Upper Arlington News

State of the City

Officials point out UA's growth, money management

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The city of Upper Arlington intends to build off solid momentum on the economic development front in 2013, but also will streamline staff and operations in the face of dwindling revenue sources, according to city officials who this week delivered the State of the City address.

Upper Arlington City Manager Theodore Staton and members of the Upper Arlington City Council on Monday, Jan. 28, spoke for close to 90 minutes in updating residents and business partners on the city's current status and future direction.

During the address, given at Upper Arlington's Municipal Services Center, Staton summarized some highlights of 2012 and looked ahead to this year before yielding to council members who provided greater detail about past, current and impending city projects and objectives.

"A lot has been accomplished and the fast pace won't be slowing anytime soon," Staton said.

Looking back to 2012, Staton lauded city employees for their response to the "derecho" windstorm in late June, which caused a wealth of tree and property damage and resulted in a temporary loss of power for some residents.

"In all, the community was back to normal before many others in Central Ohio were, thanks to everyone's hard work," he said. "This was a classic case study of what good local government should be all about -- meeting its community's needs during a time of crisis."

Additionally, Staton said 2013 will be a year in which the city must do more with less as it adjusts to nearly $1 million in annual reductions in local government funding from the state and life without the approximately $4.8 million in average, annual estate tax revenue the city has received.

"From a high of 300 employees a couple of decades ago, we have shrunk by 25 percent to a staffing level of 228 as reflected by the 2013 budget," he said. "Many of these positions have been eliminated since 2008, with another 10 positions to be cut this year -- hopefully through attrition as employees retire or leave for positions elsewhere.

"As these personnel reductions continue, the impact of each becomes more profound. To date, we've managed to absorb the losses with only minimal service effects, but I don't foresee that being the case into the future."

Staton then handed the microphone to council Vice President Frank Ciotola, who noted that residents' support last March of a police and fire levy helped the city avoid taking a "$1.7 million hit to an already depleted revenue stream."

Ciotola also thanked residents' for supporting Issue 24 last November, which allows alcohol to be sold at each parcel in the 39-acre Lane Avenue Community Entertainment District, an area the city has eyed for continued development, and which will be home to the city's first hotel.

Councilman John Adams, meanwhile, noted the city was able to maintain its AAA financial rating from two national ratings agencies, which will translate to "significant interest rate savings when we issue bonds to support capital projects," and he highlighted the city's record of $15.25 in income tax collections in 2012.

However, he said, the loss of the estate tax, which has been eliminated by the state government, and continued cuts to local government funding require the city to make up for 15 to 20 percent of its total revenues. City officials, he said, will have to explore all options for filling the financial gap.

Later in the evening, Councilman David DeCapua continued on the financial theme by noting the Lane Avenue CED will be a driving force in the city's attempts to further boost economic development and revenues.

DeCapua noted the Hilton Homewood Suites, which is slated to open on Lane Avenue in August, and other projects in the CED will begin to bring new taxes to the city, while also offering new amenities to city residents and guests.

He also said the Kingsdale Center, which due to rampant vacancies not long ago was the "community's biggest challenge," now is thriving.

"But there's more work to be done, specific to the acreage fronting Zollinger Road," DeCapua said. "Under the city's ownership, our development agreement with Continental provides a three-year window to seek, and hopefully secure, professional office users that will trigger the construction of more than 100,000 square feet of new office space.

"While we've yet to land upon a final project that will lead to shovels in the soil, we are optimistic that our hopes will be realized sooner than later."

Additionally, Councilwoman Deborah Johnson outlined the council's impending update to the city master plan, which is expected to be finalized in February. The document, she said, will guide city decisions on future development and other policies impacting residents and local businesses.

Later, Councilman Erik Yassenoff highlighted recent upgrades to local infrastructure and parks, and said the city continues to plan for more improvements in the face of financial shortfalls.

Councilman Mike Schadek also pointed to the city's renewed emphasis on sharing services to cut costs, including agreements to service vehicles for Norwich Township and Grandview Heights, and noted the city is continuing to look at possible opportunities for cost savings and improving services with its 911 dispatch operations through a proposed merger with Dublin, Hilliard and Worthington.

Schadek also encouraged residents to remain active in their community, and highlighted numerous civic groups and programs which can benefit both individuals and the community at-large.

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