Mayor, staff make up for loss of Langner
Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler has taken a unique approach to tackling the city's financial challenges.
Kessler, the former chairman of Bexley City Council's Finance and Judiciary Committee, developed a plan to balance the budget with a combination of an income tax increase and expense reductions. He and the Issue 24 committee promised voters that if they approved a tax increase, that move would be accompanied by nearly $1 million in cuts to the city budget.
What wasn't apparent at that time was exactly how tough those budget cuts would be. Among the victims was Bexley Development Director Bruce Langner.
Langner left in June because the city eliminated the position.
"The decision to eliminate the position of development director is a financial decision that has been made in order to further hone the expense side of the city's budget in light of current economic conditions and the city's funding challenges," Kessler said.
"Bruce Langner has worked diligently at economic and community development during his time with the city, and we are very grateful for his contribution to Bexley's development successes," he said. "This decision has been a very difficult one for us to make, and we will be working hard to compensate for the loss of this position by rolling out some innovative and focused development initiatives."
These include instituting the Mayor's Bexley Development Ambassador program.
"Qualified and energized residents will be empowered to seek targeted new uses and users for Bexley," Kessler said. "We are also launching and supporting a proactive Community Improvement Corp. and transitioning to a development outreach and development policy program that is overseen by the mayor."
Kessler said he and other staff members are handling Langner's responsibilities.
"I have divided some of his duties among city staff and taken on others myself," he said. "For example, Kathy Rose has taken on a more in-depth role with Planning Commission applications and meeting preparation, and Bill Harvey will be helping to liaise with MORPC and the Safe Routes to School study group."
Kessler said he has taken on "the core development director responsibilities.
"I spent 10 years living and breathing real estate development, so this is a natural fit for me and I really enjoy the economic development aspect of my job,"he said.
Kessler said leading the economic development effort himself makes sense.
"I think it is very logical for the mayor to also be the city's main chearleader for economic development," he said. "I spend a good deal of my time marketing Bexley to potential users for the city and working on economic initiatives to encourage positive development in the city.
"In the past several months, I've worked on organizing property owners and stakeholders to develop a unified strategy for turning the Livingston Avenue area around; I've been further cultivating prospects for City Hall redevelopment; I've been facilitating projects throughout the city, including the Tim Horton's development for Livingston and including outreach to new businesses on Main Street."
In addition, he said he has worked with a summer marketing intern to create and distribute a new Bexley business census/survey.
He is now collecting responses to the survey "so that we can start to regularly track key fundamentals regarding our business and real estate environment and then formulate development policies going forward, based in part on the intelligence gathered through that process."
Kessler said he has been "reaching out" to property owners of environmentally impacted sites on North Cassady and "encouraging them to allow us to help them seek state and federal grant dollars for cleanup of those sites." And, he said, he has been working closely with the city's Main Street Committee on the 2013 Main Street streetscape project.
Kessler said the administration and City Council have actively pursued the promised budget cuts.
"The city has taken a number of steps to achieve the cuts promised to voters last year," he said. "These include reworking some outside contracts, eliminating and reducing a number of budget line items through recreation, the service department and City Hall; reductions to employee benefits; reductions through attrition in the service department payroll and the elimination of the development director position."
All together, he said, the expected savings from these steps amount to approximately $930,610 annually.
More reductions will probably be needed to balance the 2013 budget, Kessler said.
"In light of weak estate tax income in 2012 to date, and in order to be prepared for long-term sustainability, the budget that my administration is preparing for 2013 will have additional adjustments that will provide for a balanced budget in 2013 and set the stage for a viable city budget into the foreseeable future,"he said.
Kessler said potential solutions used by other municipalities might not be the best fit for Bexley.
"I think that we need to structure our government in a way that makes sense for Bexley, given our size, positioning, and market environment. To me, this means in part having employees who are cross-specialists," he said. "We simply don't have the scale to have a discrete position for many of the things that we do in the city.
" I think there are many ways in which a small government has the opportunity to be more efficient, more nimble, more accountable and more responsive than larger governments, despite our lack of economies of scale," Kessler said.