The recent coronavirus impact has devastated our community. It is painful to see so many households facing unemployment and insurmountable financial problems. But, it was also painful to watch Mayor O’Leary’s recent video where he was complaining about the city being unable to pay its bills and that he wanted the State of Ohio to step in and help. Sadly, noticeably absent in the mayor’s video was any real concern for the financial hardship facing Galion’s citizens.
Immediately, the City of Galion should do the following:
(1) City council should pass a resolution asking the Governor to remove the $269 average weekly wage threshold for unemployment compensation in Ohio. This would allow low wage earners and part-time employees access to unemployment compensation benefits.
(2) City council should pass a resolution temporarily prohibiting the shut-off of any city utilities until further notice. There should be an exception to this policy, that if any business owes the City of Galion $20,000 or more in utility bills, that specific case has to come before city council.
(3) The mayor should stop all construction projects and major purchases, unless there is some sort of dire need for that project or purchase.
(4) The mayor should put a freeze on hiring, unless there is some sort of dire need for that position to be filled.
(5) City council and the mayor should come up with an immediate grant program, paying all citizens who are unemployed due to the coronavirus, a one-time payment of at least $250. This is not much, but it will provide some immediate help. The City of Galion currently has $ 6 million in the General Fund, which is discretionary money that the city can use to fund this $250 grant program. Recently, the city just gave all of the employees raises totaling 15 percent over a three-year period (year 1 — 5 percent ; year 2 — 5 percent ; and year 3 5 percent). This high raise is just something unheard of, especially in a city that is just coming out of fiscal emergency.
The City of Galion got into fiscal emergency because no one was ‘watching the public’s money – the city manager and the finance director were spending like the last of the big spenders (e.g. new softball field complex, new vehicles, more employees, etc.). But eventually, the house of cards came tumbling down, and the citizens were left with one of the worst fiscal emergencies in Ohio. Our charter form of government was clearly a failure.
So we changed from the charter form of government to a statutory form of government, putting more control in the hands of the people. The citizens could not get rid of a bad city manager or bad finance director, but the citizens could get rid of a bad mayor and a bad auditor (either by voting them out of office or by removing them).
When Mayor O’Leary ran for office, he said that he could get the city out of fiscal emergency in six (6) months. But in actuality, it took him nearly six (6) years. There was not any outstanding financial management that got the City of Galion out of fiscal emergency, it was the citizens of Galion paying higher taxes, higher utility rates, and higher fees that got the city out of fiscal emergency.
It is time for Mayor O’Leary to stop wasting the public’s money. He has come up with some “half-baked ideas” that should not have even been considered. For example, the Sleep Inn was not ever financially feasible. It is currently behind more than $108,000 in real estate tax payments and you have to wonder if it is behind on its city utilities.
Gov. DeWine has been aggressively trying to deal with with the coronavirus and the economic effects of the coronavirus. He has made positive changes in unemployment rules. It is critical that the $269 threshold be removed, so that everyone can qualify for unemployment compensation. Reports are that the unemployment compensation website is hard to get on since so many people are trying to apply for unemployment. I would recommend trying to access the Job and Family Services website late at night or early in the morning.
Additionally, for those unemployed citizens who have creditors expecting payments, I recommend you contact them and explain that you are unemployed due to the coronavirus and that you are experiencing an extreme financial hardship and unable to make your payment and request that they should note all of this in your file. Also make a note of this contact on your calendar for your records.
The citizens have come through and bailed out the city from fiscal emergency. Now, it is time for the city to step up and provide utility assistance and financial assistance to the unemployed citizens who are desperately trying to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Certainly, the city will need to tighten its belt to survive because the citizens are in no position to bail out the city a second time. This is our city and our city utilities. Let’s make our city work for the benefits of its citizens and stop working to benefit some special interest group(s). We are all in this coronavirus crisis together.
E. Roberta Wade is an attorney at law in Galion.