Reynoldsburg News

2013 Year In Review

City finances, Legionnaires' disease

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

As 2013 rolls to a cold and snowy end, a look back at the top issues in Reynoldsburg reveals a number of ups and downs, including rising utility costs, a failed bid for an income tax increase, state recognition for a parks project, a deadly disease at a local retirement village, the closing of the city's oldest business, a murder behind a local high school and a growing campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking.

The city's festivals were well-attended, with visitors to Tartan Day in April watching beefy men toss 300-pound cabers and thousands gathering in June to listen to the boom of cannons at the Civil War Re-Enactment. More people arrived later in the summer, to taste tomato-flavored ice cream at the Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival.

Reflecting on the year, Mayor Brad McCloud said he was disappointed that the income tax proposal failed at the ballot in November.

"The tax increase proposal would have allowed our city to take strong steps in increased safety, economic development and better maintenance of city infrastructure," he said. "We will, however, continue to provide the most efficient city services our resources permit.

"For the administration, it was an exciting year as we were able to fill the remaining vacancies in our directors by hiring a development director (Dan Havener).

"We look forward to addressing the challenges that 2014 will bring," he said.

Council President Doug Joseph said his look back at 2013 includes a number of financial issues.

"City finances and the continuing debate over how to fund city priorities, both short-term and long-term, were the top issues," he said. "I'm pleased the city filled the long-vacant development director position. Economic development has been depressed without a qualified city official in that position.

"I was happy to see the mayor veto an ordinance passed by council that would have raised income taxes on most city residents without a vote of the people," he said.

"I also give a double thumbs-up to the Parks and Recreation Department for thinking outside the box in securing some of their funding through corporate sponsorships."

Joseph said he was disappointed that another year has gone by without city officials finding more ways to consolidate and save.

"I'm disappointed that the city has not considered a more aggressive approach to cost savings and operation reforms," he said. "Two ideas that could yield a good return in real dollars for the city are the consolidation of city departments and merged services with overlapping jurisdictions, such as Truro Township.

"I also think it was a huge mistake for the city to use tax dollars to conduct a questionable 'education campaign' about the recent income tax increase," Joseph said. "Most voters I spoke to opposed the spending of scarce tax dollars on that campaign.

"They believed it presented information in a way that promoted higher taxes. Those factors, among others, contributed to the defeat of the issue."


Water rates and CIP fee

Rising costs for water and sewer provided by the city of Columbus were passed on to Reynoldsburg residents in January as water rates increased by 6 percent and sewer rates by 4 percent.

Reynoldsburg City Council added another increase by approving a capital improvement plan (CIP) fee expected to generate about $1.3 million to repair aging water and sewer lines. The fee added $1 to every 1,000 gallons of water use and increased sewer rates by 50 cents per 1,000 gallons.

Service Director Nathan Burd said many of Reynoldsburg's water lines are 50 to 60 years old, which means city officials expect to lose more than $1 million worth of purchased water because of leaks in the lines.

By the end of the year, Water Superintendent Mike Root announced that water rates would not increase in 2014 but sewer rates would increase by 2 percent.


Honor Flight

The Reynoldsburg community honored 71 World War II and Korean War veterans by sponsoring an Honor Flight on April 27 to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Coordinated by Reynoldsburg Honor Flight, the community raised $35,000 for the $50,000 flight. Local businesses, Reynoldsburg schools and organizations such as Reynoldsburg VFW Post 947 held fundraisers to collect money for the trip. The Gahanna community raised $10,000 for the flight and the rest came from Honor Flight Columbus.

Several Reynoldsburg and Gahanna students were guardians and community members cheered for veterans to give them a true heroes' welcome at Port Columbus.


Parks and Recreation

New Parks and Recreation Director Joe Brown kicked off his career in Reynoldsburg by obtaining an $80,000 grant for a "green" parking lot at the senior center that would allow rainwater to pass through the parking surface.

Brown also brought in big bucks for the parks programs by wooing local companies and organizations, obtaining more than $20,500 by mid-year, with the bulk of the funds coming from the Reynoldsburg Fraternal Order of Eagles.

The Edible Schoolyard, a Parks and Recreation collaboration with Reynoldsburg City Schools and Reynoldsburg Kiddie Academy, put kids and trowels together during Camp Adventure, a new summer camp program as students learned to grow a variety of vegetables in the Community Garden plots at Civic Park. Later in the year, the program won a first-place state award from the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association.


Legionnaires' disease

Illness struck a popular retirement home early in July, in what turned out to be Ohio's largest outbreak of Legionnaires' disease.

Six residents of the Wesley Ridge Retirement Community had died of the disease by mid-August and 39 were ill, including one visitor and one employee. Victims of the disease ranged in age from 63 to 99.

An investigation by Franklin County Public Health found the sources of the bacteria in a cooling tower and potable water used for drinking, bathing and cooking.

Wesley Ridge personnel worked with the Centers for Disease Control and hired a private contractor to superheat and hyperchlorinate the entire water system to kill the deadly bacteria.


Tax credit, income tax

Struggling to find additional revenue, Reynoldsburg City Council debated cutting the city income tax credit in half, thus raising taxes without voter approval for up to 80 percent of employed residents. Council members were divided in their support of the plan, with some instead proposing a ballot issue to raise the city income tax from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent.

Expected to choose between the two tax proposals, council voted instead to approve both issues, prompting Mayor McCloud to exercise his veto power for the first time. McCloud vetoed the tax credit reduction, saying though he agreed the city needs additional revenue, "I strongly believe at this point in time our residents should have the opportunity to make that decision at the polls."

The income tax hike ultimately failed Nov. 5 as voters rejected the idea of higher city income taxes for the fourth time since 2006.


Connell Hardware closes

Reynoldsburg's oldest business -- Connell Hardware -- closed its doors for good Aug. 31.

The "mom-and-pop" business opened 141 years ago as a tinsmith shop, founded by Ralph Connell's grandfather, Ezra Samuel Osborn. Connell grew up working in the hardware store and died there in 2007, sitting in his favorite chair next to the store's potbellied stove.

His daughter, Charity Connell, said the decision to close was a hard one. She said the arrival of the "big-box" stores marked the beginning of the end for the small business.

"I knew I would have to step back and look at things from a business end and not a sentimental end," she said.


Pit bulls

Dogs had their day at several council meetings as several dog-owners protested the city's ban on pit bulls. A local veterinarian and other speakers presented evidence the breed was not responsible for the most dog bites in the city and asked that Reynoldsburg City Council repeal the breed-specific legislation that brands the dogs as "vicious."

Councilman Joseph proposed an ad hoc committee to study the legislation, which was approved by a 3-2 vote Nov. 12.

Two weeks later, however, Councilman Chris Long called for another vote on the ad hoc committee, claiming three members voting 'yes' was not a majority. The committee was dissolved by a 4-3 vote by the full council.


November murder

City residents were shocked by the discovery of the body of a young girl behind Reynoldsburg High School's Summit Road campus.

Danielle Michaels, 18, was found Nov. 18 by a man walking his dog. A police investigation led to the arrest of Blacklick resident Adrian McGee, 17, who confessed to throwing a knife at Michaels.

Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt said he is pursuing charges of murder, aggravated murder, rape and kidnapping against McGee, who is being held at a juvenile detention center in Lancaster.

Human trafficking

The city of Reynoldsburg ended the year with plans to raise awareness of human trafficking with the "Break Every Chain" Human Trafficking Awareness Conference, scheduled for Jan. 11, 2014.

Councilman Cornelius McGrady III worked for several months to coordinate the event with school leaders, students, the Salvation Army, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, state representatives and survivors.