Is the recently passed Massillon city budget an example of a "cooking the books" budget that is owned by Mayor Cicchinelli but also by Massillon City Council?
"Cooking the books?"
Yes, in this sense: the Cicchinelli presented budget as slightly modified by Councilman Larry Slagle still leaves Massillon underfunded in its fire and police operations by about $2.5 million rather than the $2.8 as in the original Cicchinelli budget proposal.
With a Councilman Slagle "sleight-of-hand," mid-last week, Massillon got its budget passed after a long impasse. However, in voting 8 - 0 (including Cicchinelli mayoral opponent Kathy Catazaro-Perry) for the budget, Council (previously voting 5 to 4 negative) now owns the "cooking the books-esque" budget along with Mayor Cicchinelli.
"Cooking the books"also in the sense that the numbers are not real numbers. They appear contrived to make it look as if Massillon has a balanced budget (as required by Ohio law). But to the discerning, such is not the case.
The only constructive thing that seems to have come out of the protracted debate over the budget was Councilman Slagle's well founded point that Massillon along with all other Stark County based Ohio political subdivisions will experience dramatic cuts (50% over the 2012/13 biennium) beginning in July of this year.
Mayor Cicchinelli astoundingly poo-pooed Slagle's point saying that the state cuts are a relatively small part of the budget and therefore largely inconsequential.
Massillon does not have certification of revenues to match its projected expenditures by about $2.5 million and a 21% (this state of Ohio fiscal year) cut in local government funding is inconsequential?
A number of Cicchinelli's friends on Council have chosen to make apologies for him (i.e. "this is what we have done for the past 5 years, and it has always worked out " et cetera) and thereby justify the irresponsibly "out-of-balance" budget.
That Catazaro-Perry eventually fell into line in voting for the Cicchinelli budget after the cosmetic and face saving Slagle modification, smacks of her playing politics from December through March in order to enhance her "running for mayor" profile. Moreover, the vote suggests that if Massillon's overall revenue numbers do not improve in 2011 - Catazaro-Perry, should she be elected mayor, might replicate the Cicchinelli approach to budgeting.
Or, after she is elected, is she going to find a way to recommend cutting police and fire should Massillon's financial slide continue? It is sort like the need at the national level to deal with Medicare and Social Security, but that can keeps getting kicked down the road because the politicians of neither party have the strength of leadership to deal with it.
The Report sees nothing in Catazaro-Perry that she has that kind of leadership moxie.
The Report had a discussion with Slagle as he was walking to his car after Monday's (March 28) meeting in which yours truly posed a question: "What, Larry, will it take to get this budget passed?" Answer: "The Mayor needs to offer Plan B."
While the Mayor didn't, Slagle did and consequently Massillon now has a budget despite The Report 's belief that it remains "fiscally irresponsible."
There was a way for Catazaro-Perry to make a legitimate issue of Cicchinelli's budget and to make less believable Cicchinelli's charge that she was obvious lead of the opposition merely because she was running for mayor and not because of "a showing leadership" factor.
She could have articulated and consistently advanced the Slagle point. Additionally, she could have delved into the reality that sooner or later the Massillon revenue shortfall was going to fall squarely into the laps of Massillon's safety forces; like it or not, unless there is a dramatic turnaround in Massillon's finances.
Her unwillingness to articulate such is compelling proof to the SCPR that she has been playing politics with the budget issue all along.
One councilman approached yours truly on the 28th after Council meeting (clearly doing the work of a loyal Cicchinelli foot soldier) with this little ditty: "Can you believe it, she is running for mayor and she had nothing to say about the budget!"
Answer (from The Report's perspective): What is there to say when one is stringing a situation out for whatever political benefit can be attained in doing so?
While it's clear to The Report that Cicchinelli is obscuring real Massillon financial problems in the way he is dealing with the budget this year and has done in recent years, there does not seem to be a viable alternative in the offing with a Catazaro-Perry election.
Why would Catazaro-Perry play the game that the $15.8 million operating budget is not okay followed by it is okay depending on how the chairs are arranged on the deck Titanic-Massillon-Financial?
Politics, pure and simple.
Her political advisers are the likes of Massillon Clerk of Courts Johnnie A. Maier, Jr and his sidekick (chief deputy clerk of courts and Stark County Democratic Party political director) Shane Jackson. The SCPR surmises that they have made the judgment that the drama Catazaro-Perry being against the budget before being for the budget, that is essentially unchanged, is good political press and helpful in her drive to become mayor.
Catazaro-Perry could do better. She could offer real change in the way local government does business to Massillonians. And she could demonstrate before the election that she is willing to embrace making tough decisions in governance. But it seems that she chosen to do what "primarily" political people do - "test the political winds" and do the politically expedient thing for herself.
It could be that Catazaro-Perry wins the May primary, but what are Massillonians likely to be left with?
More of the same: "politics as usual!"