For Heath officials, 2010 means a year of budget worries and woes.

For Heath officials, 2010 means a year of budget worries and woes.

City auditor Keith Alexander said mayor-elect Mark Johns and council members would have to determine how to fill the current $600,000 gap in the general-fund budget in the first three months of the new year.

Council approved an interim budget - the first in Alexander's 17 years with Heath - during its Dec. 21 meeting so that Johns could put his own touch on the budget after he takes his seat, replacing Richard Waugh Jan. 2.

"The general fund is the problem," Alexander said. "There are a variety of things that can be done to adjust (the deficit). The obvious thing is, there are two ways to deal with it - raise revenue or cut spending. I don't see us being in a climate that raising taxes would be a smart move."

Council member Richard Morrow (Ward 2) said money is the obvious concern as the city moves into the new year.

Prior to tackling the budget issues, though, the two new council members, Brian Johnson (Ward 1) and Doug Heffley (Ward 3), and Johns will have to get acclimated to the city's government, Morrow said.

"The first quarter is more kind of just a feel-out and see what the mayor's thoughts are and learn to work with him," Morrow said. "There isn't a real big answer to the problems we are getting into."

He said he hopes city officials would not have to resort to cutting services and programs, such as the water tower that officials hope to construct to attract industrial development on the west side of the city.

One thing Morrow said he is excited for in the new year is the completion of the expansion project on the Davis-Shai House, which is owned by the city and managed by the Heath Community Arts Council.

"I think that it, with the addition, is going to really bloom and that it is going to be able to more and more pay for itself," he said.
Johns, the newly elected mayor, said the Davis-Shai construction, which is slated for late summer or early fall 2010, is something to which city residents should look forward.

"The completion of that expansion will really help to enhance the programs and offerings we have at the Davis-Shai House," Johns said. "It will help to make that facility an even better place."

In addition to the Davis-Shai House, Johns said, he is looking forward to working with council, especially on the 2010 general-fund budget.

He said he has been working closely with Waugh to make the mayoral transition as smooth as possible for both council and the residents of Heath.

Like Alexander and Morrow, Johns said his main concern is the budget.

"There is only so much revenue the city has coming in," he said. "I need to make some tough decision on the expense side to try to make the two sides meet."

Along with his budgetary worries, Johns said, he plans to focus on both commercial development and business retention in 2010.

"I am looking forward to applying my energy to help show businesses that Heath is a great city for businesses to locate in," Johns said.

John Groff, chief of the city's building and zoning department, said he thinks 2010 will look at lot like 2009 in terms of residential, commercial and industrial growth. He said he expects relatively no residential growth and slow commercial growth. He said the city needs more commercial and industrial growth to help stabilize the tax base.

"I do not see many major black holes out there," Groff said. "From a commercial end, I think it will be a pretty stable year. From an industrial viewpoint, I think it is going to be pretty much the same way. I don't anticipate any major developments in either area."

Groff said he's happy the city hasn't seen many commercial closures during 2009 and hopes that will continue into the new year. He said two of the major closures this year have been Ponderosa and Indian Mound Pontiac. Office Depot also closed after opening for the second time in the same location.

"We haven't had any big-box closures," he said. "What we've lost are some of the smaller commercial retailers. I know in the mall we have lost some, but every one of them is important. But fortunately, we haven't lost any of the big ones."

Johns said he hopes to increase communication with Heath residents by starting a periodic newsletter for residents.

"I'm really excited about working to have our city government better engaged with the residents of Heath," Johns said. "I'm excited about doing everything that we can to make sure residents of Heath have the information about what our city government is facing and how they can help with ideas."

He said the newsletter, which residents could opt to receive by providing their e-mail addresses to the city, would be a low-cost or no-cost way to get the word out.

Johns said he also wants to find a way to record council meetings and broadcast them on local cable-access channel 20 or stream them on the city's Web site.

"It's just a way people, when it's convenient for them, can stay in touch with what's going on," he said.