City Park Updates

During the Great Recession, the City cut back on so many services. The upkeep and modernization of our city parks was one of the early cuts on the expenditure chopping block. For the past decade, we’ve tried mostly to keep the parks mowed and the equipment functional, but it has been predominately a passive park system. It’s there if you want to use it.

As revenues slowly improve over time, we’re working on getting our parks back in top form again. As you use the parks this year, you should see visible improvements; some large, some smaller, to your favorite city parks.  Below are some of the projects we are working on this year.

We are also working on a modest recreation program for this summer. It will be limited to small periods of summer time and at limited parks, but it’s our first expenditures on recreation in over a decade. Our hope is to slowly expand in each future year’s budget to offer better park experiences and more recreational opportunities throughout the city each year moving forward.

Smith Park: New playground equipment (now open!), Earth Day activities park-wide including: painting signs, and electric boxes, painting the fence at playground equipment, planting new pollinator landscape beds, litter removal around pond and throughout the park, landscape beds clean up, and mulching.

Douglass Park: Pilot donated funding for two new shade canopies for the picnic areas by the splash pad.

Play toys repaired at a number of parks, including Damon, Sherman, and Gardner.

Sunset Park: New play equipment, site amenities and furnishings, with the upcoming construction of the GI Basin.

Earth Day activities coming up in parks:

Lefferson Park: Litter pickup, mulch trees along Breiel, paint signs, clean up playground (10)

Douglass Park: Trash removal, pick up sticks

Douglass Park Garden: Litter pickup, sign painting, cleanup community center area and paint indoor or outdoor rooms

Gardner Park: Trash removal along tree line

Bull’s Run: Work with staff to clean up throughout the nature preserve

Armbruster Nature Preserve: Trash removal end of Autumn Dr., pick up sticks along trail and at left side of road, plant bed cleanup at sign, honeysuckle removal

Bicentennial Commons: Clean up along the river bank

Hazardous trees have been removed from multiple parks. Grounds will be planting approximately 30 trees throughout a number of parks this upcoming year as well.

Parks is constantly making repairs to play equipment, replacing nets, and cleaning up the parks.

Heroin Summit

A few years ago, the City of Middletown partnered with Atrium Medical Center to bring the community together to collectively tackle the scourge of heroin through a series of community summits.

That group has met more than a dozen times and out of those summits came changes in the manner in which law enforcement tackles drug trafficking, new drug education programs, a better understanding of how best to respond to a drug overdose with EMS service, and new best practices including the heroin response team, drug court and a needle exchange.

Not all of the programs were popular with the community, but doing the right thing has paid off. As we ended 2018, opiate overdoses were down 49% for the year, putting us below 2016 and 2017 numbers.  Opiate overdose deaths are down 31%.  We’ve seen a 73% reduction in the use of Narcan and the cost savings associated with reduced use.

Additionally, MPD saw a reduction of more than 17,000 calls for service in 2018.  Serious crime is down in the city, as is theft related crime. EMS runs for overdoses are also down.  The reduction in overdoses in the city has multiple positive effects.

While the opiate epidemic is far from over, we are seeing positive results at a time when other communities are still seeing rises in opiate related OD’s and deaths.

I would like to personally thank Atrium Medical Center for their leadership on this issue and I would also like to thank the community members who have stood with me throughout this fight. It wouldn’t have happened without all of your help.

With the reduction in opiate use come a new threat. As we are learning, addiction takes many forms. Some of the addicts who realized that heroin would kill them eventually, have switched over to meth. While that means that fewer people are dying and EMS runs for overdoses have eased off, we still see addiction in the city. In the past, our narcotics unit would see local meth labs and shut them down. The disturbing trend now is that meth is coming in already processed, more pure than locally produced, and cheaper than it can be made locally.

We held the latest Heroin Summit on January 28th. As we continue to monitor and adapt to new threats from heroin and fentanyl, the group is expanding its reach from a heroin summit to a more focused approach on addiction in general.  While heroin forced us all to the battlefield, we see now that addiction comes in many forms and many causes.   Some addicts who are getting treatment are successfully beating their addiction. Others just traded a deadly heroin habit for a less lethal drug of choice. Only when we can deal with the underlying causes of addiction in mental health, trauma and other causes, will we start to see an improvement in the overall health of the community as a whole.

The great people who have worked with me throughout this epidemic insisted that we step forward again to work on getting help for addiction throughout Middletown. I’m inspired by their dedication, and we look forward to expanding our work.

 

 

 

Welcome to 2019

So 2018 is now part of the history books. Record income tax revenues and strong reductions in crime. New business openings….

“Yeah, Adkins, but what have you done for me lately?”

2019 is the final year of planning. Community Visioning is done. The Downtown Master Plan is done. The updated Zoning/Development Code is done. Middletown Division of Fire has completed a new Strategic Plan.

The Airport Master Plan is underway. The Transportation Master Plan is getting underway as we speak. Later in the year, we’ll start a Parks Master Plan.

All of that will get folded into the first City Master Plan since 2005. This plan is built on the question “what do you want to be” not “what have we done in the past.” It is built to focus us on relevant projects that move the city forward into the future.

I spent a lot of my time in 2018 talking about housing. After meeting with the Housing Committee in early January, I will now start drafting a new Housing Policy for the city to modernize our housing stock, bring families back to Middletown, and if successful, start raising the values of your homes.

We transferred code enforcement down to police for 2019. They will be working with Major Warrick to continue to clean up the city and to work on strict enforcement of our chronic nuisance ordinance. If you are a problem in your neighborhood, we are going to be knocking on your door.

In January, I reviewed the eviction data from Middletown Municipal Court for 2018. Our 10 worst landlords filed a collective 514 evictions in 2018.  Our worst landlord had 184 evictions alone. In 2018, in the City of Middletown and over one year only, we had 2 tenants who were evicted 7 times each, 1 tenant evicted 6 times, 7 tenants who were evicted 5 times, 7 tenants who were evicted 4 times, 22 tenants who were evicted 3 times, and 90 tenants who were evicted twice in the same year. That is simply not screening your tenants for criminal activity and credit worthiness, and we will not continue to put up with poor behaviors by landlords or tenants in our neighborhoods.

We are working hard to build on prior success and to bring this community fully back to prosperity for all of our residents.  Our school district is running hard right along side of us, changing the way education is thought about and taught to our kids.  I’m proud to lead your city, and I hope you are proud to be a Middie.

See you out in the community in 2019.  #ThisIsWe.

4th Quarter and Year End Departmental Reports for 2018

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

During the Fourth Quarter of this year, October through December….

Human Resources processed 7 new city employees and processed out 13 employees leaving employment with the city.

In the Division of Fire, calls for fire service were down significantly from fourth quarter this year (657) compared to the same time in 2017 (800). EMS runs were slightly down for the same quarter, 2,393 in 2017, compared to 2,300 this year during the same time period. Heroin overdoses were down 49% in 2018 from the peak in 2017. I hope that we’ve turned the corner on the worst of this epidemic.

Building Inspection processed 452 new permits with a construction value of $20,202,224, and completed 968 inspections during the fourth quarter.

Middletown Division of Police continues to see drops in crime. Part One crimes, the most serious crimes, have dropped from 3,217 crimes during 2017 down to 2,650 Part One crimes this year. Calls for service have shown a similar decline from 40,602 in 2017, down to 22,869 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 6.1 minutes last year. With the reduction in call volume, MPD has dropped that response time to 2.6 minutes in 2018.

The Law Department reviewed 256 contracts in 2018, prepared 131 pieces of legislation for City Council’s consideration, and the Municipal Court and Prosecutor’s are working on 12,916 open cases including 986 felonies, 3,994 misdemeanors, 317 OVI (drunk driving) cases, and 7,619 traffic cases.

The Health Department year to date inspected 526 food service operations, handled 110 animal bites, completed 48 indigent cremations, issued 4,732 birth certificates and issued 3,817 death certificates.

Public Works completed repairs on 786 traffic signals in 2018, spent 2,441 hours working special events in the city, completed cleaning of 16,655 linear feet of sewer mains, completed 1,929 lane miles of street sweeping, and made repairs to 367 street signs.   They’ve treated ,911 million gallons of wastewater, repaired 75 water mains, and produced 3,782 million gallons of drinking water.

That’s a lot of work by a lot of dedicated people. I’m proud of my staff and the work that they accomplish every day. Have a great week!

MPD Guest Blog: Future of Middletown Jail

Guest blog post from Chief of Middletown Police Rodney Muterspaw on the future of the Middletown jail:

Two years or so ago, we started really looking at how to reduce jail costs, and potentially a solution to house prisoners elsewhere in the event we had closure of the jail due to state restrictions or budget constraints. Timelines were never presented in stone, but we looked at possibly 2021-2022 as a benchmark date. Our current jail budget is about $1.3 million (a small increase from last year). Staffing in the jail is at a minimum. We have not hired for relief factors simply because we cannot get jail applicants (last testing process in Fall 2018 we had four applicants, as opposed to 60+ applicants in 2009) and due to potential state closure down the road we did not want to burden newer employees with the stress of that. Simply put, those that built this jail in the 1970’s did not consider expansion at all. It was built underground, under a parking lot, next to two main city streets with heavy traffic. There is no way to comply with ongoing and changing state standards with what we have now. Obviously those state standards and legal precedents were not a part of jail procedures or policies when this one was built about 45 years ago.

We started meeting with the court a few years ago. These informal meetings were for discussion of reduction of housed inmates and to find a common solution that would benefit both parties. Currently the court pays no money toward our jail budget, however, the court has agreed to work with us to reduce prisoners in our jail. It has been a slow process, but they have done a great job. We have budgeted for 40 prisoners maximum in 2019. We cannot go over this or we go over budget and puts us in a financial crisis. This is a huge drop compared to the past when we would house up to 70 or 80 prisoners. That was a choice that was made in population placement years ago. We have seen it at over 90 with triple bunked inmates. The state, litigation issues and safety requirements simply will not allow us to even consider that anymore. Times have changed and we are abiding by those requirements.

We have met with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office in October to ask for an increase in allotted bed space for Middletown prisoners. We have not heard back yet, but if our officers charge under state code, the burden would then fall on the county, as well as a change in the fund disbursement. Adding beds at the county would free some of the worry from our officers in the event they need to make an arrest and we have no room at the jail. The Sheriff’s Office has been a friend to Middletown, working with us for whatever we need, but they need to ensure they not only have room, but that it fits their budget as well. We don’t want to make massive changes without their input or readiness; that is bad business. The solution we would look at if it worked out is to charge under state code for any prisoner over 40 in 2019, therefore, it would fall to the county. Since our jail is not a requirement, as the county is, they would assume the role of housing our prisoners under state code if compatible within the law.

Two huge decisions have come into play recently to make a monumental change in our jail policies. These are game changers and totally out of city or police control. First, our staff medical doctor has implemented a policy that requires our officers to take any intoxicated person to the hospital before admittance into the jail, for liability reasons. This policy changes things dramatically with street staffing. It adds transports to Kettering Medical or the Atrium before even bringing them to the jail. This adds an extra estimated hour to each arrest, pulling that officer off the street. Our jail commander has researched and this has become standard practice across Ohio for medical staffs within jails due to liability and malpractice. Even if we switched doctors, others would most likely do the same.

But an even bigger decision is now the state jail inspection team has recommended us to minimize the jail population to 32-34 maximum. That is even less than we had anticipated. It is a big change for us in dealing with arrestees. State and medical jail policies have changed quite a bit and we have no choice but to change with it. The change in policy and requirements since the 1980’s and 90’s are drastically different. County and State jails and prisons are required under law to fund facilities, which are then covered under certain mandates to ensure long term success. Simply stated, we are not.

We are going to a more summons, book & release approach to non-violent arrests at this time, like every other agency does. This is pretty much what agencies all over Ohio do without jails. There are about 250 cities in Ohio; 248 do not have jails. Since we are one of the last two municipalities with a jail in Ohio, everyone else has already began using this approach in enforcing ordinances and state law. Violent and felony type arrests will still go to the jail through Butler and Warren County. The downside to this is transports – like every other agency does. We would need to figure out a simple way to transport prisoners after arrest without pulling officers off the street for long periods of time. We do have several ideas and solutions to that we are currently working on with staff – including hiring part-time transport personnel to take the burden off of patrol. Patrol officers working a beat simply cannot do transports constantly and maintain a fully staffed patrol in Middletown. We need officers on the street working a beat or assigned to detectives working cases. We believe we can succeed with transport officers if necessary to help alleviate that problem.

2018 Year End Recap

So we come to the end of my fourth year as your City Manager. I’d call 2018 a transition year. A year where we talked less about where we were and more about where we want to go.

We finished a number of large projects and started new ones. The new schools are  finished and in operation. NTE is producing electricity. Kettering Health Network is open for business. OPUS is under construction in MADE industrial park.

Beyond that, however, there are a couple of notable changes in the city during 2018. The first is with public safety.

Heroin overdoses are down almost 50% from last year, at a time when other communities are still showing increases.  This is due to a community wide effort. With our partners at Atrium Medical Center, we have changed the message and actions regarding addiction in the city.  The Heroin Response Team visits with every overdose victim possible. Our public safety forces have increased enforcement.  Our needle exchange is keeping disease down while other Butler County areas are showing large spikes in hepatitis and other diseases. What was taboo and unspeakable just a few years ago has become a community effort and open discussion as to how specifically to treat addiction in this city. I applaud our friends at Atrium for their forethought and their participation with me on making this a priority for the area.

Crime is significantly down in the city. Middletown Division of Police responded to 10,000 fewer calls for service in 2018 than they did in 2017. Part one serious crimes showed significant decreases. Thefts are down. Drug enforcement is up. As is always the case, Chief Muterspaw has been everywhere in the community (and on Twitter, lol). MPD celebrated multiple community events in 2018 including National Night Out, Coffee with a Cop (quarterly), meeting with Middletown area pastors (quarterly), continued work with the Citizens Advisory Board, Candy with a Cop (distributing candy to children too sick or disabled to trick or treat), Shop with a Cop (to provide Christmas gifts to underprivileged children), and ongoing work with Middletown landlords.

The Division of Fire is completing new manpower and station location studies. With the changing landscape of the city and more east end development, we know that some of our old stations are nearing the end of their useful life and also are not ideally positioned to best respond to the future of Middletown. This new information helps us understand what the ideal layout would look like so we can start designing a future Division of Fire that best serves the community.

The new city Master Plan is almost done. We worked on land use and other areas of the plan this year, our first new plan since 2005. We are now working on transportation and housing to be included into the overall plan.

Housing was a large priority in 2018. I am happy to see housing values rebounding finally after the recession. I’d like to take this time to thank my housing committee.  They’ve put in long hours working with me to discuss Middletown housing and to find the best policies moving forward for demolition, renovation of existing homes, dealing with tax delinquent property, vacant land, vacant housing, infill construction and full use of the Butler County land bank. As we move into 2019, we’ll take those concepts and create a comprehensive housing policy along with neighborhood plans for renovations.

2018 saw another year of record income tax levels.

I see Dayton and Cincinnati moving towards us and amazing possibilities in the next 3-5 years. I see record revenues two years in a row. I see new businesses and expanding businesses and open jobs all over the city. I see beautiful historic homes. I see further reduction in crime and better access to health care throughout the city. I see city neighborhoods that will be revitalized over the next several years. I see more and more places to go and things to do.

I still hear too often about how nothing good is happening in the city or even more often “yes, but…” or how we used to be an All America City. We are not prosperous, but I can see prosperity coming… soon.  And prosperity needs to include all of our residents. You have a beautiful city on the cusp of becoming prominent again in the State of Ohio. My challenge to you in 2019 is for each of you to do something to move your city forward.  Actively be part of the solution. Participate, volunteer, eat and shop locally, tell a friend about the good things happening, celebrate the good and work with me to continue the path forward. Help me work on our shortcomings to make the city as a whole a better place to live and work. And please stop talking badly about your city… It’s the best community I’ve ever lived in.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year and I look forward to a great 2019.

 

October 11 Housing Committee Meeting – Less Competitive Housing, Healthy Neighborhood Infrastructure and non-infrastructure Characteristics of a Health Neighborhood

The October 11 meeting started with a discussion of our less competitive housing in Middletown.

I’ve talked before about the concept of a balanced housing stock.  The theory is that most of us go through a similar housing cycle during our lives.  We move out of our parents home into a crappy apartment.  We make a little money and we get a better apartment.  We get more money and/or get married and we buy our first house.  We have children and we purchase whatever our largest home is going to look like.  The kids leave and we downsize as empty nesters.  Finally, we retire and go back to smaller accommodations.  In a balanced housing stock, the City of Middletown would have multiple quality housing options for people at every stage of their life.  If they like living here, they can find great housing to move up or move down and stay here.

Simply put, we have too many two bedroom houses and too many “starter homes” that are less than $100,000 in value.   While there is always a market for well maintained housing, we don’t stack up well against other southwest Ohio communities.  Our overabundance of lower value and two bedroom housing makes Middletown less desirable than some other communities and that, in turn, keeps our housing values lower than surrounding communities.

As an example, if we wanted Middletown housing to mirror the rest of Butler County, the city would need to demolish 4,000 two bedroom homes and replace them with 3 and 4 bedroom homes.

If we wanted Middletown housing to mirror the rest of Butler County on housing value, we would need to demolish over 3,500 homes under $100,000 and replace them with new homes in the $150,000-$500,000 range.

We don’t have the revenues or land to accomplish either of those examples, but it demonstrates how our housing is truly different than other southwest Ohio communities and how our current housing mix makes it more difficult to recruit and keep quality families.

We discussed tools that the City could use over time to start to change that mix of housing. They included:

  • Industrial Buffer – remove Lower Value, poorly maintained, two bedroom homes near heavy industry
  • Add a Master Suite to Existing Homes where sensible in Target Neighborhoods to make the home 3 bedroom
  • Require Infill Construction in Target Neighborhoods to be 3+ bedrooms and over $100,000 in value
  • Add New Home Construction and require all to be 3+ bedrooms and over $150,000 in value

We then moved on to a discussion on what a health neighborhood looks like.  What are the infrastructure, city-provided pieces and what are the other characteristics that make a neighborhood desirable to live in?

On the infrastructure side, we talked about paving streets, fixing sidewalks, and better utilizing alleyways for both safety and beautification.  We talked about neighborhood parks, gateways into neighborhoods, and adequate street lighting.

From there we listed the “other” things that make a neighborhood desirable.  That list included:

  • Access to Reliable, Affordable Wi-fi
  • Neighborhood Business Needs such as Convenience Stores/Retail
  • Access to Quality Health Care
  • Access to Nutritious Food
  • Applying Smart City Concepts to Lower Income Neighborhoods
  • School Readiness/ Tutoring for School Age Children
  • Access to Reliable/Affordable Day Care
  • Transportation Options
  • Low Crime, Feeling of Personal Safety
  • Access to Recreational Opportunities
  • Ability to Train and Participate in the Work Force with Quality Jobs
  • Beautification in the Neighborhood and Housing with Landscaping/ Trees

All of this work is designed to give the committee a thorough understanding of Middletown’s housing challenges and also to have the background in current best practices to start developing policies that over time will improve the look, value, and desirability of housing choices in Middletown.

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