SIDNEY — The year just ended has been one in which the city of Sidney has continued to recover from the effects of the Great Recession and the simultaneous loss of traditional revenues from the State of Ohio. Income tax revenues, the city’s primary source of revenue, this year (adjusted for inflation) finally exceeded the revenues prior to the onset of the Great Recession.
“The bad news is that state-shared revenues have declined about $1.2 million ($1.5 million adjusted for inflation) per year since 2007,” said Mayor Mike Barhorst. “The cumulative effect of this $10M+ decline in revenue resulted in the decline in the condition of our roadways, our not filling positions in nearly every department, and the elimination of some services.”
His report continues:
Every council election cycle, councilmembers meet to review progress made on the goals established by the previous council, and to establish goals for the next biennium. Early in 2016, council’s full-day planning retreat resulted in the identification of eight goals for 2016-2017.
Those goals include:
1) the continued development of water source project;
2) exploring new recreational opportunities;
3) the identification of a strategy for beautification of city-wide entrances;
4) working with Sidney Alive! to promote downtown development;
5) developing a branding strategy;
6) identifying funding for $5-$6 million in unfunded underground utilities projects;
7) the rigorous enforcement of existing city codes; and,
8) continuing to develop collaborative efforts with regional partners for new fire station.
I am pleased to report that work is underway on nearly all the identified goals. As the result of an exceptional construction season, the water source project is ahead of schedule. The well field is substantially complete. The installation of the 30 inch water transmission line is 87 perrcent complete.
Once all components are fully operational, the city of Sidney will no longer be solely dependent upon surface water for our water supply. I cannot begin to express how excited I am to see this project, discussed for more than half a century, become a reality.
We continue to explore new recreational opportunities. We were excited to learn that the Great Miami Watershed Water Trail had been named a National Water Trail System by the Secretary of the Interior—a designation that could lead to more riverfront investment. The water trail includes the Great Miami, Stillwater and Mad Rivers and is the only national water trail in Ohio.
City Council also recently passed legislation supporting US Bike Route 25, a route that begins in Toledo and travels through Sidney to Cincinnati utilizing, roadways and trails through the villages, cities, townships and counties along the way. We also continue to explore funding options for the extension of the bicycle trail from Sidney to Piqua.
A “peace treaty” with the Johnston Farm has been agreed to, and the eventual path for the trail northward to Sidney is being discussed. In fact, there is an active committee of City, County and private sector individuals meeting regularly to make this connection a reality.
Securing funding for the aesthetic improvement of the interstate ramps has also been discussed by Council. Council opted to tackle some of the immediate improvements to the landscaping at the Interstate 75/state Route 47 interchange now, and have a new long-term plan developed by a landscape architect.
When we hosted the forum on the downtown in 2014, we had no idea that it would lead to the formation of Sidney Alive. I am pleased that Sidney Alive continues to actively pursue efforts to promote vital downtown development.
The city also began an update of its Comprehensive Plan in 2016. Various public forums were held and the results are currently being synthesized into a final report. Once the plan is complete, we intend to take the results and work to develop a branding strategy. For the same reasons that branding is important to businesses, we believe that branding is important to the community.
In an effort to identify the funding required for the much needed underground utilities projects, City Council adopted the 2017-2021 Five-Year Plan. In this plan $60,180,064 has been earmarked for capital improvements over the five year period.
Unfortunately $23.2 million in capital projects were requested for which we lacked the necessary funds to proceed.
The $23.2 million in unfunded requests included:
1.) $4.6 million in major street and preventative maintenance;
2.) $9.1 million for other street, bridges, storm sewer, parks and airport improvements as well as vehicle replacements;
3.) $7.1 million for water plant and system improvements; and,
4.) $2.4 million of sewer plant and system improvements. City Council continues to explore grant funding and other available revenue streams to address the community’s infrastructure needs.
The amount of these unfunded requests would have been much greater had it not been for the additional quarter-percent local income tax increase dedicated solely to street and bridge repair. That tax increase allowed the city to perform more than $2.7M of improvements that would have also been unfunded without the additional tax monies. We are looking forward to four more years of similar improvements.
There is a unanimous belief among councilmembers that we need to vigorously enforce existing city codes. We believe that property owners are more likely to invest in their property if they know that their neighbor is not going to be permitted to let their property deteriorate. We will also be reviewing additional legislation to combat neighborhood deterioration.
Finally, council has taken the initial step toward the construction of an additional fire station. Land was purchased in July on which the station will eventually be constructed. More than twenty years ago, the need for a third station to better serve the needs of business, industry and residents was identified. A strategically positioned north end station will not only reduce response times for medical and fire incidents on the north end, but will also strengthen the Fire Department’s ability to address the emergency response needs of the entire community.
In addition, we have had a number of meetings with officials from Auglaize, Darke, Miami, Mercer and Shelby counties that could lead to the development of an ancillary facility that would offer college-level, public safety courses and potentially, entry-level college coursework at the site on which the new fire station would be located. We are excited about this opportunity.
Although I have taken a quick look back at the progress Council has made toward accomplishing our goals, Councilmembers look forward to the New Year, realizing that there is still much work to be done.