Faced with continued cuts in state and federal funding at the local level, the city's financial health is a top concern for both of Marietta's mayoral candidates as early voting begins today for the 2011 general election.
Republican Jon Grimm said there's no doubt the decrease in funding, which will include the end of the state inheritance tax in 2013, will impact the city budget.
"We've been facing revenue reductions from the state and federal government over the last couple of years," he said. "And (the loss of the inheritance tax) is definitely going to represent a reduction in revenue.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Republican Marietta mayoral candidate Jon Grimm talks with Seventh Street resident Nancy White while campaigning Monday afternoon.
"We're going to have to make adjustments," Grimm added. "And the only way to truly increase revenue is to create an environment so that our current businesses can expand and so that new businesses want to come here."
He said the city should not get caught in a continuing cycle of cutting budgets and services as it waits for economic conditions to improve.
"We can't sit and wait for the economy to get better. That's just crossing your fingers and hoping something will happen," Grimm said. "We have to take responsibility for ourselves and provide the environment and quality of life that will bring people and businesses into this community."
- Age: 45.
- Born and raised in Marietta.
- Graduated from Marietta High School in 1985.
- Residence: 123 Sunset Drive, Marietta.
- Family: Two daughters, Amy, 23, and Michelle, 19.
- Career: Served six years in U.S. Navy; 13 years in hotel/motel management; works with family business, Grimm Scientific in Marietta.
Joe A. Matthews
- Age: 72.
- Born and raised in Marietta.
- Graduated from Marietta High School in 1956.
- Residence: 966 Lancaster St., Marietta.
- Family: Married to Sally Matthews for 31 years; three children; four stepchildren; 16 grandchildren; three great grandchildren.
- Career: Served 1956-1958 with U.S. Marine Corps; Worked in consumer loan and bank lending industry, and real estate, insurance and securities sales; professional firefighter and emergency medical technician with Marietta Fire Department from 1966-1990.
- Early absentee voting begins today for the 2011 general election.
- Ballots can be cast in person at the Washington County Board of Elections Office on the first floor of the county courthouse.
He said while city government must have regulations, those rules should be reasonable and consistent, especially as they apply to business.
"We need to tighten the city code to make it more reasonable," Grimm said. "Some things need to be regulated but there can be so much regulation that no one wants to locate a business here."
Another way to overcome Marietta's fiscal problems would be to create more efficient administration of city departments, which Grimm said would be his No. 1 priority.
He said updating the city's information technology system would be a big step in the right direction.
"We're way out of date with our IT. Improving that would help make departmental administration much more efficient," he said.
Democratic candidate Joe Matthews, who served three terms in the mayoral office between 1992 and 2003, said loss of the inheritance tax will be a blow to the city finances.
"We can't ever replace that income, but we can plan ahead to help alleviate that problem in the future," he said. "And I think when you run a city government you can't count on revenues you might get. When I was mayor we had revenue-sharing with the state and federal governments, but that only lasted for so many years, just like the inheritance tax."
Matthews listed several ways he would address the city's fiscal problems.
"First there would be no further expansion of city projects unless they're deemed absolutely necessary or until the general fund is sufficient to handle such projects," he said.
"Secondly I would conduct a non-wage and benefits analysis to determine where we can realize some cost savings," Matthews added.
"I will also form a commission to create jobs, look at revitalization of Brownfield properties and to work on attracting businesses to the community," he said.
"And I want to re-establish the mayor's advisory committee, a group that helps with the planning process for the city," Matthews said.
He would also revise the city's comprehensive plan.
"But we need to follow that plan," Matthews said. "It seems like the city is just doing things at-will right now-not being proactive, but being reactive. I would also develop and follow a strategic plan for city projects."
Another cost-saving measure for Matthews would be to evaluate the city's insourcing and outsourcing of work on municipal projects to be sure the city is getting the best bang for the buck.
"I would also evaluate city properties for usage," he said. "Some properties are not being utilized and if we're not going to use them, some could be sold, although I'm not saying we would definitely do that. It could be an option.
"When I came into office in 1992 the general fund balance was $622,190," Matthews noted. "On Dec. 31, 2003, when I left office, the balance was $3.2 million. We did a lot of projects over those years and still had a surplus when I left."
On state and federal grant funding for city projects, Grimm noted those monies come out of taxes that have been paid by local taxpayers.
"If a grant suits our needs in Marietta, I will pursue it but I don't want to pursue grant funds that will, down the road, end up costing us more money," he said. "We have to live within our means."
Grimm said one concern about obtaining grants is that the city has no plan in place to prioritize future projects that could be targeted for grant funding.
"Without a basic plan to prioritize every grant and project, we're just haphazardly seeking grant funding as it becomes available," he said.
Grimm noted he has voted against using the approximately $150,000 city council has budgeted for streets paving and repairs each year as matching funds to obtain $400,000 in state grant money for the annual streets paving program.
"Because of the requirements of that grant, we're paving roads that don't really need it, while neglecting streets that do need paving," he said, adding it would be better to just use the basic amount budgeted for streets every year to pave and repair those roadways that need it most.
Grimm said projects like extending the River Trail make good use of grant monies.
"I see the River Trail as a transportation and safety issue for pedestrians who use Pike Street to cross Duck Creek (to the Walmart complex)," he said.
Matthews said the city should be careful when considering grant applications.
"No matter where we get the grants, most require matching funds," he said. "Grants are really taxpayer money, so we need to look long and hard before we apply for grant funding."
Still, Matthews said he would continue to work on grant-funded projects like the River Trail and the Armory Square renovation project that are already underway. He noted that initial funding for the first phase of the city's River Trail came during his term as mayor.
The nearly $3 million Armory Square renovation project has been years in the making and although some landscaping, parking lot and other exterior upgrades have been completed, major work on the project has yet to begin as the city awaits final funding from the sale of historic preservation tax credits.
"The armory project, as far as I know and have been told, has the funding in place and a business plan has been submitted," Matthews said. "But is all of the money for that project still going to be there next year? I don't know. The armory was also an issue when I left office back in 2003."
He noted there have been some concerns voiced over the years that the city's business plan for Armory Square, which includes a transportation hub and possible conference facilities, would put Marietta in direct competition with some area businesses.
Grimm said he believes the armory renovation has been delayed for so long because the city has pursued too many grants for the project.
"And the project is too broad and too wide to have a viable business plan that will work there at this time," he said. "I think we need to narrow the definition of what the purpose will be for the armory," Grimm said. "I believe if we more closely define what the use of the facility will be, we'll also be able to narrow down the costs of the project."