For East Cleveland, Election Day in Ohio will have a major impact on the city’s finances and its outlook on public safety.
On November 8, voters in the Cleveland suburb will decide whether they should keep the city’s traffic cameras in operation. As you’ve probably seen in a city near you, the devices are designed to catch people who run red lights at key intersections. Municipalities have a love affair with the machines – if they had a choice, one would be on every corner. To most local governments, it’s the favored “creative” way to increase revenue during hard economic times.
However, East Cleveland residents aren’t having it. Many charge that the cameras are intrusive and unnecessary.
The fate of city red-light cameras has a direct impact on an even tougher decision for East Cleveland — the impending layoff of 60 city employees. It’s a case study of growing public resentment against a tidal wave of fees, charges and penalties state and local governments rely on to tide over strained budgets.
Still, Mayor Gary Norton Jr. is in a position where, no matter the outcome of the vote, tough decisions are on the way. Even if voters approve keeping the cameras in place and the over $1 million in annual revenue they bring, cuts to public safety are on the way. At most, Norton is aiming to cut 36 police officers, 14 firefighters, and about 10 other city workers from their positions.
“This is strictly as a result of the traffic cameras. If we lose the traffic cameras, this is the safety force scenario that we are looking at,” said Mayor Norton, according to WJW-TV in Cleveland.
However, in a subtle play of political chicken, Norton claims he can stave off projected layoffs if voters approve the measure keeping said traffic cameras in place.
One of the city’s councilmen cut to the chase about the fate of city workers – even with the camera revenue.
“If the people decide to keep the cameras, we still need to make the cuts, and I say this with all humility and all conviction, not to put the finger on anyone, we’re gonna have to do it,” said Councilman Nathaniel Martin.
East Cleveland faces a future similar to many cash-strapped cities across the country looking to make ends meet. However, this small inner-ring suburb is also dealing with a declining population, a past history of crime, and few major economic opportunities in the area. Foreclosures, unemployment, and recession have left a landscape of empty houses and falling property values.
Tying camera revenue directly to the salary of city officials shows how dire the problem is. The city doesn’t have a diverse tax base of businesses and residents that can absorb financial hardships like this. East Cleveland is one of regional areas that has always suffered from urban decay, even when it had more population. Now with foreclosures prevalent, it is even more crucial to keep the remaining citizens safer on streets that are home to far fewer families than before.
The sad part of the situation is that East Cleveland has been able to lower its crime by simply adding more police to the streets. However, the tax base has long been eroding in the small city as people move to other parts of the Greater Cleveland area with a better quality of life.
Earlier this year, the city took another hit when the Cleveland Clinic Health System announced the closing of Huron Hospital. The location was a major trauma and treatment area for East Cleveland and the surrounding communities. City leaders and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) spoke out boldly against the move.
Cleveland Clinic was in a position similar to the City of East Cleveland. A declining population meant less patients and revenue, hence the hospital closure. According to The Plain Dealer, the hospital system was projected to lose $25 million in 2011 if it kept the facility open.
As for the traffic cameras, East Cleveland is bracing itself for another almost-certain financial hit after Election Day. The question is whether or not voters will come through in the clutch and approve the desperately sought-after revenue needed to soften the blow.