Sharon officials have been given a road map to get the city out of a financial quagmire, but it seems like they aren’t taking it seriously enough.

That’s what certified public accountant Robert C. Jazwinski, former finance committee chairman of the Shenango Valley Intergovernmental Study Committee and a former Hermitage commissioner, told members of the Sharon Home Rule Study Commission Wednesday night.

The Early Intervention Program Report issued by Evans and Associates in July recommends many changes to city government and procedures.

After reviewing minutes of city council meetings, Jazwinski said public comments by Mayor Bob Lucas and council President Fred Hoffman “imply only superficial attention” to the report.

Adoption of a Home Rule Charter would provide taxing flexibility but would not provide focused, quality management that Sharon needs, he said.

And while a city manager with vast experience could be hired under home rule, Jazwinski questioned whether elected officials would provide support for that person to succeed and if the city could afford to pay such a person.

“This is a ‘now’ item,” Jazwinski said. “It can’t wait a couple of years.”

Among things suggested in the Early Intervention Plan are getting outside expertise and private sector volunteers to help officials and employees better run the city, which officials have not done.

The report found the city should sell the sewer plant, renegotiate employee health care, and cut funds to the Shenango Valley Community Library, all of which the mayor said have been discussed.

Jazwinski shared what a 5-year study regarding consolidation of Sharon, Hermitage, Farrell, Wheatland and Sharpsville determined a model community should do: deliver required services while taking in the least amount of tax revenues needed to run efficiently and maintain adequate reserves while preserving a high quality of life and supporting property value.

Though that goal is common sense, Sharon and other communities in the region face real barriers to succeeding, Jazwinski said.

Perhaps the most significant issue that could have a long-term affect is that the city is landlocked, Jazwinski said. There aren’t large tracts of vacant land available in Sharon like in Hermitage, where the tax base has grown over the past three decades.

In Sharon, both the real estate and income tax bases have declined about 2 percent since 2002. And the property tax rate has been hiked about 18 percent to cover rising costs.

Tax revenues for Sharon increased 14 percent between 2002 and 2005, Jazwinski said, while in Hermitage they increased 10 percent through a growing tax base alone.

The city’s real estate tax rate — 39.5 mills, the highest for a municipality in Mercer County by 8 mills — makes Sharon uncompetitive or undesirable for economic development, Jazwinski said.

He emphasized that his statement wasn’t judgmental, but factual.

One of the major reasons Jazwinski said consolidation will not happen in the valley is because of disparate levels of assessed property value in the municipalities.

It would be mathematically impossible to constitutionally eliminate the shifting of revenue to other communities under one taxation system, he said.

A shift from relying on property taxes to earned income taxes is one thing the Home Rule Study Commission could recommend. But Jazwinski’s calculations show that if Hermitage’s current tax structure, which follows that model, was adopted in Sharon the city would see a decrease of $1.8 million in revenue.

Other hurdles for the city include a declining and aging population. Between 1970 and 2000, the Shenango Valley population decreased by more than 9,800 people.

And the income of people who live in Mercer County has also declined over the past 35 years, Jazwinski said. In 1981, the average annual income was 94 percent of the national level. In 2001, Mercer Countians made an average of 77 percent what people did nationwide.

That statistic is significant, Jazwinski said.

Jazwinski said the local governments have to function differently because things are not the same and may never be again.

Jazwinski referred to the Early Intervention Program report throughout his presentation and noted several disturbing trends.

Crime rates increased 40 percent from 2003 to 2005, he said, which is almost double the state and county rate. Also, crime clearance rates went down from 30.5 percent to 22 percent in 2005.

It’s a quality of life problem that needs to be dealt with, Jazwinski said.



The complete report by Evans and Associates can be found at: http://homerule.cityofsharon.net/earlyintervention.pdf

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