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Mayor: 'Storm Clouds are Gathering'

Failure of levy could add to financial crisis, mayor says city has been financially prudent.

Edited 11:24 a.m. In light of comments made, the bolded area has been added to the article.

Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka said that city leaders have been prudent with  finances, noting numerous cuts and savings the city has incorporated, but noted that should  the paramedic levy, fail, services could be inadequate, and the city could face a growing financial crisis.

 “This year and every year we have looked for ways to run the city in the most efficient way possible,” Zilka said in public comments at the Oct. 1 Council Meeting. 

He noted that the fire department and city leaders have opted to advertise for bids to restore current ladder truck instead of purchasing a new $1.4 million truck. “Restoration will cost much less,” Zilka said.

He also said that a restroom at the fire department that was not ADA compliant was renovated in house by fire fighters and the service department.

Zilka added that Belle Road flooding was corrected at a cost of $31,000. An original plan of $150,000, which would have taken water from Hunter Road to the stormsewer, instead of the creek, was scrapped.

Changing over to the 9-1-1 dispatch system instead of using in-house 9-1-1, will free up three firefighter/paramedics when it begins at the end of this year.

Zilka said that not replacing seven full-time employees and 1 part-time employee in the service, police and engineering departments has saved the city a substantial amount of money.

He added that service clerical workers, police and fire personnel have taken a 0 percent increase through June 30, 2014.

Passing the levy could also help offset a potential financial crisis the city could face with the potential closing of the GenOn Power Plant in 2014.

“Our financial consultant have advised us that the storm clouds are gathering for 2014 and beyond,” Zilka said.

“I think we’ve been very conservative and very prudent,” the mayor said of handling the city budget. He added that a failed paramedic levy would “create a crisis within the city with one that will cause irreparable damage and harm.”

Council president Martin O’Donnell said he has had personal experience with the paramedics in the past month and a half.

“Believe me, when you get there and you want the best person available, when they’re coming at 2 in the morning and wheeling your loved one out…you want the best person available to make those decisions.

“Our fire department, paramedics, no matter who I talk to… think they do an excellent job. You want that kind of training. When you have a situation like that at your home you want the best person available in those situations.

“When you make that vote on Election Day, take that into consideration…It makes a major difference.”

rgnocp38 October 03, 2012 at 01:40 PM
What if the younger generation believed they wouldn't receive a Social Security payment in their senior years and that they are earning less than those in the previous generation? Seniors only receive SS and Medicare through the contributions of today's workers. Could you imagine a vote to opt out of contributing to that? Let's have a discussion without demonizing our public employees for what they make!!!
Avon-Laker October 03, 2012 at 02:02 PM
The salaries are used as a comparison to others in our market not class warfare
Dave D October 03, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Many people do the same job, and work just as hard, but are forced to take pay cuts. If our firefighters are so dedicated, why not ask them to take pay cuts to be more in line with the average firefighters salary? Only until things get better. It just seems financially irresponsible to ask people who have had their salaries lowered for more money to support those salaries that never get lowered.
rgnocp38 October 03, 2012 at 02:35 PM
We all know that salaries will never go up after being lowered and education programs are not restored after years of cuts. Our community is not Cleveland nor should it be compared to such. Safety and education activities do not cease and the funding of these things should be a priority regardless of other variables. Trying to scare or infuriate people with salary information has nothing to do with the actual need for the funds. It would be irresponsible to cut funding to safety and education - the backbones of our society!
Lori E. Switaj October 03, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Good discussion here. I appreciate the civility of it.
Lori E. Switaj October 03, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Since there are comments about salaries, I am going to include the following information: Zilka also noted in his comments that service clerical workers, police and fire personnel have taken a 0 percent increase through June 30, 2014.
Jeff October 03, 2012 at 03:25 PM
I do think part of that reason is because the firefighters are all trained paramedics as well, so it may not be a direct comparison to the $50k salary of a Cleveland firefighter who is not also a paramedic. But still, look at the average salaries for firefighters and paramedics around the area with median salary rates: Firefighters: http://swz.salary.com/SalaryWizard/Fire-Fighter-Salary-Details-Cleveland-OH.aspx - $42,465 http://swz.salary.com/SalaryWizard/Fire-Fighter-Salary-Details-Lorain-OH.aspx - $40,051 http://swz.salary.com/SalaryWizard/Fire-Fighter-Salary-Details-Elyria-OH.aspx - $42,465 Paramedics: http://swz.salary.com/SalaryWizard/Paramedic-Salary-Details-Cleveland-OH.aspx - $38,866 http://swz.salary.com/SalaryWizard/Paramedic-Salary-Details-Lorain-OH.aspx - $36,657 http://swz.salary.com/SalaryWizard/Paramedic-Salary-Details-Elyria-OH.aspx - $38,866 The rates AL are paying are above the median if you add BOTH salaries together (with one person collecting a full firefighter salary AND a full paramedic salary), with the top 3 AL personnel making salaries in the top 10% of both paramedic and firefighter salaries combined.
George Z October 03, 2012 at 03:31 PM
I'd be OK with a renewal (keep taxes the same). It's the increase I have a MAJOR issue with. The mayor cries fox in the hen house if we don't cough up more money. Why can't we keep it the same? I truly believe it would be passed with a strong majority. From prior articles - the mayor listed cuts that would have to be made if this failed. I could live without most of those. This has been handled poorly. The majority voted a few months ago and it should be respected, not keep threatening FF costs vs. "Movies in the Park" and "Park Attendants (prior article). Welcome to Issue 2 failing -- the State had to make the cuts and the local's are crying broke. Their are simply better answers to this problem that currently presented.
Avon-Laker October 03, 2012 at 03:35 PM
While this levy may not be about salaries don't you think its fair to look at the whole picture. I don't deny people should try to get the best pay they can, but the issue is not just this levy but all public spending. It just seems to be a bottomless pit of spending upon spending. Normal business can't do it so why should public entities be able to do it.
rgnocp38 October 03, 2012 at 04:00 PM
I agree with the public spending issue. But also believe that tax revenues should be allocated to the local level where we can decide how to spend them. Federal spending is out of control. I think the state made arbitrary cuts without studying what would happen with local communities. This is the place - cities and schools - where we can be assured of a highly efficient use of our tax dollars. I don't think we should punish non-cyclical public entities because our federal government has acted irresponsibly.
rgnocp38 October 03, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Normal, private business cuts spending and investment when business activity decreases; Public schools and communities do not have a decrease in activity unless city population falls. Actually, there is an increase in activity here based on higher population and enrollment in the schools. Children's education will suffer without funding and I don't think that should happen regardless of economic situation. Let's keep our dollars working for us locally and hold the federal government responsible for out-of-control spending.
AL Parent October 03, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Firefighters recieve over-time pay for a full day even if they only get called in for 5 minutes. How much overtime is getting paid to them? I work full time and if I come in or work over I am paid by the hour not an entire days worth of work. I support figherfighters and paramedics but realistically they are over-payed. Who makes that kind of money? Even degree holders do not see that amount of salary in their life time! Please Mr. Zilka do not take money from our children's programs. We reside here so our children can have better lives and telling us that if this levy doesn't pass, programs for our children will be cut. It is a separate issue and one should not affect the other.
rgnocp38 October 03, 2012 at 05:32 PM
There has never been a conversation that was productive which revolves around someones salary being appropriate or not. This is just an inference that what one does for a living is somehow harder or more important than what another does. I'm sure if many of us had our salaries from private business posted, others would think we were over payed. None of us can truly say what another should earn because we have not walked in their shoes or done their job. Military pay is another issue and, I agree, should be much higher. That is not relative to this discussion though, about spending local dollars. It is apples-to-oranges to compare our fire and medical specialists to Cleveland.
Rocky October 03, 2012 at 05:45 PM
I personally do not have an issue with renewal of the current tax level for the paramedics, etc but I find it difficult to understand a justification for the increase. Avon Lake has already taken steps to address budget shortfalls as noted in the article (why was there no mention that the garbage collection contribution from the city has been discontinued yielding over $700,000 in savings for 2013 and each year thereafter). I support the firefighters and paramedics and believe they deserve a handsome wage and excellent benefits which would be adequately covered by a renewal levy. The justification for an increase in the levy appears to be the citys attempt to redistribute the city's tax wealth using the good will enjoyed by the paramedics and firefighters as a diversion.
rgnocp38 October 03, 2012 at 05:46 PM
I am fairly sure that the budget for both the EMS and Schools will remain the same. The issue is that the state left both hanging out there when they took money away all at once when they had planned for a "phase out" period. There is no increase in spending, just a replacement of revenue that the state took.
rgnocp38 October 03, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Any funds requested from the local levies are to replace funds lost from the state.
Jeff October 03, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Why can't we compare them to people who perform the same (or similar) jobs across 3 local areas? We could compare them to more of the local communities (e.g. Avon, Westlake, etc.) if someone could dig up the numbers on those.
AL Parent October 03, 2012 at 06:01 PM
I never said they didn't deserve their salaries. I am simply stating they are over-paid, period. I support what they do and believe in them full heartedly but the bottom line is what is the justification for this levy? How much more in taxes am I going to have to pay? The school district has a levy on the ballot as well and that is amost $100 a month increase. Lets figure out a solution as a community!
rgnocp38 October 03, 2012 at 07:07 PM
I agree to pulling together as a community. There just needs to be an understanding that to keep things exactly the same, these funds are necessary. But "overpayed" does infer that they don't deserve to be paid that much. If you pay $100 a month for the school levy, that would be on a $435,000 house. That is much more than the median house value in this community. Try the levy calculator they put up there. http://www.avonlakeschoollevy.com/volunteer-information. I believe we need to ask the state to reallocate the money they took from the local communities back to us. If they cut our funding to education and safety and run a surplus, give it back to the local taxpayers to spend as we see fit.
rgnocp38 October 03, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Just remember that it is OK to compare numbers across similar - not necessarily local - areas. But how do we know that others aren't underpaid and ours are at the appropriate level? If we compare to cities offering fewer services with less benefit, or throw them into the mix of data, it ends up being skewed. Maybe we should revamp the overtime policy or ask for new negotiations concerning such. Are the above numbers contracted salaries or the total paid to each including overtime?
AvonLaker1234 October 03, 2012 at 11:10 PM
So this past weekend I unfortunately missed a visit to my door from our Mayor. What's interesting is that with the union rules/contracts over 40 (or whatever is contracted) hours per week, etc., they all get overtime - and from the numbers posted a lot of it! How many of us in the real world work more than that - and don't get any overtime - it is just what it takes to get the job done and perhaps earn $100k+ or likely A LOT LESS. Plus they get sick time, a lot of vaction, and don't forget that PERS lifetime benefit too. Here's where the city leadership screwed-up: 1.) they should have gone for a renewal (not the increase too), 2.) they then should have "studied"/understood the future needs across the city before asking for ANY INCREASE, 3.) also should have avoid asking for a renewal with a major school levy (don't get me started on the fast move Special Election), 4.) since they Mayor already enjoys a lavish teachers pension - if he's truly doing the job to serve and pushing for the levy give-back the $100k salary+ PERS, 5.) have all the emergency workers agree to real working hours like the rest of us and only take overtime once they hit 50/55 hrs a week ot not at all. I'll vote for the schools (at least it is overall well run and really got screwed by Columbus) but I haven't been given a real reason to vote for a increase for this levy with the "Avon Lake 1%" being our civil servants!
AvonLaker1234 October 03, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Another thought too...why not have the Mayor, instead of getting as Zuber did a $8-9k car allowance, drive one of those old police cars or like most of us pay for a car to/from work out of our take home pay?
James Davis October 04, 2012 at 12:44 AM
For several years, the supplemental funding from the state and federal level that Avon Lake relied on for schools, safety, roads, etc has steadily declined. The Mayor(s) and Council have worked to attract new businesses with the goal of generating significant new revenue sources to offset the state and federal reductions. A few years back, the city had the forethought to set aside funds to cover unforeseen emergencies. By managing the "Rainy Day Fund", the city has been able to delay the very situation for which we are now faced. This year, the results of decisions to increase the cost of basic services (approx $70 combined for water, sewage and trash) are showing up in the October mail. For some residents, the question is not whether they support quality education or professional safety, the question is whether they can afford increases in their taxes at this time. And, while while firefighters earning an average of over $90K is not the issue, it is a really big concern. If the increase levies are not supported next month, I encourage the city to place renewal levies on the next earliest ballot.
AvonLaker1234 October 04, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Good points: have they attracted new business - no. And why did they not go for a simple renewal vs increase? I believe the cold hard reality is they will ask for another Levy ("roads", pick-a-name) as soon as this one passes.
T.C October 04, 2012 at 12:52 PM
I too found the salaries you posted absurd, but then I did some research. According to their contract, as posted on the Ohio SERB website, the firefighters work an average of 50 hours per week before receiving any overtime. Also, the salary of a fire/paramedic in the Avon Lake Fire Department starts at 51,603.90 and tops out at 68,603.34. Call it 70,000 with uniform allowance and some longevity. If my calculations are correct, the guy who made 114,800 would have worked an average of 67.42 hours per week. He should be commended for his dedication. Also they are not in PERS. (semantics perhaps, but if you portray something as fact, please get it right) As a resident and a veteran it upsets me to see our local heroes dragged into what seems to be an issue with elected officials. I urge everyone to vote for issue 10. Keep our community great and take your issues up with your councilperson. Remember you can vote them out too.
rgnocp38 October 05, 2012 at 04:47 PM
A renewal would require cutting the budget as it is only to replace money lost from the state. Otherwise, the city would have been fine.
rgnocp38 October 05, 2012 at 04:48 PM
The state took a great deal of funding from the schools and city so a renewal for either would not support the present level of funding. These levies are only going to keep them at their current budget level - already trimmed down.
Truth_Seeker October 08, 2012 at 09:26 PM
If you are upset with our local heroes getting dragged into what seems to be an issue with elected officials, you need not look any further than the elected officials themselves who have the Firefighters out there stumping for them in an atempt to get an artificially inflated paramedic levy passed. Citizens should be fervent in agressively resisting unjust taxation and the only place to do that is at the ballot box by voting NO on issue 10. Talk to your councilperson? Surely you jest. The paramedic levy was voted down in August by over 50% of the vote. (1,499 NO votes to be exact) If council members truly were a conduit to the Mayor and the rest of council, regarding the input of their constituents, wouldn't we be seeing a representative number of council people refusing to support an unjustified levy and instead insisting on a 1.4 - 1.5 levy that would have been found fair and equitable by voters. You say we can vote them out. Well, we cannot wait that long. When the levy fails, the Mayor and supporting council members should legitimately face recall for having placed the city in the position of endangerment.
rgnocp38 October 22, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Barbara ~ I would be willing to believe what you say if you had ever posted in a civil manner but you seem to also be on a mission to nix any tax that is needed. The person who made the robocall was wrong about the dollar flow and owes the community an apology for wasting our time. He is unable to interpret financial data regardless of whether it comes from the city or schools. I look forward to a comment or letter from you which sounds happier, thankful, in favor of something, or supportive of people who work hard to do their jobs. Try to get rid of the sour tone!
Truth_Seeker October 29, 2012 at 04:49 PM
rgnocp38, You are confusing me with someone else as I have never before posted on Patch. My judgement that the 2-mill paramedic levy is seriously inflated was formed solely of my own accord, in consideration of the facts, well in advance of getting Mike Hellyar's robocall. I commend him, he saw something very wrong and put his money where his mouth is in an attempt to correct it. I am not out to nix all taxes; I would readily vote for a 1.5 paramedic levy which is fair & just in consideration of applying ambulance billing revenue to reduce the cost of the paramedic unit. What I will NOT vote for is deceitful & maniputative government such as that employed by Avon Lake's Mayor and Council pursuant to getting their inflated paramedic levy passed. Their methods are sleazy, deceitful and just plain wrong. It takes more than working hard at a job to be successful. One must work "smart" and our Mayor and Council are far afield from being on the right path. The Mayor's mantra is "continue to give the people what they've come to expect".....I've personally heard that come out of his mouth time and time again. He needs to wake up and smell the coffee.....take a look across America. People no longer have what they've come to expect and they recognize that recovery will be long and slow and that we are not likely to ever return to the grandiose days of yore. Zilka is stuck back in Camelot and has chosen to deviously finance his own misguided agenda via an inflated levy.

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