City Council General Fund Budget hearings continue for a second week. Credit: Stephanie Casanova / Signal Cleveland

Welcome to week two of General Fund budget hearings! Cleveland City Council is picking up where they left off after enjoying a much-needed budget-hearing-free Presidents’ Day.

Today, the following departments will present their budget proposals:

  • Department of Law
  • Department of Public Works
    • This department includes the city divisions that provide recreation, waste removal, street paving and that operate the West Side Market.
Budget Terms to Know: Cleveland Department of Law

Code enforcement is Law Department priority, director says

Cleveland City Council members had stepped-up housing code enforcement on their minds as the Law Department presented its proposed budget Tuesday.

Find the full Law Department presentation here. 

Several council members, including Council President Blaine Griffin and Ward 13’s Kris Harsh, pressed Law Director Mark Griffin on sufficient staffing to enforce codes that will protect neighbors and tenants in their wards.

“It’s unacceptable for our people to be living in substandard conditions,” Harsh said. Mark Griffin said he “completely agrees.”

The department’s proposed budget adds  two attorneys to handle code enforcement, the Law Department’s Griffin said. The city is also trying to fill the now-vacant Chief of Code Enforcement job. If those vacancies are filled, the division will have its highest staffing level in the city’s history, said Michele Comer, chief counsel for special projects..

“We need to do better, and that’s why code enforcement is 1 and 1A in our priorities going forward,” Mark Griffin said.

Filling positions in the department has been  difficult, he said.In 2022, not all budgeted positions were filled. The department faced recruitment and retention challenges. Mark Griffin said he hopes the department will be more competitive with the “modest” salary increases that are budgeted.

Another snag is that the department can’t post open jobs until they are vacant. For example, Mark Griffin said, if someone intends to retire in three months, the department is unable to hire until the attorney retires. When asked why that is the case, he responded, “I have no idea.” Ward 15 Council Member Jenny Spencer said she intends to ask the city’s human resources department about this issue. 

As attorney positions remain vacant, the city has to pay more outside attorneys. Roughly one-third of the department’s budget goes toward private law firms or attorneys hired on a contracting basis, Mark Griffin said.

Cleveland Council Member Rebecca Maurer asked about the contract with the firm Zashin & Rich, which handles many labor negotiations for the city. The firm was publicly criticized earlier this year after John Dileno, a now-former attorney, sent insulting texts to a colleague who was returning from maternity leave. 

Maurer asked if the city planned to contract directly with Dileno to handle labor negotiations. Law department officials said that would not happen.

Budget Terms to Know: Cleveland Department of Public Works

The Department of Public Works includes many different divisions and operations with a total proposed operating budget of more than $89 million. Here’s the budgets for each of them.

  • Department Administration $3,400,473
  • Division of Recreation $15,890,854
  • Golf Courses $1,408,984
  • Schools Recreation and Cultural $1,125,000
  • Public Auditorium $3,247,728
  • West Side Market $2,036,069
  • Cleveland Stadium Fund $14,698,532
  • Division of Parking Facilities $989,789
  • Parking Lots General Operations $8,491,717
  • Division of Property Management $9,096,485
  • Division of Park Maintenance and Properties $19,480,708
  • Cemeteries $1,964,819
  • Division of Waste Collection and Disposal $36,523,623
  • Division of Traffic Engineering $4,066,336
  • Division of Motor Vehicle Maintenance $24,258,873
  • Division of Street Construction, Maintenance and Repair $36,710,322

Cleveland recreation center attendance on the rise after pandemic dips

Recreation center attendance dipped significantly during the pandemic, falling from nearly a million visits in 2018 to less than 200,000 in 2020. Attendance numbers are slowly inching upward again, with roughly 326,000 visits in 2022.

As those numbers continue to recover, staffing levels appeared to be a concern among City Council members.

Council member Mike Polensek asked if community centers were sufficiently staffed. Recreation Commissioner Sam Gissentaner responded “adequately enough,” though he noted persistent vacancies.

Ward 15 Council Member Jenny Spencer asked Gissentaner to lay out his plans to recruit the nearly 150 lifeguards needed to staff the city’s outdoor pools in the summer. 

Gissentaner touted a pay increase, from the previous $12-13 per hour to the current wage of $15 an hour. Ward 17 Council Member Charles Slife recommended increasing that amount to $15.33, the estimate of a liveable wage for a single person in Cleveland.

In addition, the city’s recreation division started lifeguard training courses in August 2022, immediately after the summer season to hire more lifeguards sooner. Normally that program does not begin until January. 

When asked if that training program would help sufficiently fill vacancies, Gissentaner said the city did not reach its quota, but it had enough lifeguards to “service our community.” He said he anticipates every outdoor pool to be open this summer.

Public Works Director Frank Williams talked about what the department was doing to assess how the city’s special events permitting and planning process could work better, looking at other cities that host major events. City Council President Blaine Griffin said he was concerned the city was looking toward privatizing that work.  “I want us to know and I want us to be involved if we are looking at all at privatizing special events services,” said.

Quote of the week: Public Works Director Frank Williams on learning from Public Works departments across the city: “There’s nothing wrong with being a copycat if you know which cat to copy”

West Side Market presents budget ahead of transition to nonprofit management

Council heard about plans for the West Side Market’s transition to nonprofit management. Credit: Erin Woisnet for Signal Cleveland

City administrators of the West Side Market presented a proposed budget ahead of transition plans to nonprofit administration by the end of the year.

While the city will maintain ownership of the Ohio City-based market, Mayor Justin Bibb recently announced the formation of a nonprofit and appointed 15 board members that will oversee its operations, Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele reported.

Council members pressed the market’s Senior Strategist Jessica Trivisonno about the market’s dropping revenues. Between 2019 and 2022, rent income dropped from $1.35 million to $1.16 million. The city froze rents for tenants during the pandemic and vacancies climbed to about 32 percent. 

In the same time period, budget subsidies from the city to the market tripled from $276,000 to $740,000. 

Trivisonno said the city expects revenue to increase, with a projected rental income of $1.2 million in 2023. She also said the 64-page master plan lays plans for West Side Market’s financial self-sufficiency, possibly generating new revenue by creating and renting out commercial kitchens, hosting events and sponsorship options.

Find the full West Side Market budget presentation here. 

City garbage and recycling bins lined up during trash day
Cleveland expects to get 12,000 new trash and recycling carts to distribute this year. Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

No wasting opportunities for good news 

Cleveland’s Waste Collection and Disposal Commissioner Terrell Pruitt had lots of good news to share with City Council at the end of a long day of hearings on Tuesday.

  • The division’s waste removal operation had a surplus of $25,000 for the first time in recent memory. Previously the operation was losing $300,000 or $400,000 per year. Pruitt explained that previously the city was allowing contractors to pay to dump loads of debris at the city’s transfer stations. But that wasn’t making the city money and it was jamming up the line and slowing down turnaround Cleveland and Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority trucks — meaning it was slowing down service for residents.  “It’s a good news story,” Pruitt said.
  • The city is seeing early success in its reset of its recycling program. About 66,000 households are signed up and the contamination level is down to 15 percent — likely because the program is opt in and there’s been lots of education around what can be recycled. “Say it loud, say it proud,” Pruitt said. The city is still allowing residents to opt in, with the hope of getting to more than 80,000 households participating. It will begin pulling the blue recycling carts from households that have not signed up this summer. Pruitt said the city would be putting out information out to the public before that happens.
  • The city is spending $1.8 million from the capital  budget to purchase more than 12,000 replacement trash and recycling carts. Those carts — if there’s no supply chain issues — are expected to be distributed for residents who have been waiting by summer.  

What did Documenters cover?

In the morning, council discussed the proposed 2023 budget for the Department of Law, which is about $18.6 million. Then council dug into the proposed budget for the Department of Public Works and its several divisions, totaling about $89.5 million. Check out this live-tweet thread by Documenter Gennifer Harding-Gosnell for more:

Council continued digging into the proposed budget for Public Works in the afternoon. Officials discussed waste collection, the West Side Market, and street repair.

Budget hearing recaps

Day 1: The budget hearings kicked off with Mayor Justin Bibb walking Cleveland City Council through his 2022 accomplishments. Bibb released his $1.95 billion budget estimate and spending proposals on Feb. 1, which includes nearly $711 million to cover the city’s basic operations.

Bibb’s plan to balance the city’s budget relies on eliminating more than 250 city jobs that are vacant, including in Public Safety, Public Works, and Building and Housing.

Council members had the chance to ask the administration questions and bring up priorities for the wards they represent. Council members expressed concern over issues of public safety, education and housing. They also probed Bibb on campaign promises like East Side revitalization.

Council members have the final say in approving the budget.

Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele noted that while Bibb’s campaign slogan was “Cleveland Can’t Wait,” the mayor struck a more cautious tone when presenting his second budget, telling council members that “change does take time.”

Find a recap of the discussion here.

Day 2: Council members spent the day digging into public safety. Staffing, recruitment and the management of nuisance animals such as groundhogs were high on the list of council members’ concerns.

Find a recap of the discussion here.

Council also heard Wednesday about a proposal to spend $1 million to create a stronger pipeline for young Cleveland residents interested in public safety careers. Recruitment has been a consistent issue in recent years in the city, and across the country. Signal Cleveland’s Stephanie Casanova has more on that plan.

Day 3: Council members focused on the staffing and recruitment of police officers as well as the use of technology to help solve and prevent crime. Mayor Justin Bibb proposed balancing the city’s budget, in part, by eliminated vacant positions and many of them are in the police department, which its lowest level of uniformed officers in decades. That had council members worried about increased overtime costs. Council also vetted a request for additional money from the new Community Police Commission, which was seated in December and began its oversight and policy work last month.

Find a recap of the discussion here.

Day 4: Council members heard from the municipal courts and its divisions, as well several other departments. In the morning, an audience protest disrupted housing court’s budget presentation demanding Judge Moná Scott, “Let Jeff Go!,” referring to a 60-year-old man Scott sent to jail for 90 days over housing violations. The protesters were removed from chambers and hearings proceeded. Council also heard from:

  • Office of Sustainability
  • Office of Urban Analytics
  • Office of Equal Opportunity
  • Department of Aging
  • Port Control

Find a recap of the discussion here.

Contributions by Anastazia Vanisko and Doug Breehl-Pitorak. Edited by Mary Ellen Huesken.

Abbey was the service journalism reporter for Signal Cleveland through February 2023. She joined us from the Akron Beacon Journal/USA Today Network, where she was a Report for America corps member covering the City of Akron and local government.