December 22, 2014

Elyria
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Avon Lake hires public relations firm to explain why city, school losing money

AVON LAKE — The city will spend $12,000 on a public relations firm to help explain why the city and school district are losing money after the devaluation of NRG Energy Plant.

Mayor Greg Zilka said the hire was a smart one in order to maintain the residents’ trust after the approval of a school levy in May and with the uncertainties surrounding the plant’s devaluation.

“We are seeing a very dramatic reduction in the public utility tax obligations of the power plant. This could cause some tremendous ramifications for the city and for the schools in the long run,” he said.

“They are going to blame that on the schools and say that, once again, the city and the schools have not been truthful. This is a very complicated issue and one that needs professional guidance as to how it may be presented so it can be as clear as possible.”

The devaluation of NRG Energy Plant, which was announced in late October, came as a surprise to city officials, according to Zilka. The devaluation by the Ohio Department of Taxation from about $35.9 million to nearly $16.4 million will cost the city, school district and county money.

Avon Lake Schools, which presently receives about $3.3 million in annual revenue from the plant, will lose about $1.3 million in annual revenue, according to the district’s treasurer.

During Monday night’s City Council meeting, Council unanimously approved the hire of the public relations firm, The Impact Group, for a period of three months. But the hire was not without criticism.

Avon Lake resident Richard Gerrone said the city is wastefully spending money for services that could be provided by city officials.

“We really need to take that in-house — $12,000 for a PR firm to tell us the city did nothing wrong,” he said, asking Council to reconsider.

Zilka said the purpose of hiring The Impact Group for a “sustained communications program” is to educate the residents. He said the city often hires outside firms, such as law firms, because the city has limited resources.

“It’s not unusual, because we’re such a small city,” he said.

Zilka said the city and the school district plan to hold an informational public meeting in December on the devaluation. He said it is important to keep the residents informed on the issue.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.