STOW – Council members rolled the dice at its Thursday meeting, betting they would have two more meetings in March to pass the city budget.
Director of Budget and Management John Earle presented the budget to council Feb. 27. Council has scheduled meetings on March 26 and March 31 for the second and third readings before a vote. Council also called a special meeting on March 18 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
After Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday that all public and private K-12 schools would be closed on Monday for three weeks, city officials were concerned he could order all government buildings closed if the virus spreads.
"It has been a difficult week with the coronavirus," said Mayor John Pribonic. "Some said it was malarkey, but it is a serious thing, and the city is taking it seriously."
Pribonic said city services would be maintained and the public updated.
"We will be fine at the end of the day, but be prepared," Pribonic said. "Get legislation done. We could be shut down."
Finance Director Jim Costello said that under Ohio Revised Code the budget must be approved in a public meeting by April 1 or the city can’t pay its debts. If the city shuts down, and council has not passed the budget in a public meeting, no one gets paid.
"The K-12 schools are shut down," Costello said. "If one city employee with the virus is diagnosed, the city shuts down. Failure to pass the appropriation budget is an irresponsible act of council."
Costello sent letters to council members before the meeting to clarify that the approval of the appropriation ordinance simply ensures the city has general spending authority in place to continue its daily safety and service operations without interruption to the public.
"Council may not have the ability to pass the budget because of a unique event," Costello said. "First responders who volunteered during a possible shutdown would have no pay, no worker’s compensation and no medical coverage. Calls to 9-1-1 would be rerouted to other dispatch centers.
"Organizations of all types are shutting down with virtually no notice due to quarantine enforcement, including as just announced, the U.S. Capitol and Congressional Buildings," Costello said. "A single exposure to the virus by a city employee could do the same to Stow City Hall and force us to suspend in-person city operations."
Passing the ordinance would provide general spending authority only, Costello said. Council would still have to approve any individual capital project or equipment purchase, he said. Council could continue to discuss the budget and capital needs in the future after passing the legislation.
Council members failed to suspend the rules and pass the legislation after a first reading. Those voting against suspending the rules were Jeremy McIntire, Dennis Altieri and Mario Fiocca. The three "yes" votes were not enough to allow a vote on the legislation at first reading. Council member Steve Hailer was absent.
Council member Cyle Feldman asked for a special meeting on March 18 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall for a second reading. Council would have to suspend the rules to vote. McIntire voted against the special meeting.
McIntire said it was irresponsible to pass the budget without understanding the money.
"We owe it to the residents to review the budget," McIntire said.
Council member Christina Shaw supported passing the budget.
"We need to weight the pros and cons," Shaw said. "We need to work together for passing."