Gahanna residents should look forward to being heard this year when it comes to what they want the city to look like in the future.
Mayor Becky Stinchcomb said 2014 would be a time of listening to residents, reshaping local government and figuring out priorities. She said she expects to work with council and residents to find a path moving forward.
Residents defeated a proposed 1-percent income-tax increase in May and November last year. If approved, the tax rate would have changed from 1.5 to 2.5 percent. The increase was estimated to generate about $8 million annually for general municipal operations and services, including police, street maintenance, parks and recreation, and capital improvements.
"I expect a year of examining everything we do," Stinchcomb said. "We will continue to listen. It will be a good six months of listening. What will you support (on a ballot), if anything? What I hear is maybe something targeted at special uses dedicated to parks or roads."
Stinchcomb said she wouldn't recommend going back on the ballot for a 1-percent increase. If a ballot issue is pursued this year, she said, it wouldn't be until November.
"I got the message, but the needs haven't gone away," Stinchcomb said. "We have to figure out a way to meet them. We'll continue to innovate. More revenue is needed. We can't cut or innovate our way out."
In June, the administration recommended 2015 operating reductions, including closing the Gahanna Senior Center, swimming pools and Ohio Herb Education Center.
"There have been questions about the plans we submitted," Stinchcomb said. "No one wants the senior center to close. Staff has been looking at alternatives to keep it open but not as many days.
"Our focus has been trying to get the budget through council," she said. "Once leadership is established (with council), we'll sit down with them."
She said more conversation is needed with council members and residents.
"I need to have a lot more conversations with people who opposed the (tax) measure," she said. "I need to talk to the people who voted no to see what they will back. They can talk to me or council about what they can support, if anything. If they can't support anything, we'll do the best with what we have."
Stinchcomb said she's still exploring ways to engage the community.
"I've done some coffees, but I've had little attendance," she said. "People aren't coming to public hearings. I'm interested in how to best engage the public, whether an open session at lunch or an hour before council. I'm looking for suggestions. We have some ideas. We'll try a number of things."
She said the public is welcome to email, text, call or write a letter, and she would be willing to attend meetings of groups and organizations.
"It's tough to figure out how to communicate with folks," she said. "Maybe we'll have open houses specifically about parks or roads."
The good news is that the city has a fairly healthy budget and Gahanna isn't in crisis, Stinchcomb said.
She said she would present the annual State of the City address sometime in March, with a date and location to be determined.
"We have some months to plan," she said. "It will be, 'Where do we go from here?' I really look at (2014) as hopefully continuing to engage the community and talking."
Stinchcomb said the city would hire a deputy director of development to replace Leah Evans, who took another position late last year.
"We could have some retirements this year," Stinchcomb said. "Every position that comes open, we look to see if we can streamline. It's hard to think about streamlining further. We will have a sharp eye if we have positions come open. We will have some change. There will be positions that we critically need to fill."
She said efforts to talk about shared services with other communities would continue.
"We will see more of a trend toward that statewide," Stinchcomb said. "We'll look at that harder."
In looking at business and development, she said, a lot of building permits and activity occurred in 2013.
"There are a lot of prospects," she said. "I think there are some good prospects but nothing I'm prepared to announce. We've been meeting with folks about the Buckles tract and Central Park. There's activity, in terms of inquires."