Council scrutinizing city’s paid association memberships: Vote delayed pending review of necessity and benefit of affiliations

September 16, 2009

Akron City Council is delaying approval on what was a routine request by the city’s Director of Finance to pay $400,000 in annual fees to 15 organizations, associations and agencies.

Council’s Budget and Finance Committee Chair Tina Merlitti (W-7) said some memberships with certain government agencies like the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency are mandatory, but because of the city’s strained budget, renewing other affiliations calls for some scrutiny.

The city spends the most on mandatory license fees related to wastewater treatment activities. The highest expenditure in this category is a $75,000 annual payment to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for annual discharge and sewer sludge treatment.

“The city is routinely assessed mandatory license fees and charges by the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources,” Merlitti said. “Our purpose is to take a close look at other affiliations.

“We get quite a benefit from being members of some of the national organizations like the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities,” said Merlitti, who with Ward 4 Councilwoman Renee Greene and Ward 10 Councilwoman Kelli Crawford belong to NLC’s Women in Municipal Government constituency group.

“NLC allows us to share best practices with other communities and provides the best training you can get to be a Council member, but none of us is going to the annual NLC conference this year because we’ve cut our travel budget.”

The $12,242 membership with the National League of Cities also is a tremendous benefit to Akron and Council, but it also will be reviewed, she said.

Even though the city’s previously projected $12 million deficit has been reduced to closer to $7 to $8 million, Merlitti said more sacrifices must be made. Cutting back on associations is one option. “It’s still very little to sacrifice in these times when city employees face job losses and mandatory furloughs.”

Council also will take time to review more specific details on how proposed furlough days will impact city employees’ paid holidays and vacations.