In 2012, both Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer and Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda came into office facing financial crises created in part by a 2011 decision by Gov. John Kasich to cut funding to local cities.
They and dozens of other state mayors did not have a say in Kasich’s action then, but the Ohio Mayors Alliance, a new, bipartisan coalition is intended to have the voices of the leaders of the state’s largest cities heard.
“In our experience, the current structure of communicating our needs hasn’t been real effective, so we decided to start our own,” Brinda said. “And because it’s bipartisan, it’s a unique opportunity for mayors of different political parties to find common ground and advance common policies.”
A news conference set for Friday in Columbus will announce the initiative and the 30 cities that have signed on to join the partnership. This includes Brinda and Ritenauer, who will be on hand.
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“It gives us numbers,” Ritenauer said. “We will need numbers heading into the biennial budget cycle next year. Coming into office in 2012, one of the things I saw, and I’m sure other mayors will agree to, was how the decision on the state level to cut the local government fund and eliminate the estate tax had major consequences in the cities. When those types of decisions are made without input from the stakeholders, that being the mayors, you get the kind of policies we saw in 2011.”
Both Democrats, Ritenauer and Brinda, said this is not an attempt to push against the governor, who is a Republican.
“We have to join forces. We have to partner together to make sure our voices are heard,” Ritenauer said. “This is about advocating for Ohio’s cities — where the commerce is occurring, where the sales taxes are being generated and the lifeblood of state government is being produced.”
Several regional groups already aim to work collaboratively to push a common agenda, including the Northeast Ohio Mayors and Managers Association on which Ritenauer serves as vice-chair, and the Mayors Association of Ohio which is part of the Ohio Municipal League. The new group’s difference could come in its ability to lobby beyond economic interests.
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“We’re hoping this has some real staying power beyond the budget and current budgeting process,” Brinda said.
The erosion of home rule with the state passing laws to negate local authority to the creation of unfunded mandates — all are big-ticket items the mayors want to discuss, Ritenauer said.
Individual cities will fund the alliance with annual dues based on city population with Elyria and Lorain’s portion amounting to about $4,000 each.
“This buys the ability to have a partnership with lots of stakeholders,’’ Ritenauer said. “We have to be at the table this next biennial budget. We weren’t at the table in 2011 and look where it got us.”
Mayors from Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Euclid, Toledo and Youngstown all will be on hand Friday for the announcement of the coalition.