Community leaders bullish in their annual report
Community leaders came together Feb. 26 to share success stories and visions for the future in Westerville’s annual State of the Community address.
Presenters included representatives from the city of Westerville, the Westerville City School District, the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Westerville Public Library and Otterbein University.
City stays strong in tough times
In tough economic times, the city has continued to prosper financially, Westerville City Manager Dave Collinsworth said.
“In 2012, we were able to retain a coveted Triple-A bond rating from all three major bond rating agencies: Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investor Services and Standard & Poor’s,” Collinsworth said. “This is the third consecutive year Westerville has received this outstanding debt rating, which is based on our deep and diverse economy, strong management and ample financial flexibility.”
The city does face challenges, Collinsworth said, with residents' No. 1 concern being traffic, as shown through a recent survey.
Over the last year, the city’s leadership took the areas residents identified as having the worst traffic problems and created a strategic plan to address those, along with other areas key to improving the city, Collinsworth said.
“The city’s strategic plan was expressly built to refine our focus and narrow in on opportunities within our grasp. In this effort, City Council has set forward its vision for the future,” Collinsworth said.
In furthering economic development, the city is supporting local businesses with the WeConnect community data center, advanced metering for utilities, an entrepreneurial development program with TechColumbus and an Uptown facade improvement program, Collinsworth said.
The city also is revitalizing its older districts, Collinsworth said. The improvements along South State Street, the creation of an Uptown plan and the construction of the Hanby Park Train Depot are part of that, he said.
“These investments make the city stronger, more unified and attractive for prospective businesses, residents and visitors alike,” Collinsworth said.
Schools regain footing after cuts
Westerville Board of Education President Denise Pope said the Westerville City School District has much to celebrate academically as it recovers from more than $18 million in budget cuts made last year after the failure of a November 2011 levy.
“Academically, our schools have never been stronger. We’ve maintained the state’s highest rating of Excellent with Distinction for three consecutive years,” Pope said.
Also on the State Report Card, the district received its highest ever Performance Index number, met Adequate Yearly Progress requirements, as it has for the last five years, and again earned an “Above” on the Value Added measure, Pope said.
Individual stories of student success also abound, Pope said.
“The Westerville City School District gives its students a chance to learn, explore and grow. The list of accomplishments is long, and it reflects local, state, national and international achievements,” Pope said.
Following last year’s massive cuts to the district’s budget, district finances are recovering after the passage of a levy last March and with the help of cost-saving measures, Pope said.
“I’m pleased to report to you this evening that the waters have calmed. The board and administration have taken significant measures that have helped stabilize our finances for several years,” Pope said.
Those measures include negotiating pay freezes and changes to insurance with unions, going to a self-insured healthcare plan, refinancing some of the district’s debt and holding department budgets flat where possible, Pope said.
“Thanks to these and other contributing factors, our current financial forecast indicates that we will be able to stretch the funds from our emergency operating levy through fiscal year 2017. That’s two years longer than originally anticipated,” Pope said.
Pope also acknowledged the retirement of Superintendent Dan Good and the hiring of John Kellogg as the next superintendent, both effective at the end of the current school year.
“Today our district is achieving at the pinnacle of its performance. So, Dr. Good, on behalf of the board, students, families and staff, thank you for all that you’ve done for our schools,” Pope said.
Chamber celebrating 45th year
This year, the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce celebrates its 45th anniversary as it continues to help local businesses connect and grow, said chamber board Chairman Mike MacKay.
In addition to offering 35 networking events to its member businesses last year, the chamber also updating its website to highlight more businesses and better share information, MacKay said.
The chamber will continue to focus on member services, economic development and government relations on behalf of the 623 businesses it represents, MacKay said.
The chamber also will continue to draw members in to network, volunteer in the community and work on issues important to local business, MacKay said.
“Businesses working together not only advance the visibility of those involved but also bring about a stronger and more diversified chamber as we promote our businesses and the free enterprise system,” MacKay said.
Business is a major force in Westerville’s success, MacKay said, and he encouraged residents to support Westerville’s economy.
“Business is very much a driving factor of thriving communities, and Westerville is no different with approximately 79 percent of the income in our city coming from the businesses in the city and employees within those businesses,” he said. “We want and need to support our local economy. Whatever your purchases and services we hope you always think Westerville first and support chamber businesses.”
Library breaks attendance records
The Westerville Public Library broke records in 2012, with the amount of programs offered and people served, said library Deputy Director Karen Albury.
“Last year, we averaged nearly 2,000 people through the library doors each business day,” Albury said. “Last year, the library was also able to offer more programs of all kinds for all ages. Our community responded in unprecedented numbers: 45,000 people attended these events, a 25 percent increase in attendance over our previous year.”
With the passage of a levy in November 2011, the library was able to reopen on Sundays, institute Saturday hours at the Local History Center and purchase more books and other materials.
In 2012, the library saw the highest ever circulation, topping 2 million, or an average of 6,000 items checked out each day.
Last year, the Westerville Public Library again was ranked in the top 3 percent of all libraries nationally by the Library Journal.
The library will continue to grow in 2013, with renovations that will enlarge the children’s activity center, make-over the youth and teen areas, add a permanent Homework Help Center and renovate the Technology Center in the Adult Services area, Albury said.
The library plans to redevelop its website and offer more materials through electronic media and mobile devices, Albury said.
The library also will help the city celebrate the Year of the Arts in 2013 by hosting music, a writing contest, photography and film presentations.
The library plans other new programs in 2013 meant to draw in and serve the community, Albury said.
“This is just the start,” she said. “In the future, the library wants to be a center for arts and culture in our community.”
Otterbein strong and growing
Otterbein University is continuing its efforts to engage the community and offer programs that enrich the lives of Westerville residents, said university President Kathy Krendl.
“Otterbein’s commitment to the Westerville community remains strong and steady,” Krendl said. “Otterbein is proud to stand side by side with our community partners as we work together to ensure a high quality of life for and with the citizens of Westerville.”
Otterbein has partnered with the schools to offer the Otterbein Collegiate Institute, allowing Westerville high school students to enroll in Otterbein classes and earn college credit at a discounted rate, Krendl said.
Otterbein’s summer camp program allows younger residents to explore their interests, including music or horseback riding, Krendl said.
Otterbein has worked with the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Westerville Department of Parks and Recreation and the Women’s Small Business Accelerator to create a new “young entrepreneur camp” for middle school students, who will gain experiences in business development by creating marketing plans, budgets and business concepts that will be presented to Westerville business owners in Otterbein’s board room, Krendl said.
“Through our partnerships with groups like the chamber and Westerville schools, and programs such as the entrepreneur camp and the Otterbein Collegiate Institute, we can create experiences that will open doors of opportunity for young people throughout Westerville,” Krendl said.
In 2012, Otterbein completed its master plan, and university leaders now are looking at how the university can grow with its recent land acquisition off Cleveland Avenue, adjacent to its Collegeview Road facilities, Krendl said.
“Otterbein’s recent land acquisition of 25 acres represents a tremendous opportunity for a new western development that will further define Westerville and expand Otterbein’s campus,” she said.