandemic and tax revenue uncertainty as many people work from home. The city spent about $1 million less in 2021 than in 2020. Revenue exceeded expenses by $767,000.
— On development, Brunello spoke of the city welcoming the Metropolitan Veterinary Hospital at Alpha Drive and Lake Business Products at 653 Miner Road in recent months.
While answering questions from audience members after his speech, Brunello was asked about recent news that Progressive Insurance is selling five buildings. One of these buildings was known to be in Mayfield.
Brunello said two of the buildings are in Highland Heights, but both serve more as warehouses and are lightly staffed, meaning the impact on the town will not be significant.
— Brunello spoke about the walking trails that are currently in the planning stages of the Highland Heights Community Park that will connect to Bishop Road.
“With nearly 50 acres of newly preserved areas connected to Highland Heights Community Park, we have new opportunities to connect to and through the park,” he said.
A public meeting was held in September 2021 on the subject.
Brunello shared that the city recently received $200,000 in grants for the project, including $100,000 each from the State Capital Improvement Fund and the Cuyahoga County ARPA Funds grant program.
— Brunello noted that with the June 3 retirement of former police chief James Cook, who served with the HHPD for 52 years, the city has its first new chief in 32 years. It would be Dennis Matejcic.
In 2021, HHPD received 15,909 service requests. Of these, 544 concerned assistance during criminal events, while 4,727 concerned road safety assistance.
Explanation of the November ballot number
Brunello made special mention near the end of his speech of a mileage proposal for police and fire pensions that will appear on the November ballot.
“The city uses the mileage to collect taxes from residents to help pay for police and fire duties the city has to pay,” he said.
“The current rate of 0.6 million was voted on by residents in 1966 and came into effect in 1967, and has remained the same ever since.”
The request for more mileage comes after state lawmakers introduced action in December 2021 that would increase the percentage municipalities must pay over five years for police pensions from 19.5% to 26.5%, and for firefighters, from 19.5% to 24%.
State lawmakers are acting to avert a projected $6.5 billion shortfall in Ohio’s police and fire department pension fund.
“The city’s retirement liability for 2022 is approximately $1,022,000,” he told an audience of about 50 people, which included council members and city managers.
“The city will collect $266,000 from residents, leaving the city to pay $756,000 from the general fund, which is the city’s operating expense fund.”
Brunello said the city’s share of liability will increase to $47,000 in year one, $97,000 in year two, $150,000 in year three, $206,000 in year four and $265,000 in year five. year.
The city’s recent Charter Review Board, made up of nine residents, recently recommended putting the issue of a mileage increase to a fall ballot. If the voters approve, the city council would have the option of increasing the current mileage from 0.6 to 2.0 mills, if necessary.
“This will help cover general fund expenses,” Brunello said. “To reiterate, this will only be increased as needed and may be changed annually.”
If voters approve, the owner of a home worth $250,000 would pay $140 a year, an increase of $87.50 a year. Currently, the owner of the same house pays $52.50 per year.
“Even at the 2 mills,” Brunello said, “the city would only raise about $900,000, which is still less than the liability the city has to pay for police and firefighter pensions.
“These funds will go strictly to police and fire pension funds and will not be used for general operating expenses.
“Highland Heights City Council, under the direction of the CFO, would set the pension liability mileage on an annual basis, based on general fund needs,” he said.
“It would not necessarily be the 2 mills every year. Again, this mileage has not changed since its inception in 1967.”
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