Editor's note: Upper Arlington City Manager Virginia Barney reviewed city activities in 2008 and reported on Arlington's current status and near-term plans Jan. 20 at the annual State of the City event at the Municipal Services Center. The evening also included a resource fair in which local organizations showed what they have to offer, as well as the awarding of community honors to a variety of individuals and organizations. See story on page A1.

Editor's note: Upper Arlington City Manager Virginia Barney reviewed city activities in 2008 and reported on Arlington's current status and near-term plans Jan. 20 at the annual State of the City event at the Municipal Services Center. The evening also included a resource fair in which local organizations showed what they have to offer, as well as the awarding of community honors to a variety of individuals and organizations. See story on page A1.

Good evening. I am so pleased we are all gathered here for this annual celebration of our wonderful community.

A primary purpose of our annual State of the City address is to pull together the many strands that comprise this public entity, to provide you an overview of who we are, what we do, and how we do it, as we work to serve you and plan for a healthy community for many years to come.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the details and emotions of the projects and issues before us we can lose sight of the bigger picture. I think last year was a prime example of that, as our community faced some pivotal issues that took a great deal of our time and energy -- namely the transition in solid waste services and the Tremont Road rezoning.

Looking back, the bigger picture was the unfolding national economic crisis, and how that plays into the fabric of our community.

At this time of economic uncertainty, we find ourselves in a remarkable position compared to many other communities. It's not luck, and good timing, it's the result of many factors, running from the founding vision of our community through to the shared goals we have for Upper Arlington moving forward.

What makes us unique compared to others in our region and across the nation?

A very special place was created approximately 90 years ago. Location, quality housing and the establishment of exceptional educational opportunities, support services and amenities all contributed to a safe and desirable community in which to live and raise a family.

Planning for a community never stops. Thanks to continued good planning in recent years, these attributes and more have maintained Upper Arlington's place as a premier community.

We recognize the economic climate already has and will continue to affect us individually and collectively, but it's comforting to know that as a community we are equipped to meet these challenges.

The year 2008 was a significant one for Upper Arlington on several fronts, in ways that are pivotal for our future fiscal health and quality of life.

Amid all the financial challenges, we achieved the remarkable feat of an upgrade to Triple A for our financial rating from Moody's Investors Service and a new rating, also Triple A, from Standard & Poor's.

These are the highest ratings available, and reaffirm that the city takes its fiscal responsibilities seriously.

It also means the city is saving more than $85,000 over the life of our recent bond issuance, and can expect to benefit from the lowest interest rates in the marketplace for future bond sales.

Likewise, the library stands to benefit from our credit standing, since any of its bond issuances are coordinated through the city. This will obviously be important this year as the library prepares to ask UA voters to approve a bond issue in May to support significant facility upgrades.

Upper Arlington is in a strong economic position compared to other communities because it has taken steps to prepare for times of economic downturn:

By adopting balanced budgets and a commitment to sound financial planning, we have been able to set aside a healthy fund balance.

Through proactive economic development efforts to grow and diversify our business base, we have kept important income tax revenues strong when others have experienced significant declines.

While maintaining a commitment to exceptional service, cost-effective options have always been foremost in our minds.

That said, we recognize the current financial crisis is of a size and scope unseen in most of our lifetimes, and it may be some time before our nation fully grasps in what ways and for how long it will affect us all. We must do what we can to prepare our organization and community for continued success as we chart these unknown waters.

And while we have prepared, we know we will be affected by financial challenges in the region, and at the state and national level.

With flat revenue projections for the coming year, council rightly chose to support a balanced budget in 2009, continuing a key financial policy that has served us well and preserves our rainy day fund for a time of real need.

A concerted effort has already been undertaken to ensure our anticipated expenditures do not exceed revenues. As a result, our organization will focus on maintaining our current level of service, with less opportunity for incorporating new programs of any significance.

We also intend to use the coming year wisely as we begin to look ahead to 2010 and beyond. Holding steady in our course will afford us some time for rethinking how we deliver our services to the community and to explore new opportunities for realizing efficiencies and ways to enhance and expand services as we move forward.

At a time when you might expect construction projects to tail off, reinvestment in Upper Arlington has again proven phenomenal. Our development department reported a combined residential and commercial construction value of more than $74-million, up from 2007, second only to our record year of $80-million in 2004.

Tied to these impressive numbers is close to $36-million in commercial construction value, speaking to continued success with our economic development endeavors. In the coming year, look for a new office building and a mixed retail, restaurant and office development on Lane Avenue, as well as construction of a medical office building on Tremont Road.

A significant project is set to continue our impressive record of commercial reinvestment. In the time I've been city manager, I don't think a week has gone by when I haven't been asked about Kingsdale. While it might appear to the contrary, many hours have been dedicated to discussions and good faith explorations of various possibilities for this site, but never getting beyond the "idea" stage.

But here we are today, ready to roll up our sleeves to help make our community's dream a reality.

(At this point, Mayor Don Leach made a presentation the plans of Continental Real Estate Companies and local developer Mark Catalano to purchase and redevelop the aging shopping center with office and retail uses, including construction of a new, much larger Giant Eagle grocery store.)

Some significant steps in the public process before us:

The Board of Zoning and Planning is scheduled to formally hear and rule on the preliminary development plan, which is a standard administrative process.

City council will take action relative to a proposed development agreement between the city and Continental, also tentatively scheduled to occur in February.

Members of our Fire Division and some Police Division staff eagerly anticipate moving into their new home, as the new firehouse on Reed Road is scheduled for completion by the close of the year. This exciting project will provide state-of-the-art facilities for our fire and emergency medical equipment and personnel, enabling the division to integrate new technologies and upgraded equipment in future years.

As the firehouse is completed and the old facility demolished, surrounding parkland will be reconfigured so that the community will again have convenient access to the Reed Road Park shelter house, as well as new park facilities.

Most notable on our list of park improvements is of course Sunny 95 Park. Following an extensive planning process with much public input, a park master plan promises that our newest park will meet the recreational needs of both passive and active park users. Now the work begins to turn that plan into reality, with preliminary site preparations scheduled to begin this spring. Park features include a shelter house, three tennis courts, sledding hill, playground, restrooms, two athletic fields and walkways.

I know I am leaving out many highlights of the work of my staff from the past year, but that's not to take away from the value of their work. If I were to list everything, it would make for a long evening.

So I want to just briefly acknowledge and thank them for their continued hard work. I feel honored to be at the helm of this organization. Our employees work hard and care deeply about their work and service to you.

Our organization's emergency response training and commitment to service was clearly evident during and in the days and weeks following the windstorm in September that resulted from Hurricane Ike. On that Sunday afternoon, as the enormity of the storm's impact was becoming apparent, we got to work, putting aside any concerns we might have of our own situations at home. The teamwork of the members of our organization was impressive.

This emergency event brought with it several positive outcomes. Beyond our organization, various private entities joined in the effort to help us return our community to normal -- from the crews of Inland Service Corporation working long days and weekends to pick up storm debris, to the numerous entities that donated supplies to assist both the City and its residents.

Upper Arlington's community spirit was tangible. It brought residents together in a time of need. Random acts of kindness, and stories of neighborhoods banding together to help each other were abundant.

Virginia

Barney