Maple Heights Mayor Hopeful City Will Leave Fiscal Emergency Soon
The mayor of Maple Heights says she’s hoping the state will release her inner-ring suburb from fiscal emergency early next year.
The comments come after the state-appointed commission overseeing the city’s finances approved a new recovery plan Thursday.
“We believe that we’re in a good position to ask the first of the year to formally make the announcement that we’re released,” said Mayor Annette Blackwell, a Democrat who took office in 2016 and is seeking another term this year.
Maple Heights entered fiscal emergency in 2015 after the city failed to make payments on three loans for sewer projects. The city ended the prior year with nearly $2.8 million in deficits, according to the state.
This year, the outlook is positive, according to state auditors. Maple Heights ended 2018 in the black, thanks in large part to a bump in property tax revenue from an inside millage increase.
Several new businesses may boost city income tax collections, too. A KFC, Checkers drive-in and Big Truck Rehab Center were all slated to open this year, according to Maple Heights’ financial recovery plan.
“Everybody’s been doing this together,” Blackwell said. “That has worked. If you could give them the tools, and they understand what the challenges are, and everyone participates, then we come together, look at the budget, and we’ve all done a good job, and we can all celebrate in the successes.”
Blackwell hired a new finance director several months ago. The state wants to wait until she’s been on the job for longer before releasing Maple Heights from fiscal emergency, according to Blackwell and state financial supervisor Barbara Mattei-Smith.
In January 2018, a state audit found that building department employees failed to deposit nearly $5,000 into city bank accounts. The auditor’s office sought to recover the money from a few city staffers, including the former finance director.
Maple Heights has also worked to shore up accounting practices. An August 2017 state auditor’s report said the city needed formal procedures for recording receipts, processing payroll and making purchases.
The city has lost more than 12 percent of its population since 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Home values there were hit hard by the 2008 recession with some neighborhoods loosing as much as 40 percent of home values.
Blackwell said Maple Heights home values continue to improve, even if many homeowners remain underwater. This year’s median home sale price is nearly $55,000 — a 6.7 percent increase over last year, according to real estate data provided by the mayor.
“The houses are here, and I’ve got diversity in homes,” she said. “I’ve got bungalows, I’ve got Cape Cods, and we’ve done pretty well.”