Mayor Christiane W. Schmenk delivered the following address in city council chambers on Thursday, Jan. 28.
Mayor Christiane W. Schmenk delivered the following address in city council chambers on Thursday, Jan. 28.
Thank you for allowing me to speak tonight about the state of our City. Before doing so, I would like to express my gratitude to City Council, for a great continuing partnership. We in Administration appreciate the support you give to our City employees and the role that you play in being a bridge between the City government and our citizens. We appreciate your fine representation of their interests and the work that you do for our community.
I would also like to thank our City employees for another great year. To our City Administrator, Jillian Froment, our Municipal Court Judge Mike Grigsby, City Law Director Tim Aslaner, our Economic Development Director Eric Phillips, and our Administrative Staff including Police Chief Floyd Golden, Fire Chief Gary Johnson, City Engineer Valerie Klingman, Public Services Director John Mitchell, Finance Director John Morehart and Human Resources Manager Brian Dostanko, I would like to say thanks so much for all you have done over the past year. And, to all other City employees, I also say thank you. I am grateful for all you do.
And now, I'd like to discuss the state of the City. Overall, your City is in good condition. We have held our own during this period of economic recession, we have experienced employees in place who are capable of managing through these challenging times, and we are planning strategically for our future.
As I have in past yearly reports, I'll first discuss our City's Finances. As Council knows, our sewer, water, stormwater and sanitation (trash) services are self-funding and are operated out of what we call "enterprise funds". In 2009, revenues were up as compared to 2008 for our sanitation and stormwater funds, while they were down for our sewer and water funds. The decrease was primarily due to reduced investment earnings, although user fees were lower than we would have liked due to the economy. However, these enterprise funds remain in good condition.
When preparing our 2009 budget, we recognized that our City's General Fund expenses had been outpacing revenues for quite some time. Setting aside our sewer, water, stormwater and trash services, all other City services come out of what we call our "General Fund". In 2009, our General Fund revenue was down 2.1% from 2008. However, we were able to adjust and decrease spending so we could maintain the necessary level of cash reserves.
We made the determination to address the deficiency in the General Fund in several ways. First, we cut over $1.1 Million from our initial proposed 2009 budget. Capital expenses were $356,888 less than 2008. Only one replacement police vehicle was purchased during the year to replace two vehicles lost in weather related accidents. No other vehicles were purchased from the General Fund. Open employee positions were not filled. All street paving was cut unless it was to be funded by grants.
The second way we determined to address the General Fund was to try to increase our income tax rate. As Council knows, in 2009, we assembled a 22 member Citizens Advisory Committee to review our General Fund finances as well as to assess our ability to meet the safety service needs of the City. They concluded that although the City was spending money wisely and that we have a low number of employees when compared to other cities our size, we would not be able to have a balanced budget unless we raised the income tax rate or made painful cuts. They also concluded that the City's current police, fire and municipal court facilities were inadequate to allow these professionals to continue serving the public adequately. They reviewed the City's 1% income tax rate and concluded that it was unusually low when compared with other Ohio cities and that it was intended when passed in 1968 to cover only street paving, not all the additional services that it has been stretched to cover. Therefore, they recommended that the City increase the rate to 1.5%. With Council's help, we worked hard to do that in 2009, but we were unsuccessful. Painful cuts were made so that we could balance our budget. However, the needs are still there, and they will not go away. Many residents have told us that we should try again. We are therefore determined to go before our voters again this May, and we appreciate Council's help in advance.
Make no mistake, we cannot continue with our usual services to the public at a 1% rate. If we fail again in May, further cuts will be needed. Our inability to pave streets or replace police and other vehicles will catch up to us, and as needs arise, we will have to cut in other areas. As we reach out to the public this spring, we will inform them of what we have cut and what further cuts will be needed. We will do our best to enlist the voters' help so that our City's financial future becomes brighter.
Ensuring our Foundation is Strong for the Future
Now, I'd like to turn to a brighter topic, how the City worked in 2009 to ensure that its foundation is strong for the future. As I talk, I'll follow some of the themes laid out in our 2009 Annual Report. I encourage Council and our residents to go to the City's website at www.marysvilleohio.org and read the entire Annual Report, which should be posted by next week.
Employee Wellness: One important initiative was to focus on employee wellness. As Council knows, health insurance costs have skyrocketed for all employers, and the City has been affected by rising insurance costs. To address this, in 2009 the Wellness and Health Information Committee (WHIC) was established as part of our Employee Wellness Program. The WHIC is a formal committee made up of employees who are charged with continuously looking at all city insurance benefits to ensure maximum plan coverage at the lowest possible cost. The WHIC reviewed each city insurance plan to identify potential areas of improvement. The WHIC also used expert guest speakers to explore various medical insurance plan options such as Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and various wellness programs and initiatives. Meetings were held with three different health insurance brokers in order to find the best possible rate and medical plan for the city, and meetings were held to lay the groundwork for possible HRA or HSA options. As a result of the WHIC's work, the city had the lowest percent of increase on its total insurance cost since 2005. The city realized a savings of $45,209.00 on medical costs by implementing an HRA option. A new broker was also selected to position the City for future cost savings and efficiencies in future years. Additionally, employees participated in on-line health risk assessments, which provided them a base line for their individual wellness programs. Employee wellness will continue to be a focus of our City, as we strive to minimize expenses as well as have healthy employees.
Revision of the City Policy Manual: Another important initiative to ensure a strong foundation for the city was a review and revision of the City Policy Manual in order to look for improvements and to ensure the city is in compliance with ever-changing laws and regulations. Led by our Human Resources Division, new policies were created to address the executive evaluation process, violence in the workplace, "at-will" employment of exempt employees, retiring equipment procedures, the city communication process, and the use of city resources. This Policy Manual will ensure a single consistent approach to the city's daily operations.
Revision of the City's Hiring Process: A third foundational project in 2009 was a revision of the city's hiring process. Hiring the best possible person for a vacancy is arguably one of the most critical processes to ensure our city's success. Our Human Resources Division performed a 4-month review of the city's hiring and recruitment process, which had not been reviewed in its entirety since 2003. As part of the review, Human Resources gathered together all city hiring procedures, including all individualized departmental/divisional products, and performed a fictionalized hire through each department/division, making notes and changes along the way. This review resulted in the creation of a Hiring Guide to reduce the length of process as well as to create more standardization among forms, providing a single guide to all supervisors, ensuring better documentation and, most importantly, helping to ensure the best candidate is selected for the position.
Completion of Traffic Studies: Another project to ensure a strong foundation was the completion of studies by our City Engineering Department to examine potential traffic issues within the City and provide recommendations to improve those situations. These studies included the Downtown One-Way Pair study, the US 36/SR 4 & Milford Ave Traffic Study, a Traffic Signal Study, a North Marysville Traffic Study, the Delaware Avenue Corridor Study and the Milford Avenue & Maple Street Intersection Study. Additionally, a Safety Study was conducted for the Interchange at US 33/SR 4/SR 31. These studies provide the city a basis for determining future improvements that will be needed as the City grows. They will also be used to identify immediate concerns that can be addressed as funds or resources become available. For example, the Traffic Signal Study identified issues with the City's traffic signal operation - many of which were corrected or addressed over the past year by the Streets Division. Finally, the studies will be used to apply for state and federal funding.
Building for the Future
New Development: In 2009, in spite of the recession, our City saw new developments still occur. Construction starts included the Inn at Halcyon Village, a new Scotts Miracle-Gro office building to be called "The Kelly Swartz Center," a new Scotts production facility and warehouse, Aaron Rents in City Gate, and Crazy Burrito in Coleman's Crossing. Although at a slower pace than previous years, new residential development continued and included a total of 68 single residential homes in the following developments: Green Pastures, Keystone Crossing, The Links, Scotts Farms, Shepherd Landing and the Village at Timber Lakes.
Water Reclamation Facility: Also during 2009, the City's new Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) was placed into operation. This was the culmination of a long process that had begun with the issuing of findings of noncompliance and orders to comply by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2002. With the commissioning of this new facility, The City of Marysville is well positioned for future growth and development, as the City's wastewater treatment capacity has been increased from 4.0 million gallons per day to 8.0 million gallons per day.
Water Reservoir: The City's Water Department also had a year of building for the future, as the City Reservoir located on Raymond Road, the Inflatable Dam located on Mill Creek and the Mill Creek Pumping Station were completed in mid-summer. The Pumping Station, when operating at full capacity, can fill the 41 feet deep reservoir in approximately 45 days. Together these structures will ensure the city's future water supply by creating a supply of 1.3 billion gallons of water. This amount is enough water to supply the city for approximately 375 days. The reservoir can viewed by citizens who can enjoy the 2.1 mile walking track located around the top of the structure. Additionally, the City is proactively working to address future water supply, treatment, and distribution needs and ever-tightening regulatory requirements. To meet these needs and requirements, the City has begun the design process for a new Water Treatment Plant. The design process will take approximately two years and will look at the well supply, potential treatment alternatives and distribution system improvements. Once the design process is completed, the plant will take approximately 3 years to build and will result in a plant that can meet future daily demand, meet compliance requirements, address water pressure issues and deliver better water quality.
Preserving and Sustaining our Future
In 2009, the City put renewed focus on adopting environmentally friendly processes that would preserve and sustain our community. These ranged from using recycled concrete and asphalt to making our own top soil from wood chips and leaves. All pedestrian crossing lights were replaced with LED crossing heads, which will result in cost and energy savings. The water division identified and repaired leaks in the system, which will save an estimated 77, 700 gallons of water per day. The Memorial Tree Program was begun, with residents now being able to honor loved ones by donating a tree to be planted in city parks.
Protecting our Future
In 2009, our Police and Fire Divisions continued to provide exemplary service for our citizens. The Fire Division had a total of 2778 responses to calls for aid. Mutual aid from other fire departments was required 116 times for calls that occurred when our staff was already responding. The Police Division responded to 12,336 calls for service, an increase from the prior year. Incident reports were also up from 2008. In the Fall of 2009, the Police Division obtained Grand Jury indictments against eighteen individuals for trafficking in heroin and other drugs. Throughout the year, our safety services participated in numerous training exercises to ensure they are prepared for emergency events and remain ready to protect our citizens.
Connecting to our Future
Much improvement was made to the City's Information Management systems during 2009, including a major upgrade of the city's network and the establishment of wireless network connections between City Hall and the Water Reclamation Facility. The City also began work on a technology plan by first creating a technology committee, which has begun developing a unified vision for the city's technology systems.
Planning for the Future
And now, I'd like to update Council and the public on how the City planned for its future in 2009. While we didn't have money to spend, we knew that the economy will turn around eventually, so we felt that this past year was a good time to prepare for the future. We first did this by embarking on the development of a new city Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan). The Comp Plan was created to develop a shared understanding of Marysville's future needs and best strategies for ensuring a successful future. Like many historic and fast-growing communities, Marysville will benefit from a long-term strategy to guide its efforts, both today and into the future. The Comp Plan is a tool to help the community lay the groundwork for making great things happen. It is based on a realistic evaluation of the City, including its assets, its opportunities and its regional context. The Plan drew upon meaningful, active involvement of a wide range of the City's Stakeholders, including its residents, business operators, elected officials, municipal staff and appointed officials, including the members of the Planning Commission and Design Review Board. We are in the process of finalizing the Comp Plan and, when completed, it will provide a vivid statement of Guiding Principles for the City's future and an ambitious, but achievable, program of improvements that will give the City the capacity and methods for achieving those Guiding Principles. These improvements include future changes in zoning, amendments to the Planning and Zoning Code, the establishment of new traffic patterns, the establishment of pedestrian connectivity and the establishment of vehicular gateway features. While growth in our City has slowed during the last two years, we know it will pick back up again, and with our new Comprehensive Plan, we will be ready to ensure that growth is sustainable and beneficial to our residents' quality of life.
Another area in which the City planned for its future during 2009 was Parks and Recreation Planning. Parks and Recreation play an important role in the life of Marysville residents. In order to address the current and future needs of our residents, the City initiated efforts to create a comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master Plan. The purpose of the Master Plan was to create a vision and plan to guide the decisions which affect the parks, the recreation programs and the community they serve. The planning process evaluated existing programs, parks, facilities and services and resulted in 13 recommendations on new or enhanced programs, parks, facilities, and services. These recommendations include action steps and timelines for completion. Public participation was a critical element of the parks planning process. We knew that it was essential that the citizens of Marysville be given an opportunity to have input on the future of the Parks and Recreation system, so our goal was to involve as many residents as possible in the process. In order to achieve this goal, community input was gathered through community forums, surveys and stakeholder interviews. This input revealed that residents of Marysville are accustomed to having well maintained parks and multiple recreational opportunities available through the Marysville Parks and Recreation System. Members of the community consider recreational services important and want sports fields available. However, they also want more emphasis put on trails that connect the city and the parks together. These trails can be used by residents of all ages-parents with young children in strollers, runners and bikers, rollerbladers and walkers, whether they are young or older. As our city expands, we will therefore incorporate more sidewalks, trails and bike paths so that our citizens have linear parks in which to enjoy recreation. The input from residents showed us less interest in creating new parks; instead, residents said that focus should be placed on maintaining and improving our existing parks and that focus should be placed on expanding recreational opportunities within those existing parks. Although we were not able to make new capital improvements into our parks this past year, the planning we did will serve us well in the future. As growth resumes, our Parks Master Plan will serve as a guidebook for upgrades and additions to our recreational opportunities.
Well Positioned for the Future
As Council has heard, the City of Marysville is well-positioned for future growth. 2009 was a year of planning. Much was accomplished so that we are prepared for when the economy revives.
As always, I want to say a heartfelt thanks to our city employees. In spite of financial challenges and cutbacks, they remain dependable and resilient. They serve the public cheerfully and with dedication. For that, I say thank you.
In concluding, I advise you that the state of our City is strong. 2009 was a year of planning and ensuring that we have a strong foundation for the future. And, our future continues to be very bright.
To City Council, thank you for allowing me to speak tonight, thank you for all you do, and God Bless.