As Delaware grows toward 40,000 residents and beyond in 2018, the city's leaders are focused on making sure its infrastructure and services work for its expanding population.
According to the most-recent U.S. Census Bureau estimate, the city's population sat at more than 38,600 in 2016. City Manager Tom Homan said Delaware officials estimate the population could grow to 45,000 by 2025, with the city approaching 50,000 people by 2030.
As Delaware grows, additional drivers will add to traffic-congestion woes and increase wear and tear on city streets.
Concerns over funding for routine maintenance and larger transportation projects led Delaware City Council in 2016 to ask voters to raise the city's income-tax rate from 1.85 percent to 2 percent to pay for road work. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the plan, and city officials talked little about potential tax increases last year.
City spokesman Lee Yoakum said Delaware officials this year hope to "restart a conversation" with residents about the failure of the tax increase.
Homan said the city plans to hire a private firm to assist in reaching out to the public to collect feedback on what transportation-related projects are most important to residents and the most-palatable ways to fund them.
"We wanted a more-coordinated approach to finding out what people are thinking, what the needs are in terms of transportation," he said.
Homan said he thinks residents agree on the need for additional road-related funding, but they may have disagreed with the finer details of the city's previous ballot request.
Yoakum said residents should expect chances to participate in transportation-related focus groups, surveys and other outreach opportunities in 2018. He said the goal is to define the "transportation vision of our residents."
As city officials prepare the outreach effort, they also are pushing forward with a multimillion-dollar transportation project.
The city in November appropriated just shy of $1 million to pay for initial design work on an effort to widen the intersection of U.S. Route 36 and state Route 37, known locally as the Point. Workers will have to remove and replace an existing railroad bridge at the intersection for the project, which has an estimated price tag of about $25 million.
While state and federal funding is expected to cover about 75 percent of the project's cost, the city still must come up with $6.2 million to put toward the project.
Homan said city officials in 2018 will continue to examine ways to fund its share of the project, including a potential partnership with Delaware County. Homan said he thinks the regional importance of the intersection could help convince county officials to contribute toward the effort.
"I think there's an interest, but they want more information from us," he said.
The city and county last struck a deal on a major infrastructure project in 2014, when the two governments agreed to share the cost of the extension of Sawmill Parkway north into the city. Homan said he hopes this year the city continues to reap the positive benefits of that project, which opened hundreds of acres in and around Delaware for potential industrial development.
Although Homan said he hopes to make announcements about more companies moving to Sawmill Parkway this year, he noted the city's existing industrial park took decades to fill.
"It took us 50 years to develop the present industrial park, which today has several thousand jobs out there," he said. "You've got to take the long view."
As city officials hope to speed the process of industrial growth on the city's southwest side this year, they also will deal with consistent population growth on the city's southeast side.
Workers are expected to break ground on a new fire station, the city's fourth, early this year off Cheshire Road and Glenn Parkway. Work on the building could wrap up before the end of 2018.
Homan said much of the city's land on the southeast side sits within the Olentangy Local School District, which may cause some residents to feel disconnected from the rest of the city. He said the new station proves city leaders have not forgotten about that growing portion of Delaware.
"I think it will help to remind the residents down there that they're part of the city," he said.
Although managing a growing city leads to concerns, Homan said it also creates opportunities.
"It's much better to be in a position of managing this growth and the development that stems from it than ... being in an area where you're losing population," he said.