City Notes: Lessons of perseverance in 2020 renew commitment to future

Sloan Spalding
Guest columnist

It is an understatement to say that in facing a worldwide pandemic, the disruption of our daily lives and periods of civil discontent, 2020 has been a trying year.

As our students know and many of us have learned, even in difficult times we still have some control over the outcome by how we react to events. Although our community has been tested this year both emotionally and financially, we have endured and persevered together, with numerous positive reminders of E+R=O, or an event plus the response equals the outcome.

Sloan Spalding is mayor of New Albany.

I have been heartened by our community’s response to these challenges. Collectively, we are taking on this pandemic in a way that has safely kept our businesses open and returned our children back to school, even if how that looks may vary from week to week.

We also have shown great support for our first-line responders: health-care professionals, teachers and administrators, and our police and fire personnel, even with the ongoing unrest surrounding us.

In our recent resident survey, we asked about the impact of the pandemic.

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Residents reported an increase in stress, many postponed or canceled a major event and nearly everyone with children spent more time helping with school work. (Sorry, I still can’t do the new math.)

Financially, more than 33% of residents had their work hours reduced during the pandemic, nearly 25% were furloughed and 10% were laid off permanently. We are working closely with businesses partners to share information about employment opportunities here in New Albany in hopes that displaced workers might join other local businesses that continue to grow during these challenging times. 

We also asked questions about diversity, equity and inclusion. We strive to ensure that community connects us here in New Albany; thus, we are intentional in our effort to reach each resident and make sure they feel welcome and valued.

Feedback reinforced what we heard anecdotally through our yearlong efforts with our Engage New Albany strategic-plan update, namely that a number of residents of diverse backgrounds in and around New Albany want the city to increase outreach and inclusion to foster opportunity for more people to become involved in shaping our community.

Nearly 90% of residents surveyed believe New Albany leaders should focus on creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable city. In October, we announced the creation of our Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Advisory Committee, known as the IDEA Committee, to help us better understand and respond to these issues from a community perspective. This committee will meet for the first time later this month. Stay tuned for updates.

One positive change for some during the pandemic has been an increase in exercise, which coincided well with the opening of Rose Run Park and the use of our 50-plus miles of leisure trails. Congratulations to those who took up a new hobby or restarted an old one to take steps to becoming healthier in the face of these challenging times.

Even though our revenues are projected to decline due to the pandemic, we are committed to maintaining our current service levels.

Our 2021 operating expenditures will be approximately $500,000 less than 2020, and we have been very conservative with operating expenditures over the years to build reserves. Because of this, we will continue to move forward with designs for key road projects, such as our future Market Street extension east of state Route 605, and new gathering spaces and retail and restaurant offerings in the second phase of our Rose Run Park, which includes an incredible new Veterans Memorial. We also are beginning the process of updating our neighborhood pocket parks during the next five years.

Although 2020 has been a challenge, it is during these tough times that we take stock in what matters most: faith, family, friends and fellowship in a great community. Please know that the city will continue to take feedback and move forward with our trademark planning and design to make New Albany an even better place to call home.

On behalf of my fellow New Albany City Council members and our entire city staff, I wish you happy holidays and a healthy new year.

Sloan Spalding is mayor of New Albany.