Powell in 2021: New leaders bring new ideas into new year

Jim Fischer
ThisWeek
Pictured from left: Megan Canavan, the city of Powell's assistant city manager and communications director; Elise Schellin, development planner; Jeff Tyler, community-development director; Mayor Frank Bertone; and City Manager Andrew White pose for a photo Dec. 17 at City Hall.

A “generational” turnover in city staff – plus some discernment afforded, even necessitated, by a global pandemic – has resulted in some big-picture thinking by Powell city officials that will manifest throughout 2021, according to City Manager Andrew White.

White is part of that generational turnover, joining the city in April in a post held since 1996 by Steve Lutz, who announced his retirement in 2019.

The turnover in city staff includes retirements or other departures affecting the city’s development, finance and police departments, among others. The city's growth was guided in large measure by outgoing staff members.

White said both factors led City Council to call for fresh perspectives on how the city does its work and serves its residents.

“There has been an environmental change the city’s undergone in the last generation that has brought us to this point in time,” White said. “We’re going to continue to maintain an organizational output consistent with public expectation while also raising the bar for success.

“We want to be the preferred choice in central Ohio for those looking to locate a business or buy a home,” White said.

The city recently added Jeffrey Tyler to its staff as community-development director, a newly created position that reorganizes and consolidates some city functions.

“We’re not done but have just begun,” White said of this repositioning of city operations to help move Powell forward.

“Council is motivated to become much more aggressive with regard to development,” White said.

Acknowledging some projects already in the works, not the least of which is the future construction of an Ohio State University hospital site in the city, White said he anticipates a busy 2021 on the development front, including some projects that have not yet formally come before the city.

“I’m an optimist by nature. We’ve had some discussions. We’re going to see some real progress on the development front in the coming year,” White said.

Infrastructure also will be high on the city’s priority list in 2021, White said, including a heightened budgetary emphasis on road and street maintenance and a refocus on some of the tenets of the 2017 Keep Powell Moving study conducted by the city.

“Whether or not some of those (Keep Powell Moving) things come to fruition in 2021, I don’t know yet, but there will be consideration,” White said. “We’ll be looking to improve the downtown experience even more via things like relieving congestion, public parking, pedestrian pathways and other ways of connecting downtown with other parts of the city.”

What impacts city revenues will be a theme in 2021, as well, White said, acknowledging that council’s finance committee is in the early stages of a discussion on raising the city’s income-tax rate and saying it’s an area in which Powell lags behind other area communities.

He said any such increase likely would be placed on the ballot for voter approval.

A lodging tax, grant funding, the issuance of “strategic debt” and refinancing existing debt are all measures on the table to affect city revenues, White said.

“We’re going to have to take a look at our resources. We have positions we’ve left unfilled and projects that can’t be delayed,” White said.

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