Third Quarter City Reports

Staff has turned in their reports for the third quarter. As always, I’m amazed at how much work gets done quietly and without fanfare throughout the city.

During the Third Quarter of this year, July, August and September….

Human Resources processed 9 new city employees and processed out 17 employees leaving employment with the city.

In the Division of Fire, calls for fire service were down significantly from third quarter this year (619) compared to the same time in 2017 (815). EMS runs were slightly up for the same quarter, 2,440 in 2017, compared to 2504 this year during the same time period.

Building Inspection processed 478 permits with a construction value of $18,220,659.00, and completed 1,139 inspections during the third quarter.

Middletown Division of Police continues to see drops in crime. Part One crimes, the most serious crimes, have dropped year to date from 2,472 crimes in 2017 down to 1,997 crimes for the same period this year. Calls for service have shown a similar decline from 31,191 in 2017, down to 20,005 year to date in 2018.  The reduction in calls for service allows our officers to be more proactive in preventing crime and we hope the trend continues. It also improves our response times. Response to Priority One calls for service was at 6.2 minutes last year. With the reduction in call volume, MPD has dropped that response time to 3.4 minutes in 2018.

The Law Department reviewed 200 contracts year to day, prepared 98 pieces of legislation for City Council’s consideration, and the Municipal Court and Prosecutor’s are working on 10,303 open cases including 756 felonies, 3,124 misdemeanors, 221 OVI (drunk driving) cases, and 6, 202 traffic cases.

The Health Department year to date has inspected 427 food service operations, completed 117 swimming pool inspections, handled 84 animal bites, completed 35 indigent cremations, issued 3,580 birth certificates and issued 2,963 death certificates.

Public Works completed repairs on 602 traffic signals year to date, spent 1,746 hours working special events in the city, completed cleaning of 15,602 linear feet of sewer mains, completed 1,929 lane miles of street sweeping, and made repairs to 318 street signs.   They’ve treated 5,938 million gallons of wastewater, repaired 67 water mains, and produced 2,865 million gallons of drinking water.

I’m always proud of the hard working staff at the city. When compared to comparable cities nearby,  your city staff completes roughly the same work load with more than 100 less full time employees (FTE) than our surrounding neighbors.

We do our best to give you top quality service and respect the tax dollars that you give us to complete the work.

Have a great week!

City Pop. FTE
Middletown 48694 395
Hamilton 62477 529
Springfield 60608 558
Kettering 56163 572

 

City Charter Amendments

Election Day is November 6, and there are a few City Charter amendments on the ballot this year.

The three City Charter amendments are on the ballot as issues 6, 7 and 8 in Butler County. In Warren County, they are issues 22, 23 and 24. Here is a brief explanation of each issue and why it is being proposed.

Issue 6 and 22: The purpose of this proposal is to remove language from the charter related to the transition of City Council from five at-large members to seven members (four from wards and three at-large) and back to five at-large (directly elected mayor and four council members). This proposal is a “clean-up” matter. These sections of the Charter have been rewritten on several occasions starting in 1990 to implement the adoption of the ward elections, provide for the direct election of the mayor and ultimately to rescind the election of council members by ward and return to an all at-large membership. The language changes provide a simpler description of the composition and election of City Council. These amendments do not change the make-up or operation of City Council.

Issue 7 and 23: The purpose of this proposal is to eliminate the Charter requirement that a copy of the City’s Annual Report be maintained at the Public Library. The advance of technology makes this a “win-win” proposition for the citizens of Middletown. Traveling to the local library to obtain a copy of the City’s annual report is certainly more burdensome than calling it up on a computer or other electronic device. Even if a citizen does not own an electronic device, he/she can obtain the report by contacting the Clerk of City Council. This change moves the City from a purely “paper” world to “paperless” options.

Issue 8 and 24: The purpose of this proposal is to replace requirements in the Charter that certain legislation and notifications of certain public hearings be published in the newspaper with publication by electronic media. Article IV of the Charter addresses legislation. Certain matters are required to be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the City. Specifically, the first ordinance in a series of measures involving special assessments for street improvements or ordinances pertaining to franchises, rates or civil service cannot be passed as emergency measures absent a public hearing which requires notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the City. In addition, second readings must be similarly published. Finally, ordinances of a general or permanent nature, or providing for public improvements or assessing property must be published in not more than two newspapers. Newspaper publication is no longer an effective method of public notice. First a declining number of people subscribe to newspapers and there is little evidence to support the theory that legal notices in the newspaper are a primary means of providing information to the general public. Moreover, there is cost associated with newspaper publication. This change eliminates mandated expenditure for the publication. Electronic publication is a more efficient and effective means of reaching citizens of the City with this information.

Housing Meeting, August 9 – Home Ownership

The August 9th meeting of the Housing Committee focused on Home Ownership in Middletown. During the Great Recession, so many people lost their homes that at the worst of the crisis, the city had over 3,000 vacant houses in the city. We struggled with lower city revenues to keep those vacant homes in compliance and to keep the grass mowed and to keep people from squatting in abandoned houses.

After the recession, there was a shift in many people’s thoughts on home ownership in general. Some had lost their home and never wanted to be in that position again. Others lost a home and their credit was so badly damaged that they couldn’t have become homeowners again if they wanted to buy a home.

We started the discussion with whether home ownership matters at all in this post-foreclosure crisis housing market? If it does, is there an ideal level of home ownership that we should be striving towards in Middletown? How does home ownership affect neighborhood stability and the goal to have a balance of housing options available to people wanting to live in Middletown?

We talked about the typical housing cycle that most of us go through in our life times.  We live at home… we move out to our first, cheap apartment… we get a better apartment as we get a little money…  we become first time home buyers… we move up in our career and have children and at some point move into whatever our largest and most expensive house is going to look like… and then we become empty-nesters… and finally retirees.

If we are going to recruit and retain quality families to live in Middletown, we need housing for all of those potential life cycle points and enough available housing that if you live here or want to move here, there are enough choices available to fit your individual needs.

That being said, does having the housing available necessarily mean that we must have homeowners living in the available housing?

We started with a review of how our home ownership rates compare to the rest of Butler County, the State of Ohio and the United States as a whole. Middletown’s home ownership rate is at 52.6%. The remainder of Butler County has 71.5% home ownership.  The State of Ohio has 66% home ownership overall and the United States has 63.6% home ownership across the country. Those data points are from the U.S. Census.

If you take percentages and transform them into houses, then for Middletown housing to look like the rest of Ohio (at 66% home ownership), we would need to convert 2,627 rental units back to home ownership.

I next asked the question more thoroughly as to whether home ownership really stabilizes neighborhoods. I provided two fairly lengthy articles that came to different conclusions. One was clearly yes. The other one said that homeowners are attracted to stable, low crime neighborhoods and therefore the correlation is not clear whether ownership causes stability or whether stability increases ownership levels?

I asked the committee whether we should set a home ownership goal for the city. The answer was that we should, and it made sense to them to start at the lower end of the census numbers in front of us and work towards the higher percentages. With that in mind, we said we would start with a goal of moving home ownership from 52.6% up to the US level of 63.6%.

I then laid out some of the tools that other communities have used to increase home ownership. Keep in mind that home ownership percentages go up not only by adding homeowners, but also by reducing rentals. Both tip the scales in the right direction. We looked at the following tools:

  • Add New Housing
  • Demolish Poor Quality Rentals
  • Fill Vacant Houses with Homeowners
  • Land Bank Home Renovation to Homeowners
  • Down Payment Assistance – Targeted
  • In-fill New Home Construction – Targeted
  • Housing Incentives to Professionals (City/School/Hospital/Artists?)
  • Housing Incentives to Recent College Graduates (Hamilton program)
  • Incentive to Relocate to Fill Open Jobs in the City (Workforce Development)
  • Lease to Own Program (Have Job/Bad Credit)
  • Land Cooperative (Have Job/ Low Income)
  • Renovation Programs – 203K, Others Grants/Loan Available to New Home Purchasers

We talked briefly about the issue of gentrification. If we recruit a large number of new homeowners to a particular neighborhood, especially if we are recruiting professionals to move into what has been a traditionally low income or minority neighborhood, how does that change the nature and culture of that neighborhood and does the increase in property values and home improvements and paved streets, etc., offset the changes caused by the new homeowners? That’s a question we’ll have to discuss more deeply as we pick a neighborhood for revitalization and look specifically at the housing and demographics of those individual homes.

For more information about the meeting or to view the presentation and materials discussed at the meeting, please click the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

 

Planning and Zoning Updated Fee Schedule

As a part of the of the recent Middletown Development Code update, the City evaluated the Planning and Zoning Fee Schedule for permitting and application review fees. The Planning & Zoning Fee Schedule had not been updated in over ten years and had some of the lowest permitting fees compared to Butler, Hamilton, and Warren Counties. Staff compared the increased fees with surrounding communities and the City will still remain competitive with lower review fees. The City Council approved the fee schedule increases and they became effective on Friday, September 7th.

Planning and Zoning Updated Fee Schedule

Housing Meeting – July 26

The Housing Committee met on July 26th and discussed the City’s residential properties that are located within the “buffer zones” surrounding our largest industrial zoned area that includes AK Steel. The buffer zones that have been identified are those residential properties located within 500 feet and 1,000 feet of the heavy industrial area.

“Buffer Zones” are defined as areas created to provide space between land uses or developments to separate potentially harmful impacts of one or more uses onto another. In the case of Middletown we are specifically concerned with our heavy industrial zoned properties and their impacts on our surrounding residential communities and uses.

Buffer zones are an important tool for the Committee in regards to the quality of life for our residents. Can people live comfortably alongside heavy industry? If so, how close? If not, what are our next steps to resolve this issue? Determining appropriate buffer zones from our existing industry will affect our City’s future housing development and commercial developments.

Today when planning a City there would never be heavy industrial uses placed directly next to residential uses without some sort of required separation for safety. Buffer zones shield housing from industrial off-site impacts and nuisances such as sound, odor, air quality, etc. The separation between incompatible uses can be achieved by having commercial uses located between, restricting motor vehicle access, increasing setbacks, requiring additional landscaping, restricting signs, and in some cases by requiring additional information and proof of mitigation from factories that may cause potentially harmful outputs from production.

The presentation provided to the Committee gave a closer look at the properties located within close proximity of our heavy industrial area. The areas surrounding the industrial zone were divided into ten different snapshot areas. The group reviewed each area in terms of the existing housing stock, median home value, existing conditions, and housing/zoning code violations. The information gained at this meeting will assist the group as we move forward to our next topic area of code enforcement.

For more information about the meeting or to view the presentation and materials discussed at the meeting, please click the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

July 12 Housing Meeting – Vacant Residential Land

The July 12 Housing Committee meeting focused on vacant residential land. Through the housing and foreclosure crisis and the recession, homes went abandoned and after sitting empty for several years, many became blighted in our neighborhoods.

Through state grants given to County Landbanks, the City of Middletown has removed approximately 500 blighted homes during the past decade. While removing blight and places where crime are occurring is a good thing, in this case, we created a problem as we solved a problem.

We punched holes throughout many neighborhoods, leaving blank empty lots scattered throughout the neighborhoods. Not only did they serve no purpose at this point,  but we also had to mow them as a city at a cost of about $250,000 per year to keep our vacant lots from blighting the neighborhood. And… of course now there were no property taxes coming in where the house used to be and no potential for future income tax.

We’ve had various programs to sell vacant lots to the neighbor next door, and we’ve sold off several lots each year. Bottom line, however, is that we still have hundreds of vacant lots and no plan to do anything with them except mow them. While removing immediate blight is not a terrible short term strategy, leaving grassy residential lots indefinitely is not a long term answer.

Other communities have utilized these lots for many different purposes. Bigger lots can have in-fill construction to build a new house on the now vacant lot. Other smaller lots have been utilized for neighborhood basketball courts, green space, pocket parks, public art and cultural exhibits, walking trails and community gardens.

I gave the example below of how we could create a flow chart that led us to the proper use of vacant residential lots. We discussed the pros and cons and the chart below is for discussion purposes only. It is a concept that we will develop more clearly as part of the new policy.

Vacant Land Chart

As always, if you wish to see the meeting or the materials that we are reviewing for discussion, you can view everything at the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

June 28 Housing Meeting – Vacant Residential Housing

The Housing Committee met again on June 28th to discuss vacant residential housing.  According to the US Census, Middletown still has over 3,000 vacant housing units as of 2016 (the last numbers available).  While there are many legitimate reasons for a house to be vacant, (house is for sale, rentals between tenants, etc.) there are still a number of vacant homes with no activity throughout the city.

The Ohio Fire Code and our own Property Maintenance Code require that vacant houses be boarded to prevent unauthorized entry. Under the property maintenance code, houses that are boarded up more than one year without activity are subject to demolition. We have never been that aggressive enforcing that provision of the code.

We continue to have more vacant property than the rest of Butler County and Ohio as a whole. Middletown lists 14.8% of our housing as vacant. Butler County is at 9.6%. Ohio is at 10.6%. Translating percentages to actual homes, if we wanted to look more like the rest of Butler County and Ohio, we would need to re-occupy another 1,000 houses currently sitting vacant.

We talked about the balance between an individual owner’s property rights to keep their code compliant property empty and pay their property taxes versus the city’s interest in having occupied neighborhoods paying income tax.

If you re-occupied 1,000 of those homes and each home produced the median household income for Middletown of $38,898, then those vacant homes could be producing another $600-700,000 in income tax each year if they were occupied. That’s another 3 streets a year we could repave.

Over 80 Ohio cities have vacant property ordinances of some type. Some have no fees and only require registration. Others impose significant fees each year and require a crime prevention plan and reoccupation plan as part of the ordinance.

There was a good discussion at this meeting, trying to find the balance of neighborhood improvement against individual property rights. We’ll tie the issues identified into our overall housing policy as we move through all of the various topics impacting our neighborhoods.

As always, if you wish to see the meeting or the materials that we are reviewing for discussion, you can view everything at the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information