Welcome to the first day of Cleveland’s General Fund budget hearings!
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The hearings will kick off when Mayor Justin Bibb meets with Cleveland City Council to walk through his accomplishments from last year and present his Mayor’s Letter of Transmittal. It’s part of a formal process required by the city charter. Council has had Bibb’s budget estimate and spending proposals in hand since Feb. 1. The $1.95 billion budget includes spending nearly $711 million to cover the city’s basic operations.
Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele reported that 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. By law, the budget must be balanced, but the margin is thin in Bibb’s proposal with revenues just $225,000 more than expenses.
Following Bibb’s presentation, council is set to hear from Finance Director Ahmed Abonomah, who will delve into the city’s financial picture and answer questions from council members.
What to know about the Cleveland budget hearings
Keep up with the latest from inside the hearing room
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb kicked off budget hearings by giving an overview of his proposal, highlighting his goals of preventing gun violence, cleaning up the lakefront and revitalizing the East Side.
Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin then posed questions to Bibb and his administration about the budget proposal:
City revenue: Revenue is expected to be up this year. Griffin asked what strategies the administration has employed and how they plan to increase revenues in the future.
Bibb responded that his administration is “aggressively” pursuing additional revenue streams, citing efforts like rental car fees at Cleveland Hopkins airport and smart parking meters.
Chief of Finance Ahmed Abonamah also noted the importance of incentivizing companies and employees to return to downtown offices, which would increase Cleveland’s income tax collection and stimulate local restaurants and bars during and after work hours.
Police overtime: The city spent $9 million in 2022 for uniformed police overtime. With the reduction of vacant police positions, Griffin questioned if the overtime budget is too low for officers who will have to fill those gaps.
Abonamah said overtime was costly last year due to recruitment issues and hundreds of vacant positions. The expectation, he said, is that once the remaining vacancies are filled, overtime will decrease. If that does not happen, the overtime budget can be adjusted throughout the year.
Community Police Commission funding: Griffin raised questions regarding the funding for the Community Police Commission, passed by voters in November 2021 in response to growing calls for police reform. Between 2022 and 2023, the budget for the commission increased 310%, from roughly $500,000to $2.3 million.
Abonamah pointed out that the commission wasn’t established until December 2022, so much of the commission’s appropriation wasn’t spent. The legislation calls for a budget of at least $1 million, plus 0.5% of the amount budgeted for police to be allocated to community organizations.
Follow along on Twitter with Cleveland Documenter Gennifer Harding-Gosnell.
How does does this year’s budget kick off compare to last year? Check out these notes from the first day of the 2022 budget from Documenter Carolyn Cooper.
Bibb budget jargon
Mayor Justin Bibb often speaks like a businessman — or a salesman as Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele pointed out in this profile. Here’s one of the terms Bibb tossed around during today’s budget hearing and what it means.
Explaining the budget
Cleveland Documenters aren’t the only one in the local government explainer game. Ward 12 Council Member Rebecca Maurer shared this visual walk through the budget process today.
Digging into the budget details
Cleveland City Council members also took turns probing Bibb and members of his administration about their budget priorities. Council members posed questions about public safety spending, prioritizing senior residents, housing and education. One theme that continued from last year: References to whether Bibb’s budget would prioritize the city’s struggling East Side neighborhoods or invest in all neighborhoods.
Council Member Kevin Bishop missed today’s hearing. He is in New York attending a Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative intensive leadership and management program, where he’ll be focused on blight reduction on the city’s East Side. Danny Kelly, the newest council member, passed on his chance to ask questions.
Topics council members brought up included:
Public safety concerns: Nearly every council member brought up safety concerns in each of their wards, offering varying viewpoints on eliminating police vacancies, recruitment and retention issues and preventing violence. Public safety–including police, fire and emergency medical services–makes up more than 50 percent of the city’s General Fund budget.
Bibb noted that “more police won’t solve this problem.” He said that Cleveland has more police per resident than peer cities. He underscored the importance of other programs to prevent violence before it happens, such as economic investment and after-school programs.
Bibb said one proposal council is considering includes spending $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to work with grassroots groups and families affected by violence to create a “comprehensive long-term violence prevention strategy” to respond to violence.
Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance Executive Director spoke about the proposal during Feb. 6 City Council public comment session.
Other council members discussed the need for a crackdown on illegal dumping and better lighting in neighborhoods to help prevent crime.
Future of education: Several council members said they had concerns about Cleveland’s public education system and about the conditions of schools. They questioned Bibb on his plan to improve the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and how to prevent students from leaving for charter schools.
CMSD’s decade-long CEO, Eric Gordon, will step down at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, and Bibb, the only mayor in the state with control of a public school district, said he is “hands-on” with the search for a new CEO.
Signal Cleveland’s Paul Rochford created a timeline about the 25 years of mayoral control of the school system.
Bibb also responded to questions about what he was looking for in a new school district CEO, and he agreed that experience in a public school system was essential.
What do parents and students want in a new CMSD leader? This is what they told the district.
Getting ‘aggressive’ with housing violations: In response to council questions about home repair options and improving housing conditions, Bibb said the city plans to hire a new chief lawyer for housing code enforcement.
“I’m looking for an aggressive, aggressive lawyer to be proactive to crack down on these nuisance properties,” he said.
Bibb also said they are exploring options to hire outside lawyers to crack down on out-of-state companies that own rentals in the city.
Recently, residents have complained to City Council about the city’s slow response to vacant and distressed properties and the effect those properties have on the quality of life in neighborhoods.
The issue of housing code enforcement also often comes up during meetings of the Board of Building Standards and Building Appeals. Questions about code violations came up in a recent meeting covered by Documenter Sarah Tan.
Revitalizing the East Side: Council members needled Bibb over his East Side revitalization plans, including lakefront cleanup, which was a key promise in his 2021 campaign.
Bibb promised a “Marshall Plan for the East Side” and better connections from downtown to the East Side.
But Ward 16 Council Member Brian Kazy expressed concern about the optics of focusing on one side of town, asking Bibb to make sure investment is spread across the city, particularly in middle neighborhoods.
What are middle neighborhoods?
“Nobody is going to not help you achieve that goal, but what’s your plan for the West Side, the South Side?” Kazy asked.
“I’m the mayor of the entire City of Cleveland,” Bibb responded. “A thriving East Side is in the best interest of West Park and Kamm’s Corners and Detroit Shoreway and downtown Cleveland as well. I believe we must continue to build and see our middle neighborhoods grow.”
Planning for the future: Council also heard from Cleveland’s City Planning department, which has a $2.9 million budget. Under the direction of Joyce Pan Huang, the seven-member staff of planners and architects guides city and neighborhood development and improvement.
Council members brought up concerns from residents about accessing city processes and outdated zoning codes. Huang told council members that the city planning team was in the midst of updating city planning procedures to include engagement from residents earlier around proposed development, streamline and modernize the processes and roll out a new type of code called form-based zoning. Right now Cleveland has a traditional Euclidean zoning, which separates the city into different uses such as residential, commercial or industrial.
Form-based zoning uses the physical form of the city to shape neighborhoods and achieve desires principles, such as walkability.
What did Documenters cover?
In the morning session, Mayor Justin Bibb presented his administration’s proposed 2023 budget. Council members shared their general thoughts on the request.
Check out Documenter Gennifer Harding-Gosnell’s live-tweet thread on the morning session:
Council turned its focus to the City Planning Department and its boards and commissions in the afternoon. Officials also discussed the city’s Boxing and Wrestling Commission. Check out this live-tweet thread by Documenter Giorgiana Lascu:
Made it to the end of the first long day of budget hearings? You probably saw a few tense exchanges, a few laughs. Here’s a few memorable moments.
Signal Cleveland and Cleveland Documenters team members Doug Breehl-Pitorak and Anastazia Vanisko contributed to this post.