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Akron's $815 million budget has been approved. What's in it?

Akron council president Margo Sommerville addresses some of her concerns ahead of the vote to approve the city's 2024 operating budget on March 25, 2024. Council unanimously approved the budget.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron City Council president Margo Sommerville addresses some of her concerns ahead of the vote to approve the city's 2024 operating budget on March 25, 2024. Council unanimously approved the budget.

After two weeks of negotiations with Mayor Shammas Malik’s administration, Akron City Council unanimously approved the city’s $815 million operating budget during its Monday night meeting.

Malik’s first operating budget focuses on hiring and retaining staff, including a restructuring of the mayor’s office.

The main sticking point over the past two weeks was the proposed creation of eight positionsin the mayor’s office that would have focused on initiatives such as transparency and public engagement.

After hearing feedback from council members and residents, Malik agreed to eliminate three of the eight positions.

"I always knew that the new number of staff was gonna raise some eyebrows and I get that. I mean, it's not a small amount of money," Malik told reporters after the budget vote Monday.

"I think that each of these roles is important to building an effective city government," he said. "But, you know, we made a compromise, and we're gonna work on addressing those issue areas like data and transparency and public engagement with with the existing capacity that we have."

Several council members had questioned the need for so many positions and wanted that money to instead be invested in neighborhood initiatives, Council President Margo Sommerville said.

“We’ve got to make sure that resources are equitably distributed across all departments because we all have a job to do. Not just the mayor,” Sommerville said.

Malik and his administration defended the proposed positions, saying they would help make the city more collaborative and transparent.

The positions will be "put on pause" for now and the city may be able to find funds for them later, said Ward 2 Councilmember Phil Lombardo, who chairs the budget and finance committee.

The funds that would have gone to the salaries of the three positions cut from the mayor's proposal will be used in other areas of the budget, such as a for grant writer for the Akron Municipal Court, funds for housing and nuisance compliance and a neighborhood partnership program for City Council.

The new version of the budget is more balanced, Sommerville said, but she still has concerns about the new positions. She also called on the administration to prioritize converting from part time to full time the seasonal positions in the parks and recreation department.

Malik said he would look into the idea.

Several council members said they decided to vote in favor of the budget after it was amended.

“I’d just like to thank council leadership and the mayor’s office for their willingness to give a little, take a little in this discussion,” Ward 10 Councilmember Sharon Connor said during council’s budget committee meeting Monday.

Council members Jan Davis and James Hardy, who both expressed concerns about the budget in previous meetings, voted in favor of the budget.

However, Hardy said he still has concerns about the "sustainability" of the new mayor's office positions. With the city's property taxes increasing along with energy prices, he's concerned about "the bottom line," he said.

"I really believe we might be hitting a place or a point in time in our community where it's not so much about whether the idea is worthy, but whether we can afford it," Hardy said.

Malik agreed that the city needs to be prudent, but added that certain expenditures now could save money in the future. He used the positions focused on retention in the public safety department as an example.

"To me, we have to make investments in the future of our city government to make it more effective," Malik said. "Hiring someone who will focus on public safety retention and recruitment helps save you so much money down the road, over time, when your folks are stretched thin."

Council Vice President Jeff Fusco suggested conducting a budget review in the middle of the year to check in on the city's finances.

What else is in the budget?

Overall, the city is adding about 30 positions across various departments, finance officials said. The budget also includes the highest number of police officers and firefighters in several decades, Malik said.

Akron now has 488 police officers — a net increase of 17 from 2023 — and 402 firefighters and medics, up two from 2023, he said.

These staffing levels are the highest in 20 years for the police department and 30 years for the fire department, he said. He also plans to create new roles focused on retention and recruitment for the two departments, Malik said.

The Akron Municipal Court plans to hire a mediator and housing specialist. Akron City Council is looking for a public policy specialist and community liaison.

City officials have budgeted for various new roles in the service department, including six new employees to help with the rollout of new water meter installations and three landscape technicians.

City officials hope to offset the 1.2% increase in spending in 2024 through expected increases from income and property taxes, according to budget documents. They are also planning to use $10.5 million from the ‘revenue replacement’ earmark of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation, Malik said.

The budget includes $250,000 for the planning of the city’s 2025 bicentennial celebration, which could be tweaked later this year depending on what the bicentennial commission needs, Malik said.

The city is also using its ARPA allocation for public service projects and parks, Malik said. Officials plan to invest $7.5 million for water main replacements and $2 million for lead service replacement.

Officials have also budgeted nearly $30 million for parks and public spaces, including ongoing projects at the city’s community centers, the Joy Park Walking Path and Lock 3.

The budget includes a 4% cost of living increase for city employees in the personnel union and a 3% bump for police, fire and non-bargaining unit employees, Malik added.

Other council business

City Council also unanimously approved on Monday the nomination of Ericka Burney-Hawkins to the city’s Citizens’ Police Oversight Board.

Burney-Hawkins is a licensed social worker and lives on Akron’s east side, Sommerville said.

“She has a lot of experience working with children and youth and adults in the social service and criminal justice system, and so we thought that she would be a great candidate that could start right away and really help continue what the board is trying to do,” Sommerville said.

The seat has been vacant since community organizer Diane Lewis resigned in January.

Council's goal was to nominate someone from Ward 5, Lewis’ ward, which encompasses Akron’s east and north-central sides. It's one of the city’s most diverse and underserved areas, Sommerville added.

“Ward 5 is a population that is most impacted, so it was really important that we have someone from that neighborhood, from that community, sitting around the table,” Sommerville said.

Council interviewed eight candidates and received strong applications, Sommerville added.

Council also unanimously approved joining a statewide nonprofit that aims to help cities and counties become more environmentally sustainable.

Akron will become the 50th city to join Power a Clean Future Ohio, or PCFO, which works with local governments to conduct environmental assessments and secure grants for future projects.

PCFO will help Akron learn from others who have already joined and implemented solutions, said Akron Director of Sustainability Casey Shevlin.

“Their expertise and tools and free resources, from my perspective, will help supplement the small capacity in my office right now, and I think really fuel and support our efforts,” Shevlin said.

Cleveland and Canton are already members of PCFO, as are Cuyahoga and Summit counties.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.