State Panel OKs New East Cleveland Recovery Plan

A flag flies outside East Cleveland city hall in 2015.
A flag flies outside East Cleveland city hall in 2015. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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A state panel has approved an updated plan to help East Cleveland recover from years in fiscal emergency, although the state-appointed supervisor cautioned city officials to budget for increasing safety forces costs.

At the start of the year, the city launched one revenue-generating item in its recovery plan, finance director Charles Iyahen said: a car impound lot that’s expected to net about $173,000 annually.

The city has already collected more than $120,000 from the lot, although that does not account for costs, Iyahen said.

Barbara Mattei-Smith, the state official appointed to lead the panel overseeing East Cleveland’s finances, criticized the recovery plan for not taking into account possible wage increases for police and fire employees.

City officials expect to end 2021 with a positive balance of $2.6 million in the general fund, the main pool of money for city operations. But by the end of the five-year recovery plan in 2025, the city’s general fund is projected to close out the year with a surplus of just $27,312.

“That’s really tight,” Mattei-Smith said.

One major building block of the recovery plan is an estimated $1.5 million in annual collections from traffic cameras – a local funding source the state legislature has tried for years to curtail. East Cleveland and other suburbs have gone to court to challenge traffic camera restrictions passed by the legislature.

East Cleveland received $3.9 million in federal aid from the CARES Act last year. The city dedicated much of that funding to the police and fire departments, Iyahen said.

The recovery plan does not account for millions in new relief possible from the American Rescue Plan, the latest federal COVID-19 recovery measure. Estimates released by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight put East Cleveland’s allocation at about $27.9 million over two years.

Mayor Brandon King said he’s hopeful for some movement on another item that’s been in the city’s recovery plan for years: turning over control of Forest Hill Park to the Metroparks.

“We do anticipate and are hopeful that they will take it over, but I don’t see that happening this year,” King said. “I see the conversation furthering this year.”

A spokeswoman for the Metroparks confirmed there have been conversations about assuming responsibility for Forest Hill Park, but said there’s no timeline for such a move.

East Cleveland has spent 25 of the past 33 years in fiscal emergency, most recently entering state-declared financial trouble in 2012.

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