Norwood declares fiscal emergency

By: Kevin Thomas ~Staff Writer~

Photo courtesy of | Cypress Way is divided by a well-paved side in Cincinnati and a crumbling side in Norwood.

Norwood, the neighbor to Xavier and home to many students in their final two years, is going through a budget crisis that might have a drastic impact on the community, even if it doesn’t affect Xavier students directly as residents.

The state of Ohio declared a fiscal emergency for Norwood, meaning that the city needs to create a plan for how they will recover and present it to a special commission for approval in the coming months, according to the Enquirer.

As a result of the budget crisis, roads are falling into disrepair and are not being tended to due to a lack of funding. State auditors are present in Norwood, and the city only has two ambulances, one of which cannot go faster than 30 mph, according to the Enquirer.

“I think it’s unfortunate that I don’t think [the budget crisis] will affect students as much,” junior Alex Fath, a student living in Norwood, said. “I think not all students are aware of Norwood. I think they just think of it as a place that we’re living while in college and not like a place that people live in every day.”

Junior Josh Menke, another student residing in Norwood, agreed with Fath and acknowledged the sad reality that a majority of the consequences of the budget crisis will not affect students.

“I think it affects us pretty minimally,” Menke said. “It would be nice to have nicer roads and stuff, but the fact of the matter is that as Xavier students, most of us probably aren’t going to live there for more than like a year or two, whereas a lot of the families in Norwood, they grew up there and have their actual homes there. Things that are more of a problem, like road infrastructure… [and] budget cuts across Norwood are more, like, long-term issues that we won’t necessarily see the kickback from.”

Some of the cost-cutting options that city auditor Jim Stith gave were scaling back retiree health care benefits, eliminating the health department, closing the community center, implementing pay cuts for employees, outsourcing the city’s 911 service and hiring the sheriff to take over police patrols.

“Their house is not in order right now,” Ohio auditor Dave Yost said after delivering a fiscal assessment of Norwood’s budget.

Norwood, with a population of just above 19,000, according to the 2010 census, started out the year with a $21 million budget and owing more than $1 million. A majority of the budget will be spent on the 200 city employees’s salaries and benefits. Last year, $16.9 million of the $21.1 million spent went toward employees, with $13.7 million of that going toward police and firefighters.

The budget crisis mainly comes as a result of rising expenditures and declining tax reimbursements and state revenue sharing. Currently, the city gets about $1 million per year less from these sources than it did in 2008.

One of the biggest catalysys for Norwood’s budget problems when General Motors closed a factory in the city three decades ago, creating a lack of jobs and a shrinking tax base.

“Communities continue to see less and less coming back to them,” Kent Scarrett, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League, said, “but the challenges haven’t changed. They’ve only increased.”

Out of the $21 million budget, $15 million came from the two percent earning tax. While there are businesses opening and employees being hired, most of the workers commute and do not live in the city of Norwood.

Although Norwood faces a projected increase of debt to $3 million dollars in 2020 if the issues aren’t resolved soon, members of the community are bringing awareness to the fiscal issues.

“This has become our family, our community,” Josh Stoxen, who lives in Norwood with his wife and four children, said. “I’m staying right where I’m at. It’s important to me.”

Fath and Menke both agree that, while not belonging to Xavier, Norwood is a part of the school.

“I think Xavier has a responsibility as a Jesuit institution,” Fath said. “We can’t be enforcing inclusivity and social justice if we’re just being blind to the things that are going on around us. There is an obligation to support the communities that surround us.”

“Xavier is not only the campus,” Menke said. “It’s all the students and the area where the students kind of frequently live.”