After publishing yesterday's blog, yours truly received a lengthy letter from Ward 7 councilman John Mariol.
Mariol's explanation of the current and ongoing crisis in Canton city government on the issue of the planning, allocation and expenditures of the city's capital fund is so well done that it needs further media exposure.
Accordingly, the SCPR publishes as "Part 2" a second blog on The Battle to Save the Soul of Canton featuring Mariol's letter.
But first a little background on Mariol.
Yes, Mariol lost his election try in 2011 to incumbent councilman Patrick Barton.
However, Barton in 2012 went on to become Canton's Information Technology director and on May 12, 2012 John Mariol became his replacement on being selected by the Ward 7 Stark County Democratic Party Central Committee members.
He was elected in his own right in 2013. But he is being challenged in the Democratic primary to be held on May 5th.
The SCPR is projecting that Mariol will win handily.
He is one of four "relatively new" councilpersons the SCPR has tabbed as being "the four young turks" with the disclaimer that Ward 9 Councilman Frank Morris "ain't so young." (lol)
And on March 4, 2015 Councilmen Fisher, Mack, Mariol and Morris remain a major basis on which to think that Canton will dig itself out of its decades-in-the-making deep, deep hole.
On the veteran side of council, Bill Smuckler has been instrumental is schooling the four on being effective as council members and each is making a mark for himself in focusing on various aspects of Canton city government.
Mariol, it seems to the SCPR, is paying special attention to Canton's revitalization in the downtown part of the city (e.g. the Onesto Lofts, the Market Square project and the like).
Mariol as chairman of council's Public Property Capital Improvement Committee has drawn ire of a number of his fellow councilpersons (Smith - Ward 4, Dougherty Ward 6) for proposing that a lion's share of Canton's $400,000 set aside for Ward road maintenance projects be redirected to pay Canton's share of a mandatory "local match" in order to get a state and federal government grant of $1.25 million to repave Fulton Road Northwest which runs from West Tuscarawas Street out past the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the city limits.
Between Mariol's justification of his position and Ward 8 Councilman Edmond Mack's of yesterday, Cantonians now have the resources to be fully informed on the "deep, deep 'road maintenance' hole" that previous administrations and councils (including current mayor William J. Healy, II's, but going back through Republican Creighton and Watkins administrations, at the very least) have - through their neglect - brought to Canton.
It is clear to the SCPR that the conditions of roads and streets of Canton is now a political "elephant-in-the-room" that has grabbed the attention of all of council and over time is on the way to being remedied.
And the SCPR attributes much of the impetus to reordering priorities to bring neighhoods (i.e. the demolition of abandoned vacant properties), to bring street/road conditions out of backlog and to increased police and fire coverage to acceptable levels to the likes of Fisher, Mack, Mariol and Morris.
That is not to say that the remaining councilpersons are not part of the effort. It is that the SCPR thinks that "the four" have doubled down and taken the lead to solve all of Canton's "overwhelming" problems undaunted by the gigantic scope of those problems.
Economic development and its corollary of creating city of Canton taxpayers is always going to be the top priority so that funds are available to do neighborhood blight removal, street and road repair/improvement and making the city secure.
However, a focus and emphasis on economic development will not work if the city is blighted, pothole filled and unsafe.
It takes energetic and imaginative leadership to "keep-all-those-balls-in-the-air" and the SCPR thinks that "the four" have those qualities in spades and thereby provide Cantonians with hope that the city is slowly but surely getting a grip on its decline and turning it around.
Here is the entire text of Councilman John Mariol's letter to the SCPR:
Before I give my take on the debate at last nights Council meeting, I would like to touch on some figures regarding the Capital Budget. At the end of 2013, we passed a temporary budget that set aside 1 million dollars for road maintenance and paving. After we selected our Majority and Assistant Majority Leaders, we started working on our permanent budget for fiscal year 2014. Working with the Administration, we were able to increase the 1 million dollars of road maintenance to 1.75 million dollars. This year we set aside 1.9 million for paving and put $400,000 into councils' budget, with the intent of using it for paving.
Recently, we were able to identify another $200,000 that we will be moving into paving— bringing our projected total budgeted amount for paving to 2.35 million dollars. Even with these changes, we are still 10 million dollars behind in paving, and with the winter we had, I do not believe we will make up ground. We currently have the opportunity to secure 1.25 million dollars, in the form of a grant, to pave a road that is in deplorable condition (Fulton Rd). To secure this grant, we need to come up with around $351,000.
We have a few sources to look at for these funds. First is the unappropriated line of our Capital Fund. Currently, we have 1.1 million in unappropriated capital, and that money is historically used for engineering projects, equipment for our departments, and potentially, more paving. This year, we had 4.4 million dollars of requests from departments and engineering, yet we only have 1.1 million to allocate. Working with department heads, we have come up with a plan that reduces the 4.4 million requested amount down to around a $900,000 dollar allocation— and leaves about $147,000 in un-appropriated. If we take the money for the matching funds from the 1.1 million dollars, we will have to forgo purchasing items such as body armor for the police, turnout gear for the firefighters, computers for the law department, or multiple engineering projects— and in turn, lose out on other matching funds.
Secondly, we can take the matching funds for Fulton out of our paving budget. This would put us even further behind on paving, and in my opinion, would be damaging to our city.
Third, and finally, we could use the $400,000 we have in Councils' budget to fund Fulton Rd. Lets lay out some facts regarding the $400,000 in Councils' budget. During my time on Council, we have never had $400,000. $400,000 represents 40% of all the unappropriated funds in our Capital Account, and Council does not have the authority to spend the $400,000 on paving without first moving it elsewhere. In my opinion, the only logical place to look for the $351,000 for Fulton Rd is in Councils' budget.
Regarding the disagreements from last nights Council meeting, this was the first time I've experienced such opposition from a small minority of Council on funding a project with matching funds that will cover 80% of that project. I strongly supported these types of projects in the past, regardless of which ward they are in. It is no secret
that we have funding issues in the city due to the cuts in local government funding. Anytime we can leverage taxpayer money to secure grants— those votes become "no-brainers". It's also no secret that we are dealing with decades of neglect to our roads, which have resulted in roads that are barely drivable. If we are to fix this paving problem, we must be fully dedicated to allocating as much money as we possibly can. We need the discipline to delay our wants, so we can fund our needs. In the past, we did not do this— resulting in the road conditions we are dealing with today. The "kicking the can down the road" has to end.
Some members question the fairness in spending this amount of money on a road that is located in only two wards of our city. I find this confusing given that we regularly judge projects based on need, matching funds, and overall impact to the city— not what ward is "next in line". The Mahoning Road Corridor is an example of such. Although the projected cost to the city for the Mahoning Road Corridor project is around 5 million, it passed unanimously— because it is a 55 million dollar project. This equals a high return on investment.
I believe that when it comes to the upcoming vote to fund this project, it will pass unanimously. Although every ward in our city has needs that exceed the revenue available, we must place a high priority on funding street maintenance at a sustaining level. As Councilmen and Councilwomen, we have a duty to vigorously debate the issues, but at the end of the day, cooler heads will prevail. I am confident my colleagues will unanimously approve this ordinance.