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Cleveland City Council gets tough with dollar stores and hands out tax subsidies to developers

Cleveland City Council gets tough with dollar stores and hands out tax subsidies to developers

by Bruce Checefsky

(Plain Press, July 2020)    Cleveland City Council held a virtual meeting electronically on June 17, 2020, in compliance with Ohio’s Open Meetings Law.  Council President Kevin Kelley, who represents Ward 13, of which Old Brooklyn and part of the Stockyard neighborhood are included, led the proceedings.

   Placing a moratorium on new construction permits for the building of so-called “dollar stores” was on the agenda. Several council members noted that bargain stores proliferate in low-income neighborhoods. Many are unsafe and unsanitary.

   Council President Kelley suggested the moratorium will temporarily stop the spread of new stores while Council crafts stiffer regulations on how they should operate. 

   “We need more tools to hold these businesses accountable,” said Kelley. “We have met with small box operations several times to discuss our concerns, but improvements haven’t taken place.”

   Ward 1 Councilman Joseph T. Jones supported the moratorium, adding, “The Family Dollar store in my neighborhood sells beer and wine. We have a couple more applying to sell alcohol.”

   Ward 8 Councilman Michael D. Polensek and Ward 12 Councilman Anthony Brancatelli were in favor of the moratorium. 

   “I’m concerned about their operations,” Polensek said. “These businesses are owned by large corporations and I can’t understand for the life of me why they can’t maintain their properties. They are a detriment to our communities.” 

   Ordinance Number 286-2020 included a Tax Increment Financing Agreement (TIF) with the Sherwin Williams Company to provide assistance in funding construction of the company’s global headquarters building on Public Square. The 30-year TIF diverts a portion of the company’s taxes to help finance the project which will city officials hope will generate $8.6 million in annual payroll tax revenues for the city. The headquarters will house 3,100 employees. 

   David Ebersole, Director of Economic Development, was asked by Councilman Joseph T. Jones to tally the final package deal.

   “The previous ordinances authorized a $13.5M grant to support the new construction, a performance-based income tax job creation credit up to $11.5M, and the 30-year TIF dependent on the taxable valuation of the building. The non-school portion is roughly 40% of the property tax for a period of 30 years.”

   A total package deal has yet to be determined. 

   City Council approved legislation for tax increment financing for The Lincoln apartment complex development at the south-west corner of Scranton and Kenilworth/Willey. Sustainable Community Associates is seeking a 15-year tax abatement followed by another 15 years of tax increment financing using the non-school portion of the property tax along with a $360,000 half forgivable loan

   “This is an exciting project,” Councilman Brancatelli said. “We thoroughly reviewed and support it.”

   “Sustainable Community Associates went through our community process with neighborhood residents and local block club which supported their project,” 3rd Ward Councilman Kerry McCormack added. “The developers have also set up a fund that helps local residents in the immediate area with minor repairs to their properties.”

   Council President Kelley asked whether Sustainable Community Associates was using prevailing wage on the project. A prevailing wage is defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics within a particular area. Public protests erupted over prevailing wage issues at Tappan apartments project on the corner of Branch Avenue and Scranton Road in Tremont earlier this year. Representatives from Sustainable Community Associates have repeatedly denied any wrong-doing. 

   “I don’t know,” Director Ebersole said. “I’ll have to look into it.”

   Illegal dumping in abandoned property sites was addressed. Several frustrated council members asked for more information. Recent efforts from the Mayor’s office to reinstate bulk pickup are underway, according to Acting Director of Public Safety Karrie Howard.

   City Council approved legislation allocating $18,740 to the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Environmental Crime Task Force to stop illegal dumping on empty lots in the city. Acting Director Howard noted that the task force investigates and prosecutes environmental crimes, particularly open dumping, which is a felony in Ohio. 

   “Investigators try to identify the perpetrators. They issue a citation or make some arrests when possible. It’s a case-by-case scenario,” Howard said. 

   Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones took the opportunity to address his dissatisfaction with the Cleveland Police Department. Jones reportedly stated publicly that he intends to vote against all public safety legislation until the police department responds to his request for a full accounting on the racial makeup of the police force. 

   “I want to make something clear. The media has reported that I am voting no on all safety legislation. I have received the information requested from Acting Director Howard. I’m voting no because we have no plan for diversity. That’s the reason why I’m saying no, and will continue to vote no, to every piece of safety legislation until we have a plan for diversity of our public safety forces in place with the city.”

   Councilman Joseph T. Jones has also stated publicly that he will support a no vote and join Councilman Basheer Jones on voting no on every safety legislation holding the Mayor’s office accountable for a plan on diversity. 

   Director of Public Works Michael E. Cox couldn’t provide a timeline for opening public basketball courts. City Recreation Centers are planning to open on July 6 for restricted classes only. Public pools will remain closed until further notice. 

   “We’re following CDC guidelines,” Cox said. “Our programs will not include open gym activities like basketball. We will have skilled training in limited class sizes.” 

   Councilman Basheer Jones paused for a second. “I understand we have CDC guidelines. Young people are getting restless and you know when young people get restless, bad things can happen. Do we have authority within the City of Cleveland to do what we need to do if we choose to?”

   “We follow the Governor’s recommendations,” Cox replied. “The pandemic is still here.”

   “Casinos have opened,” Councilman Basheer Jones noted. “Places that make money are open. What about our communities?”

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