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Akron Council approves ‘lean’ budget

3/14/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Also passes texting, housing legislation

DOWNTOWN AKRON — With little discussion, Akron City Council gave its approval March 11 to a $462 million operating budget for 2013.

This year’s total operating budget is an 8 percent reduction from last year’s $502 million budget; however, the General Fund sees a 1 percent increase from last year, said Councilman Kenneth Jones (D-Ward 5), chair of the Budget and Finance Committee.

Councilman Jeff Fusco (D-at large) said he requested an additional $25,000 to fund senior citizen programming, which was cut several years ago. He said the intention is to keep seniors living in their homes.

Finance Director Diane Miller-Dawson noted the budget is reduced due to lower revenue, the elimination of estate taxes and reductions in local government funding.

Council President Garry Moneypenny (D-Ward 10) characterized this year’s budget as “very lean.”

In other business, after some political maneuvering, Council voted to approve a much debated law banning texting while driving.

The law is similar to the recently enacted state law and makes it a secondary offense to compose, send or read text messages, or to interact with Internet-based content, while driving, with several exceptions, including reporting a safety emergency, inputting a phone number to make a call, using a navigation system or using hands-free systems.

For those 18 and older, the offense is a minor misdemeanor. For those younger than 18, the offense is punishable by a fine and license suspension. Juveniles also are prohibited from “using in any manner an electronic wireless communications device” while driving.

For several weeks, Council had been considering an ordinance introduced by Council members Michael Williams (D-at large) and Donnie Kammer (D-Ward 7) implementing a new law. Two weeks ago, Fusco and Jones introduced a second ordinance, which sparked harsh words from Williams, who viewed the move as “petty” and “disrespectful.”

However, resolution was reached Monday when Williams and Kammer asked to withdraw their legislation and be added as sponsors to Fusco’s and Jones’ legislation. Williams said that he learned later the situation was handled better than he had originally understood, and he issued a public apology to Fusco during the Public Safety Committee meeting. Williams said later he was “very pleased” with the final outcome.

“Our objective is to correct the behavior of people being distracted while driving,” he said.

Also at the meeting, Council approved legislation it had been considering for several weeks requiring sellers to disclose housing violations to buyers in a transaction.

Violators would be subject to criminal punishment as a third-degree misdemeanor on first offense (a maximum of a $500 fine and 60 days in jail) and a second-degree misdemeanor on second and subsequent offenses (a maximum of a $750 fine and 90 days in jail).

The legislation came out of a recently publicized situation in which Larry Modic bought a house on Manchester Road for $10,000. He later claimed the seller failed to disclose several violations pertaining to the house, which subsequently was torn down by the city.

Council also gave its approval to related legislation authorizing the city to take legal action against the seller with Modic’s permission.

In other legislative action, Council approved a conditional-use permit for the First Assembly of God Church at 1175 W. Market St. to install an internally illuminated sign with changeable copy.

At a public hearing, resident Mary Briggs spoke in opposition to the sign.

“No one on that side of the street has a lighted sign,” she said. “I would like to protect my neighborhood. … If you do one [sign], how do you stop all the rest?”

Councilwoman Marilyn Keith (D-Ward 8) stressed there are conditions for the use of the sign — such as it must be turned off between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. — and said it would be good for the neighborhood.

The next Council meeting will be March 18 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. Committee meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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