Norm Crume said it is time to step away from local politics after he served 12 years on the Ontario City Council. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).
ONTARIO – Do your homework.
That proved to be at the core of Ontario City Councilor Norm Crume’s 12-year career representing the residents of the city.
With his last city council meeting on Dec. 22, the longtime Ontario resident said he looks back on his stint as a councilor with few regrets and a new appreciation for small-town politics. Crume, the longest-serving member on the council, chose not to run for re-election and will leave office in January.
“I am still alive. It didn’t kill me,” Crume joked recently.
Crume’s departure represents a shift in the composition of the council. Along with Crume, Ramon Palomo and local realtor Marty Justus also depart the elected board in January. Former city council president Dan Capron resigned earlier as he moved outside of city limits.
Retailer John Kirby, auctioneer Sam Baker and non-profit worker Eddie Melendrez were elected in November to fill the vacant seats while Ken Hart, a health care financial officer, was appointed to fill Capron’s slot in October.
Crume said when he was elected 12 years ago he walked into the city council chambers with preconceived ideas about government.
Those melted in the face of reality, he said.
“I had this perception thing the city was running poorly. Then when I got into it I found it wasn’t,” he said.
Crume said he learned “way more than I thought I would” as a city councilor.
“Not just understanding how a city operates but it’s working with other people and that made me a lot better person. I am able to understand someone else’s point of view way better than I could back then,” said Crume.
Norm Crume, Ontario city councilor, attended his last city council in December and will officially step down from his elected position in January. The longtime local lawmaker said he had few regrets about his time on the council. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).
Crume’s tenure on the council coincided with a series of difficult budget decisions that, to this day, he said is discouraging.
Crume watched the city close its pool, switch control of the library to an independent district funded by property taxes, shutter its recreation district and fold the city golf course.
All of those decisions, said Crume, were difficult.
“It was all very, very disappointing,” said Crume.
Crume said he also learned occasionally he might need to change his views on a particular issue.
He pointed to the failed attempt by city officials to float a sales tax to shore up the city general fund in 2017.
The sales tax idea was soundly rejected by voters – 1,581 to 825 – in May 2018.
Crume said at the time he was elected he opposed any sales tax. By 2017, though, he supported the concept.
“I had to change my opinion on whether or not the city needed a sales tax. It was just to the point of cut, cut, cut and going backwards every year on the budget. It wasn’t because I wanted a sales tax but my realization for the city to prosper it needed more money,” said Crume.
Crume, who owns Norm’s Auto Electric in Ontario, said he is optimistic about Ontario ‘s future.
“There appears to be a solid city manager (Adam Brown) here, as long as he doesn’t get run off,” said Crume. “The outlook is brighter than where we were eight years ago.”
Crume said one reason the city finances are in better shape is the influx of dollars from marijuana taxes. Ontario voters allowed recreational marijuana dispensaries in November 2018. State voters approved retail marijuana sales in 2014. The first dispensaries in Ontario opened in July 2019.
The state collects a 17% tax on marijuana sales while the city levies a 3% tax on pot sales. Most of the city tax revenue from marijuana sales goes into the general fund to pay down the city’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) debt.
Crume, who opposed marijuana dispensaries, said the marijuana tax helps the city.
“I have to admit the money part of it is good. We are able to pay down our PERS debt dramatically. Time will tell what it does or doesn’t do to our community,” said Crume.
Crume said the city made strides in terms of improvements since he was elected.
“Second Street is being rebuilt. The airport, we’ve made massive strides out there. There have been a lot of improvements but it’s been the teamwork of everybody,” said Crume.
Crume said success as city councilor means “be prepared. Go to every meeting that you physically can and read your agenda,” said Crume.
Crume said there was no specific reason why he decided to not run for re-election.
“I’ve just been here long enough. Time for someone else to step and do what I’ve done. I will miss my friendships with some members of the council and city staff and just being involved. But it is time to go,” said Crume.
Crume said he believes newly elected council members must guard against complacency. The small items, he said, will make a difference. One example, he said, is the city must continue to focus on code enforcement regarding animals, parking, properties and the overgrowth of weeds.
“I hope the council does not relax on that,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
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Marijuana retailers face substantial start-up costs to open in Ontario