In terms of memorable events, Westerville's sesquicentennial year saw more than enough of both man-made and natural milestones, including hurricane-force winds, a year-long city birthday celebration, an unforeseen blizzard, and an election that will affect Westerville for years to come.

In terms of memorable events, Westerville's sesquicentennial year saw more than enough of both man-made and natural milestones, including hurricane-force winds, a year-long city birthday celebration, an unforeseen blizzard, and an election that will affect Westerville for years to come.

City Manager David Collins-worth said his first full year as head of Westerville's city staff was one to remember.

"During all of that I was trying to assimilate everything that was going on, and I think overall we came out well," Collinsworth said. "The city received really positive feedback from our response to the weather events, there was great participation in the sesquicentennial, and we have the community to thank for that."

2008 began with a bang in Westerville, as the Celebrate Westerville committee kicked off the city's 150th anniversary with a New Year's Eve celebration in Uptown, which organizers estimated between 8,000 and 10,000 people attended. State Street filled with revelers, who came to see both the seven-foot-diameter New Year's ball constructed by the Neagle family, accompanied by an award-winning professional light show that was projected across the facades of Uptown businesses.

With the sesquicentennial events underway, Westerville faced a new challenge in the first week of March, by way of a massive snow event.

"We had about 36 hours or better of non-stop, heavy snow, which was quite a challenge," Collinsworth said. "The snow started on the weekend, and it wasn't until Saturday evening that our crews were even able to just clear the main drags. It was just constant plowing."

Crews from both the service department and the parks & recreation department worked 12-hour shifts round the clock to clear the city's main arteries, while plows had to be assigned to escort EMS vehicles so they could make their runs. An extra $45,000 in road salt had to be purchased just to deal with the event.

With the summer came more chances to recognize the city's birthday -- July brought the Ohio Chautauqua program to town, a five-day event that showcased those who helped shape the modern world with actors portraying famous scholars and inventors, historic portrayals, and an old-time baseball game played at the Westerville Sports Complex by the Ohio Muffins.

While the festivities were going on, however, city staff and community volunteers were putting together a campaign to educate the public on Issue 54, an initiative that sought to restructure the city's income tax collection rate in a time when the city's fiscal future was in question.

Collinsworth said that while organizers were more hopeful than in 2006, when a similar measure was denied by voters, there were times during the year when Issue 54's success was in question.

"I think that when the Dow dropped 15 percent, and the big credit crisis really hit, it posed a real concern that it would disrupt people's opinion on (Issue 54)," Collinsworth said. "Our mantra the whole time was 'If people understand it, it will pass.' Win, lose, or draw, everyone was going to go to their polling place knowing exactly how it would impact them specifically."

The city's resources were tested again in September, when an unprecedented hurricane-force windstorm swept through Central Ohio, killing power to numerous homes and falling trees across the entire city. Again Westerville's crews worked round-the-clock to restore power and clear debris from the storm, which altogether cost Westerville about $475,000. Crews will be working well into spring 2009 removing fallen trees from the city's parks, officials have said.

With its natural concerns out of the way, Westerville's voters took to the polls in November with income taxes on their minds. The community's education efforts paid off when the polls closed -- Issue 54 had passed, 11,641 for, 9,304 against.

"I think we made a proposition to the community about maintaining the quality of life and level of services that we've delivered up to now, and this was about continuing to deliver that level of service," Collinsworth said.

With the issue passed, Westerville will be able to capture a large sum of income tax dollars that previously went to surrounding communities. Putting the city's entire taxable population at 2 percent earned income tax with 100 percent credit for taxes paid to other municipalities, the city projects to capture an additional $8-million in annual revenue from nonresidents who work in the community. Most of that money will be used to shore up the city's aging infrastructure, Collinsworth said.

With 2008 in the history books, city leaders will now have to look ahead for new ways to support the community, Collinsworth said.

"I've always tried to operate under the expression, 'To whom much is given, much is expected,' and Westerville will continue to operate in the same way," Collinsworth said.

lrice@thisweeknews.com

Collinsworth