Upper Arlington's leaders pledged to improve outreach efforts in 2016 and said they'll move forward with infrastructure projects while studying financial efficiency.

Upper Arlington's leaders pledged to improve outreach efforts in 2016 and said they'll move forward with infrastructure projects while studying financial efficiency.

During a roughly 90-minute State of the City address Monday, Jan. 25, Upper Arlington City Council members laid out the city's current top objectives

Dubbed "Focus on the Future," the presentation focused on two-year goals that include improving communication with residents and other stakeholders, as well as plans to review Upper Arlington's entire parks system and continue investing in streets and other infrastructure.

City leaders also said they would launch a series of financial studies to ensure taxpayer dollars are being allocated appropriately.

Communications

Following two years in which citizens groups have sparred with leaders over a variety of proposals, including development of private offices at the city Municipal Services Center, redevelopment of local parks and plans to outsource 911 dispatch operations to Columbus, improving community engagement was identified as a top priority.

"Despite the best of intentions, there can be a communications disconnect between the city and its residents," Councilman Mike Schadek said. "We had a pretty evident reminder of this last year as we worked through a number of contentious issues."

Schadek said officials are "rethinking how we can better engage in two-way communication with the community," and said a series of public meetings to gather residents' input on the reconstruction of Tremont Pool and a playground at Northam Park will take place in the first 100 days of 2016.

He added that the city will reach out to gain perspective of "recent economic development accomplishments" and will seek ideas for enhancing the city's solid waste program and parks.

One way the city plans to enhance communications is through an online forum called Open Town Hall, which yielded mixed results when rolled out Monday night for a test run by audience members.

While it collected survey information via participants' smartphones and other devices, it at times had issues loading various forum pages.

After increasing annual trash fees by $24 in December, Councilman John C. Adams said the city this year will begin a review of its solid waste program and "options for positive, cost-effective adjustments."

He said the "final phases" of research into the 911 consolidation should be finished by spring and said the city has started "a citizen review and final decision-making process."

Financial information

Adams said the city will use a website, SkinnyOhio.org, launched by the Ohio Auditor's Office that helps governments share and seek out cost-saving and partnership opportunities with other municipalities. He said Upper Arlington will use the OPENGOV website, which provides information to the public about how local money is being spent.

"Our community's finances are in excellent hands," Adams said. "It's comforting to know we have this backbone of fiscal acuity, accountability and long-range planning supporting everything we do, and giving us the flexibility we need to adapt to changing needs."

Infrastructure

As for infrastructure, Councilwoman Carolyn Casper noted the city is in the second year of a 10-year capital improvement program that's receiving ongoing funding after voters increased the local income tax from 2 percent to 2.5 percent in November 2014.

She said the city will continue to build on last year's work, which included the start of Tremont Road reconstruction. Twenty-four streets were resurfaced last year, she said.

"Looking ahead, within the first 100 days of 2016, we will have begun another of the most aggressive construction seasons in our history," Casper said.

This year's work will include rebuilding Tremont Road from Ridgeview Road south to Lane Avenue. More than $900,000 -- a 20-percent increase from 2015 -- will be invested in the street maintenance program.

The city also will finalize an EPA-mandated evaluation of its sanitary sewer lines and the Engineering Division "will be presenting its plans to remedy issues as part of a prioritized approach," Casper said.

"Our street reconstruction program will also see a funding increase of 15 percent to $1.5 million," she said. "Our Engineering Division has grown to keep up with an expanded workload and manage more projects in-house.

"In one example, having a dedicated staff member oversee Tremont Road is saving close to $50,000 in monthly construction management fees."