Q&A: Fairview Park mayor-elect on basement flooding, leaky community pools
On Nov. 7, 2023, voters in the West Side Cleveland suburb of Fairview Park narrowly chose a political newcomer, Bill Schneider, over incumbent first-term Mayor Patrick Cooney. Schneider spoke with Ideastream Public Media's Amy Eddings about what he plans to do to address persistent residential flooding and problems at the city's community pools that have kept them closed since 2021.
You are an accountant with no political experience. You beat Mayor Cooney by 109 votes. Tell me what you were feeling and thinking when you saw the returns.
You know, it was a little bit nerve-wracking. I seem to be up most of the night and, of course, the returns were delayed until the morning. I had hopes that I would win. So, I just I said, 'Well, I'll find out in the morning.' I went to bed!
What did you feel when you woke up and saw that you had won?
I would say I was pleasantly surprised.
The big issue in Fairview Park is the sewer system. There were two major storms last summer that caused significant basement flooding. What's your plan to address this?
I think we need to increase maintenance. We just acquired a new sewer truck at the beginning of this year, and the city has only been able to get to about, I think, 20% of the length of the sewers in the city [cleaned] so far. If anything, I want to increase the number of people that we have working on the truck, the number of shifts and possibly either lease or purchase another truck so that we can actually get rid of the backlog.
The other big issue is Fairview Park's leaky natatorium. The pools used by the community and the school district have been closed for nearly two years now. Voters passed issue 55, a 1.5 mil bond issue to repair the pool. They passed it by a ten-point margin. You campaigned against raising taxes for the Gemini Center pools. Did you vote against issue 55?
Personally, yes, I did. I felt that a tax increase was just going to be too much for our residents. I know that it passed by a majority. I like the rec center. I understand that other people do. And it's a good asset for our city. But, personally, I felt that the continued expense of rehabbing it was just going to be too much on the taxpayers.
So, what are you going to do now?
We’re going to go forward with rehabbing, for that's what the voters wanted. Some people have asked me if I can just unilaterally suspend the levy. I can't. That's not something that a mayor can do. The only way to reverse the effects of what just got passed is to go through the same process, bringing it back to the voters, having council pass it. It's just not something that I think is going to happen.
Is there any plan that you have as mayor in other arenas of the city to help offset that tax increase?
That's something that I can't really speak on right now, seeing as I'm not sitting in the mayor's seat and looking at the actual numbers. What I would like to do is to find efficiencies in our budget and find ways to bring more business into our city. Fairview Park is what they call a bedroom community. The vast majority of our tax base is residential. And, you know, if there's any way that we can take that burden off of our homeowners, I would love to do so.
As a lifelong resident of Fairview Park, what do you love about it?
The closeness. The people that I grew up with, a good many of them are still here. The families that I knew growing up are still in the city. It's a city of 17,000 people, but it seems like a neighborhood of only 500. We have shared experiences. We have a great sense of community. And I'm glad I'm raising my kids here. And I think a lot of other people are, too.