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Election preview: Stow will decide whether to require long-term budget planning by charter

The Nov. 8 ballot will ask Stow voters if they want the city to be committed to publishing a five-year capital spending plan.

Introduced by Stow Council President Jeremy McIntire, Issue 27 seeks to change the city charter to explicitly lay out budgeting plans for the future.

“This is just letting the taxpayers know what the priorities for the city are,” McIntire said. “In my opinion, the current budgeting process is pretty dated. We get a spreadsheet showing us all the spending and another for all the revenues, but things are not separated out by project or equipment. We don’t get a list of what we’re planning on doing, repairing or building.”

The proposed charter amendment would compel the city administration to publish an operating budget detailing day-to-day expenses of running the city and a capital budget outlining plans for spending on new projects before the year end, said McIntire.

“This would better define our budgeting procedure by separating out capital and operating needs separately to council for approval,” he said. “Then, in the same way we do now, we would bring them together and appropriate the money.”

McIntire said the goal is to provide a clearer idea for future development of bigger capital needs. He clarified that the long-range plan wouldn't require Stow to execute that plan beyond the first year.

“When you are looking at a five-year plan, you are not looking at a commitment to spend in five years," he said. "You are only looking at the budget for year one, not year four or five. You only define the current year, but it lets people know what the priorities are and what the city wants and where it is going. It will take a lot of the guesswork out of it. A five-year plan is a dynamic tool; it is ever-changing as emergencies happen and unforeseen things happen, so you move things around and have it as a basic planning tool. So we are not picking and choosing plans the same year we are funding them."

Stow Finance Director Jim Costello said city council is already given the information that Issue 27 proposes to build into the charter. He questioned whether a charter amendment is necessary to accomplish McIntire's planning goals.

“We have not been approached to discuss this issue,” he said. “We don’t disagree on planning a five-year budget. It would be a responsible thing to happen, but we have not discussed with Councilman McIntire what he wants to see in a budget. This really does not need to be in the charter, it could be in discussions.”

McIntire said he tried to go through council on this issue but didn’t get very far.

“I introduced legislation last year to try and do this through the legislative process, but the administration took offense and said it wasn’t the council’s role to do,” he said. “So I withdrew it and decided to put it into a charter amendment and let the voters decide.”

The change would also help the city be prepared to act quickly and take advantage of funding opportunities, McIntire said.

“If we know what we want to do, we can make decisions – for example, if we want to borrow,” he said. “Some projects come with federal funding, like Route 91, and we are only paying 20 cents on the dollar, and we have to be ready to act. We cannot afford to not [act].

“The city has really overhauled in the past few years – we have updated software and programs. We are setting up future councils, finance directors and administrations to build on the success of the last few years. Even during the pandemic, we got things done, even if slower. These are the tools we need to put into place to set up future officials for continued success.”