Sticking up for tax breaks

As Cleveland leaders rethink development deals, one City Council member is putting in a good word for tax-increment financing. 

Ward 3’s Kerry McCormack spoke up for the tax break known as a “TIF” at a recent meeting of council’s finance committee. 

TIFs allow developers to finance their projects with the money they would have paid in property taxes. The incentive applies only to taxes on the additional property value created by the project. The city typically still requires developers to pay the Cleveland schools’ share of their property tax bills. 

McCormack represents downtown and West Side neighborhoods that have seen waves of new development in the last decade, and TIFs have been a part of that story. He said he wanted to find an equitable balance to incentives “without killing investment in the city.” 

In other words, without driving developers and their projects off to the ’burbs. 

“Because the worst thing for our city would be to push investment to the suburbs,” he said. “That is the worst thing we could do for every neighborhood in the city.” 

The Bibb administration’s economic development director, Tessa Jackson, got the TIF conversation rolling during budget hearings in February. She said the department was looking to “right size” its TIFs by offering 10- and 15-year tax breaks rather than always giving out the maximum of 30 years. 

McCormack told Signal Cleveland that he supports Jackson in being open to a more rigorous “but for” test – that is, in making developers show that a TIF is absolutely necessary for a project to happen. 

“We shouldn’t be giving any incentives that are not necessary, hard stop,” he said. 

But if the city is taking a second look at its economic development tools, he doesn’t want TIFs tossed out of the toolshed.

Police talk up policing

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Police Chief Wayne Drummond did a round of interviews with radio stations WZAK and Z107.9 this week to promote their efforts to address the city’s violent crime problem. 

They also pushed policing as a career amid a shrinking police force that’s struggled to recruit new officers for years. At last check, the city employed 1,282 officers, and that number is expected to decrease this year, even though the latest budget supports a head count of 1,498. 

The mayor and chief chatted with WZAK hosts Sam Sylk and Bijou Star about tamping down violent crime, police discipline and building bridges between officers and the community. They also discussed police recruitment – and pay – with Z107.9’s Micah Dixon

“Very noble, honorable profession,” Drummond said. “The benefits are outstanding in comparison to the private sector. Plus, you’re serving the community and so forth, and giving back to the community. So we’re looking for people.” 

“It’s a great job, creates a great pathway to a middle-class life,” Bibb added. 

The city has posted two requests for proposals that could shape hiring. One is a request for a marketing firm to help with recruitment. The other is a call for a consultant to analyze the Division of Police’s staffing needs. 

By the way, the R&B and hip-hop format stations are operated by multimedia company Urban One, which brands itself as “the leading voice speaking to Black America.” During political ad-buying seasons, Urban One stations are politicians’ go-to way to reach Cleveland voters on the radio dial.

Mayor Justin Bibb (left) swears in Maurice Brown (right) as Cleveland Division of Police Fourth District commander at City Hall on Dec. 6, 2022. Credit: City of Cleveland bureau of photography

Murdaugh judge coming to CLE

South Carolina Judge Clifton Newman was a fixture on televisions across the country as he presided over the recent sensational murder trial of prominent attorney Alex Murdaugh, who was found guilty this month of killing his wife and son. Now, Newman’s coming to Cleveland. The Cleveland State University alum will be back at his alma mater to speak at a free event at the university’s law school March 28. 

Newman earned both undergraduate and law degrees from the university. After a lifetime in the South’s segregated schools, his time at CSU marked the first time he attended class with white students, according to South Carolina’s Post and Courier newspaper.

Mayor’s second big speech set

Mayor Bibb will deliver his second State of the City speech April 19. The annual event allows the mayor to showcase what he’s accomplished and highlight his priorities and vision for the coming years, though don’t expect these things to have changed in the last 12 months.

He delivered his first State of City speech last April on his 100th day in office. At the time, he delivered the speech from the Maltz Performing Arts Center at the edge of University Circle and declared his top priorities to be public safety, modernizing City Hall, and enforcing the city’s 2019 landmark law meant to help reduce childhood lead poisoning.

Notably missing from that speech was much talk about the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (which the mayor oversees) and CEO Eric Gordon, who announced last September he is leaving at the end of the current school year. The slight drew immediate questions, though the mayor has downplayed the issue.

Perhaps it’s only a coincidence that Bibb is giving this year’s speech at East Tech High School in the city’s Central neighborhood in partnership with the school district.


Cleveland Documenter Jenna Thomas flagged a couple of interesting things at this week’s meeting of the Cleveland Board of Zoning Appeals. Among them, an Ohio City property owner, who is interested in using a new second-floor garage living space as a rental, said he talked to Council Member Kerry McCormack about new legislation regarding short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs. Cleveland currently has relatively strict regulations. You can find more details in the notes here.

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Managing Editor, News (he/him)
Mark is a veteran journalist with experience in alternative media, print, digital and television news. For 19 years, he was a groundbreaking reporter and metro columnist with The Plain Dealer and Most recently, Mark spent three years as an investigative, enterprise and breaking news reporter at WKYC-TV, where his "Leading the Land" series on Cleveland's 2021 mayoral primary race earned a regional Emmy.

Amy Morona, Higher Education Reporter

Higher Education Reporter (she/her)
Amy, who’s worked in both local and national newsrooms for nearly a decade, previously covered higher education at Crain's Cleveland Business in partnership with the national nonprofit news organization Open Campus. A first-generation college graduate, Amy is committed to highlighting the voices of students in her coverage.

Nick Castele, Government Reporter

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio, where he has 10 years' experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Last year he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.