On the border of University Circle was once was a thriving city. Now, the City of East Cleveland is struggling to breathe. A drive down what was formerly known as “Millionaires’ Row” once brought images of elegance and wealth. Today, it is a portrait of decay and neglect. Right by the East Cleveland City Hall is Euclid Avenue. No longer known as Millionaires’ Row, instead Euclid Ave is filled with dangerous potholes that the city cannot afford to repair and traffic lights that have long stopped working. The beautiful homes that populated Millionaires Row are gone. Instead they have fallen into disrepair, are boarded up and covered in graffiti. These derelict streets are one of the many signs of the urban decay that has taken hold of East Cleveland.
To East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton, there is only one solution left: a merger with the city of Cleveland.
In the last 60 years, over 50 percent of East Cleveland’s residents have left the city. For some, East Cleveland is a home filled with culture and history that they never want to forget. But for many in East Cleveland, there is nowhere else they can go. The majority of East Cleveland’s current population is below the poverty line. The average person left in East Cleveland struggles to survive with a meager income of $20,660.
To a devout few, East Cleveland will always be their home, and they are fighting hard to preserve it. But to many, the last hope for the dying city of East Cleveland is a possible merger with the City of Cleveland. Currently two separate entities, East Cleveland does not have a large enough revenue base to fund its daily operations. Both the East Cleveland Fire Department and the Police Department have experienced drastic layoffs and cuts, prodding top officials to call for help.
“We’ve cut everything,” Mayor Norton told The Observer.
These cuts have the potential to threaten the safety of the East Cleveland population.
Norton explained, “This cutting can only last so long. And people need police protection. People need fire protection. People need fire protection and EMS. And they’re going to need those services whether there’s a city of East Cleveland or not.”
In a motion to preserve these functions, Norton initiated a petition last year to start the merger process between East Cleveland and its neighbor, the City of Cleveland. Since the start of his efforts, there have been considerable pushback from members of the East Cleveland City Council.
The Council and Norton have had a history of political differences. Last fall, Norton’s chief of staff filed for the Cuyahoga Courts to intervene and force the city council to progress the merger. Earlier this year, the courts ruled that the merger petition led by Norton had a technical error, rendering it invalid.
In recent months, a new merger petition was completed. The council has since passed an ordinance to further the merger but with a series of additional terms and conditions. Concurrent to the merger, the council is pursuing the services of the same advising firm that handled Detroit’s bankruptcy.
In August, the East Cleveland City Council showed a willingness to consider the merger, but under a series of broad and strict claims. These terms of agreement, which have been criticized as a “non-starter” by Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley, includes many requests such as:
-Conversion of the East Cleveland City Council to an advisory council, preserving their salaries
-One percent yearly tax credit for East Cleveland residents
-A merger incentive of $10 million annually to be paid to East Cleveland
-$20 million in loans for housing rehabilitation
-Preserved red light camera programs
In response to backlash against the merger conditions enacted by the East Cleveland City Council, council members have mitigated their positions on the issues of the merger, issuing a similar ordinance but without the controversial stipulations.
Kelley has expressed a willingness to consider the merger throughout the process.
“I am committed to continue discussing ways towards a possible merger with East Cleveland,” he said in a press release.
The next steps in the merger involve the City of Cleveland appointing commissioners to negotiate on the details of the merger. The merger could be up on the voting ballot as soon as the November general election. For the merger to succeed, both cities must approve of the plan.
The future of East Cleveland looks cloudy, but that might just be Cleveland.