Upper Arlington must identify long-term solutions for generating additional revenue in 2014 and look to cut costs through service partnerships, according to its city administrator.
Heading into the new year, Upper Arlington City Manager Ted Staton identified several priorities for city officials, and most were geared at adding to municipal coffers so services can be maintained and deteriorating infrastructure can be addressed.
A Citizens Financial Review Task Force, established by Upper Arlington City Council and consisting of 13 community members, met for the first time in December. Staton said he hopes the advisory panel will provide key direction by late spring.
In the meantime, he said, council and other city officials will mull financial strategies to overcome the loss of nearly $6 million in annual funding caused by the elimination of Ohio's estate tax effective Jan. 1, 2013, and cuts to the Local Government Fund.
They'll also seek to address $113 million in capital-improvement needs that City Engineer Dave Parkinson has identified over the next 10 years.
"Perhaps figuring out our financial future, of all the things we have to do, is most timely and most important," Staton said. "We've lost what amounts to about 20 percent of our revenue.
"We're approaching a point of having a difficult time making ends meet."
Staton did not rule out the possibility of a city income tax increase being placed on the November ballot, but said no decisions are likely to be made until after hearing from the task force.
Long-term solutions, or a lack thereof, will drive the level of services -- including trash and leaf pick-up and parks programming and facilities -- the city can provide, he said.
In November, Parkinson established the city's first 10-year capital-improvement plan, which concluded that city roadways, stormwater and sewage systems and other infrastructure have decayed substantially.
Previously, city planners had looked ahead only seven years for capital-improvement projects.
"Our infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate fairly fundamentally," Staton said. "We have a $113-million, 10-year plan and really, only two years of that is funded because of the end of the estate tax.
"Limiting our (plan) to only seven years made it very difficult to present a plan to catch up with all the deferred maintenance."
While city officials will seek ways to enhance revenue, Staton said they will continue to look to cut spending through "shared-services" agreements with other municipalities and entities.
In addition to ongoing exploration of opportunities to merge Upper Arlington's 911 dispatch operations with other communities, the city will look to expand current partnerships with governments in Norwich Township and Grandview Heights for sharing and maintaining municipal vehicles and equipment.
Bolstered by a burgeoning spirit of cooperation with Upper Arlington schools Superintendent Paul Imhoff, Staton believes the city and school district can help each other meet certain needs and save money.
One example is a new agreement to jointly produce a newsletter. While the move will cut costs only by $23,000 -- $14,000 for the city and $9,000 for the city -- it's a move in the right direction, Staton said.
Another project will be assigning an Upper Arlington police officer to serve as a school resource officer (SRO) for the district. Federal funding will help the city provide a SRO, but the district is expected to cover half of the officer's costs.
Further, Staton said, Upper Arlington continues to aggressively pursue the increase of payroll tax revenue through economic development. He said he would be "absolutely surprised" if the city doesn't receive applications for a medical office project at Kingsdale Center by this fall.
"The parcels on Zollinger Road and the south end of Kingsdale are slated to be office -- hopefully, medical office," Staton said. "We have interest from medical service providers.
"The medical office uses at Kingsdale, what makes or breaks that is the market for office space."
While many variables could have an impact on revenue-generating proposals or projects, Staton said something that's more certain for 2014 is attention to Northam Park, which is home to parks and recreation programming and the site of community events such as the Upper Arlington Civic Association's July Fourth celebration.
Improving drainage at the park and upgrading sports fields and parking are among the projects being discussed.
"In many ways, it is the city's most important park," he said. "It's time to reinvest in Northam Park. I would like it to be a public-private partnership.
"Much of this is to -- I'll use the term 'remodel' -- the park. We're not going to have more fields. They'll just be better configured. They'll drain better."
Additionally, Staton said, the city will look to several recent community surveys to identify ways to improve services in 2014.
One plan already in the works includes training city staff members to handle a variety of public needs and inquiries at an information desk at the Upper Arlington Municipal Services Center.
"We hope to, from a customer service point of view, develop what I refer to as a one-stop shop," Staton said. "It would be one desk where they (residents) can conduct all or most of their business with the city."