So what can you expect from your city government in 2018?
During the first three years as your City Manager, I’ve attempted to start stabilizing our core services including Public Safety, Economic Development, and Water and Sewer Upgrades. We’ve added Police Officers, Firefighters and Economic Development staff to better execute in those departments on a daily basis.
As we move into 2018, the focus will broaden. The City will complete its first Master Plan since 2005. We have already completed Community Visioning, a new Downtown Master Plan, completely rewritten our Zoning Code and completed a housing study identifying opportunities and threats to our housing stock. In 2018, we’ll combine those individual parts and complete a new strategic Plan for the municipal Airport, update our Fire Department with a new study on staffing and fire station locations to best serve the public, identify housing policies that will improve our housing stock, and finally start a full review of how we move people in this city through pedestrian walking, bicycle, automobile and public transit services.
All of this will be framed with two underlying themes. First, we want to incorporate our community visioning into each piece. We know what we can do… how did you as a community want us to handle each piece of city services into the future? Second, we’ve always been good at building stuff, but we haven’t always done a great job of maintaining the nice things we add to the city. As we talk about adding things like Recreation back to the budget, my goal is to do it responsibly and in a way that we believe is sustainable into the future. If we can’t maintain it, then we can’t afford it yet.
There are two immediate changes coming in 2018 that we believe we can afford now. First, 2018 will include an Animal Control Officer back in the budget for the first time in 10 years. We have relied on the county for this service for the last decade and now that revenues will support it, it’s time to start working on our feral cats and other animal issues.
Second, we’re adding staff to the Health Department. As of January 1, 2018, the Health Department will be open through lunch and all day on Friday.
To make the most of the valuable tax dollars that you give us, we are changing our payroll system. Any employees hired after January 1, 2018 will be on a new payroll system. In the current existing payroll system (which has been in place for over 30 years), employees get automatic increases each year for 7 years and then top out at the peak salary for whatever position they hold. Under the new system, those automatic increases are spread out over more years, meaning that city employees will start to get increases more in line with the private sector. As people leave and retire, any replacement employees will also be placed into the new program. We believe that this will save hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars after 5 years of implementation.
You’ll see further upgrades to the I-75 interchange area as we continue beautification efforts on the medians. As revenues allow, we’ll start moving down State Route 122 and upgrade the median landscaping throughout the city in future years.
We currently spend about $700,000 a year on street light electricity. One of the suggestions that I made to City Council back in 2014 was to look at charging the residents for that service. Most Ohio communities already have a monthly charge on the water bill for street light electricity. We’ve put that concept on hold, however, as we will be converting all of the city street lights to LED starting in 2018. This is expected to save us hundreds of thousands of dollars in electric costs each year. If I can pay less for electric, then that savings can be reinvested in roads and other infrastructure improvements without costing residents another penny.
In 2017, the Health Department completed a Community Health Assessment of Middletown. As we move into 2018, I want to start exploring that report along with our EMS data and look at plans and programs that would improve the overall health of our residents.
Finally, to develop the best housing policies for the city moving forward, we not only have to do what is best for the city overall, but we have to understand the impacts of the best practices on the most disadvantaged in our community. What will any contemplated changes do to fixed income seniors, the poor and minority residents?
To be successful, we’ll need to hear their voices and understand their concerns. For me to be successful in changing our housing policies, we simply must address diversity and inclusion. Middletown, like many other cities, is often a very segregated city, between the haves and the have-nots, and at times between the white majority and our minority Latino and African American populations. Working together with ALL interested and impacted parties on housing issues gives everyone a chance to learn to trust each other a little more and to work towards common goals.
To my friends in the African American community, I will continue to put my hand out in friendship and will continue to truthfully tell you what I am trying to do and why I am trying to do it. That won’t change. We won’t always agree, but I hope that at some point you’ll believe that I’m sincere in my intention to improve your neighborhoods and that you will join me collectively to improve the city.
You want better, safe neighborhoods. I want a viable housing stock that attracts families to Middletown and improves property values throughout the city. It seems to me as though those goals are common and mutually inclusive. It should be a win/win situation. Let’s work together in 2018 to make sure that is what happens.
City Council gave me a goal three years ago of turning the City back towards prosperity without raising taxes. What that effectively means is that we have to design a profitable government that not only maintains existing services, but also generates enough revenue to start completing deferred maintenance on our roads, parks, neighborhoods and city buildings. It’s a tough job that most days I love.
I hope that you’re happy with the direction that the city is moving. Please always feel free to send us comments on things we could improve or good things you’ve seen in other cities that might benefit Middletown.
With Christmas coming next week, this will be my last blog post for the year. I wish you all a Merry Christmas from my family to yours. Enjoy the holidays and I’ll see you all in 2018!