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

It’s day six of Cleveland’s budget hearings.

Today, the following departments will present their budget proposals:

  • Department of Public Health
  • Office of Prevention, Intervention and Opportunity for Youth and Young Adults
  • Departments of Community and Economic Development
  • Department of Building and Housing

Follow the morning session with Cleveland Documenter Gennifer Harding-Gosnell on Twitter.

Follow the afternoon session with Cleveland Documenter Dan McLaughlin on Twitter.

Council members demand crackdown on health code violations

The Department of Public Health presented its proposed budget — which makes up 1.6% of the city’s overall General Fund — on Wednesday morning. The department handles everything from infant mortality prevention to responding to lead poisoning to providing basic vaccines and contraceptive care at its city-run health clinics. The department also monitors air quality and inspects restaurants and food venues for food safety. 

The department’s director, Dr. David Margolius, was greeted with frustration from council members over persistent health and environmental code violations as well as over illegal dumping and littering from repeat offenders.

Margolius said they will continue to issue tickets and violation notices, but he acknowledged it’s “not enough.”

Ward 8 Council Member Mike Polensek said the Department of Public Health should force compliance by “making an example” out of persistent violators by using aggressive methods such as prosecution or even holding press conferences outside offending stores.

Polensek identified Dollar General by name. Margolius labeled that chain–along with plasma centers and tax-refund businesses–as  “vultures of poverty.”

Polensek underscored the need for a “team approach” to dealing with these offenders, putting the onus not only on the Department of Public Health but also on the Department of Building and Housing and the Division of Fire.

“Start making them understand this type of behavior in the City of Cleveland will not be tolerated,” he said. 

The Division of Environment currently employs 16 state program inspectors, who monitor restaurants, pools, and tattoo and body piercing shops.

As with most city departments, overall staffing across the department remains an issue, Margolius said. He said he feels confident in current employees and remains optimistic about their ability to ramp up their staffing levels in the midst of ongoing union negotiations to increase salaries.

Director of Air Quality David Hearne said a grant-funded program that gave rebates to residents who swapped out their gas-powered lawn mowers for electric ones was once again available. Last year, 162 residents participated and got $100 rebates. 

Mobile clinics rolling out, health equity measures coming

Mobile clinics: Frances Mills, commissioner of health and interim director of the Office of Minority Health, said mobile health clinics will be rolling around the city by spring. Council approved the purchase of the two vehicles in 2021 at a cost of about $550,000. 

The city has requested money from the General Fund to hire Health Department staff to service the mobile health clinics that will be available to residents starting in April. 

Mills said the mobile clinics will provide reproductive and sexual health services, will monitor chronic diseases, and will administer vaccinations. 

Health equity: Three longtime Cleveland public health programs, MomsFirst, the Office of Mental Health and Addiction Recovery (OMHAR), and the office of HIV/AIDS services are now under a new Division of Health, Equity and Social Justice (HESJ). 

The division will examine health issues that are affected by structural racism. In 2020, City Council passed a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis and established a community advisory group that promotes racial equity. 

Lita Wills, commissioner of the division, said the city and the advisory group will host a community engagement event in April to describe the work done so far under the initiative. 

Council President Blaine Griffin, who has been a champion of the 2020 legislation, asked if the division is working with the community group to present public measurements. 

Wills said the city and coalition will work together to produce public data dashboards that will provide residents with information about the initiative.

Council members dig in (again) on city’s paint assistance program

What Cleveland’s Community Development defined as a “success story” doesn’t qualify as one, Ward 12 Council Member Rebecca Maurer said. 

Community Development Director Alyssa Hernandez touted 78 homes that were completed through the city’s exterior home paint program in 2022. The program, relaunched in 2020, provides homeowners with up to $1,500 to paint the exteriors of their homes. Tenants may receive up to $750. 

But that metric is hardly something to be proud of given that 286 projects were approved,  Maurer argued in a pointed line of questioning Wednesday afternoon. That means about 27% of the projects were completed in 2022. 

“It’s almost disrespectful to residents to say we’re here to help and then to create a program where we’re sort of tantalizingly holding something up in front of them and they can’t get there,” Maurer said.

Originally, the goal was to paint 1,000 homes in the first two years of the program. Signal Cleveland’s Doug Breehl-Pitorak previously reported that only 36% of approved applicants finished painting their homes in 2020 and 2021. 

Neighborhood Services Commissioner Louise Jackson said the trouble lies with putting much of the responsibility on the applicant. In the 2022 budget hearings, council members asked about securing labor for applicants who were unable to do the work themselves. But hiring contractors is proving difficult, Jackson said. Two of the three painting contractors were not eligible for the program. 

Jackson also blamed weather conditions such as rain. Maurer pointed out the same excuse was given last year, but she cited a article that calls 2022’s summer a “hot and drier” one than recent years.

Ward 1 Council Member Joe Jones said the city is doing a “lousy job” of promoting programs such as this in neighborhoods.

The paint program is budgeted for $1.4 million, $400,000 of which is carryover from the previous year.

Economic development money hasn’t ‘moved the bar’ 

While discussing the proposed $1.9 million 2023 budget for the Department of Economic Development, Director Tessa Jackson told council members she had concerns about the city’s use of tax increment-financing (TIFs).

From 2017 to 2022, the department asked for approval of  about 20 TIFs – about four per year – Jackson said. Comparatively, the administration has brought four to council’s table in the last three months.

Jackson called TIFs complicated, and she said the impact of incentives the department has provided in the last 15 years – totaling about half a billion dollars touching four or five wards – has not had the impact on Clevelanders that it should.

“When you look at historic poverty rates, historic unemployment rates, that money really hasn’t moved the bar,” Jackson said. “You can’t spend half a billion dollars on economic development and not move the bar for anybody, for the people in this community.”

Jackson said the city is looking to rightsize the TIF and not give blanket 30-year agreements. 

About half of those TIF projects in recent years have been in maybe four or five city wards, she said. 

“There’s a huge disparity in how the department has deployed its resources and incentives,” Jackson said. 

Look up information on TIFs in Cuyahoga County.

Jackson also talked about how the department is busy reviewing different type of loans the city has on its books to make sure the promised jobs have been created and other agreements have been met. The city isn’t looking to go after small businesses, she said, but will be looking to collect from businesses that owe the millions.

Economic Development Director Tessa Jackson talks to Cleveland City Council members during budget hearings Wednesday.

Here are the budgets for the departments set to present Wednesday:

  • Department of Public Health
       Department Administration $2,327,410
       Division of Health, Equity and Social Justice $2,075,177
    Division of Health $1,620,965
    Division of Environment $2,426,614
    Division of Air Quality $1,110,291
  • Office of Prevention, Intervention, and Opportunity for Youth and Young Adults $4,455,815
  • Department of Community Development $2,561,665
  • Department of Economic Development $1,921,284
  • Department of Building and Housing
       Department Administration $4,228,354
       Division of Code Enforcement $8,533,792
       Division of Construction Permitting $1,652,746
Budget Terms to Know: Cleveland Department of Public Health

What would your General Fund budget choices look like?

Refund Cleveland created a simplified view of the mayor’s General Fund budget proposal as a way for residents think about how they would set budget priorities. See what Mayor Justin Bibb’s budget priorities are, then decide how would you spend taxpayer money? Check it out here.

ICYMI: No wasting opportunities for good news 

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

Cleveland’s Waste Collection and Disposal Commissioner Terrell Pruitt on 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.  

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.

Day 5: The departments of Law and Public Works presented their proposed budgets before City Council. Find a recap of that discussion here.

Signal Cleveland staff members Candice Wilder, Doug Breehl-Pitorak and Anastazia Vanisko contributed to this report.

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.

Cleveland Documenters pays and trains people to cover public meetings where government officials discuss important issues and decide how to spend taxpayer money.