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Thursday, March 31, 2016

State Could Pony Up $10 Million for Cleveland-East Cleveland Merger

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 10:35 AM

This traffic light is probably broken!
  • This traffic light is probably broken!
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost has floated the idea of a $10 million appropriation to pay for East Cleveland infrastructure improvements. But there's a catch: The one-time appropriation could be added to the state capital budget bill only if Cleveland and East Cleveland agree to merge, Yost said.

The state auditor has warned that East Cleveland's uniquely abysmal financial situation can only be corrected by a merger or by filing for bankruptcy. 

"East Cleveland is in a class of its own," Yost told Scene when we reported extensively on East Cleveland in 2014. "They're in fiscal emergency, and nobody's had the size of structural deficits that we've seen in East Cleveland, nobody's had them going on as long, and no city has done as little to correct the problems."

But a merger plan — the conversations about which have stalled — has been met with resistance on both sides: in Cleveland, by folks who worry about providing services for a new area with an extremely weak tax base; and in East Cleveland, by folks who fear that Cleveland institutions intend to expand and develop, and the fruits of those developments would redound favorably on Cleveland, not East Cleveland; and, moreover, by folks with intense civic pride in their community. 

Still, $10 million would go a long way. East Cleveland, like Cleveland, has been severely strapped by Kasich's cuts to Ohio's local government fund. A bill is currently in the works to restore those dollars, but it's a long-shot for passage in Ohio's Republican-dominated legislature.

Yost's proposed $10 million appropriation is nearly as much as East Cleveland plans to spend in all of 2016. It could be used for road repair, traffic lights, and police equipment, so that East Cleveland's budgeted money can be used for things like payroll and website maintenance

Cleveland City leaders would certainly be more enticed by a merger if $10 million was part of the deal. Council president Kevin Kelley, who has been cautious about the plan since it was first proposed, told that the city of Cleveland is itself now in a much more tenuous financial position — the Consent Decree is an enormous expenditure ($11 million budgeted in 2016) and Mayor Jackson has proposed an income tax increase to deal with an expected shortfall at the end of this year.  

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