The Rotary Club of Sidney hosted Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst, who his annual State of the City address.
Barhorst, currently serving his seventh term as Sidney’s mayor, was no stranger to the venue. In addition to serving as mayor, he is also a member of the Sidney Rotary Club.
Barhorst began his remarks by explaining that every two years, Sidney Council members meet for an all-day planning session in which goals are established for the next biennium.
“We’ve traditionally used a two-year format because there are elections for city council members every two years,” Barhorst explained, “and nearly every election cycle there is at least one new member.” Barhorst examined the goals that had been established during the last planning retreat.
“Council’s number one goal this biennium has been to continue the development of the underground water source through the purchase of additional property and the establishment of additional wells,” he said.
Barhorst went on to explain the city’s search for a water source that did not rely on surface water had been ongoing for perhaps as long as 80 years. He explained that surface water is problematic in that it is not only subject to contamination from a variety of sources but that during periods of drought, the diminished rate of flow of the river caused the rationing of water.
“We had a severe drought when I was serving as mayor in 1988,” Barhorst said. “We saw a rapid decline in the rate of flow of the river, as well as ground-water and reservoir levels. Some of you are old enough to remember that mandatory water-use restrictions were instituted. Sidney came within three days of having to shut down all industrial customers. Fortunately, an underground water source was found in Washington Township. Property was purchased; wells were installed; a pumping station and transmission line constructed and raw water began to be pumped to the water treatment plant atop Orbison Hill in October 2017.
“This year saw the successful completion of the negotiated purchase of additional property from Barrett Paving,” Barhorst stated. “Late in the year, we closed on the property and additional wells will be installed, guaranteeing that the city of Sidney will have a reliable source of water for the next century and beyond.”
Barhorst said that council’s second goal was to continue to pursue enhanced recreational opportunities through the development of recreational trails including the Great Miami River Trail and collaborating with the Shelby County Park District.
He told the Rotarians that during the past year, the council had collaborated with the Shelby County Historical Society for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Tawawa Park, authorized the filing of grant applications through both the ODNR Recreational Trails program and the Clean Ohio Trails program and authorized the placement of an historic Zenas King Bridge in Tawawa Park.
Barhorst then explained that council’s third goal was focusing on downtown revitalization by marketing tax incentives for redevelopment of properties, transitioning the Ohio Building into private ownership and supporting the efforts of Sidney Alive.
He told the Rotarians that the council had authorized wine consumption and possession during the Great Downtown Farmer’s Market, established a Downtown Revitalization District, put in place a special use agreement for downtown events, authorized a loan for facade improvements on one of the historic structures on the Court Square and participated in the Sidney Alive workshop on downtown revitalization that featured Bellefontaine developer Jason Duff.
“We were also able to complete the asbestos survey and subsequently remove the asbestos from the Ohio Building,” Barhorst noted. “In addition, a contract was awarded for the replacement of the building’s roof. Weather permitting, the new roof should be installed on the building by April 7. We expect to transition the building into private hands once the roof work has been completed.”
The mayor said the fourth goal was finding ways to revitalize neighborhoods, including the downtown, through concerted efforts with the Shelby County Land Reutilization Corp. and strengthening property maintenance codes for rental, vacant and owner-occupied housing and commercial properties.
He explained that the council has worked closely with the Shelby County land bank to authorize cost-sharing arrangements for buildings whose demolition costs exceed the grant reimbursement limit of $25,000 per address.
He also told the Rotarians that council had authorized a vacant property inspection program to encourage owners to transition buildings that are vacant to a status where they are either occupied or sold to new owners for occupancy.
“We also stepped up code enforcement and assessment of nuisance violations, authorized another CHIP grant program application in collaboration with the Shelby County commissioners and adopted legislation that prohibits vehicle parking in front and side yards,” Barhorst stated.
Another goal was to effectively communicate the need for permanent tax levy funding to provide for improved public safety services.
“As calls for emergency service continue to increase, council has discussed the need for funding expanded fire and emergency services,” Barhorst told the Rotarians. “In 2018, the Fire/EMS Annual Report revealed that total calls for service (Fire and EMS) once again exceeded 4,000 calls. Since 2010, the organization has seen a 33.14 percent increase in total call volume.”
Barhorst explained that as a result, master planning for an additional fire station was undertaken to meet a community need that was first identified more than two decades ago.
“What turned out to be a companion goal was to effectively communicate the need for permanent tax levy funding to provide for an ongoing aggressive street maintenance program,” Barhorst said. “The voters approved a five-year levy in November 2014 that provided a quarter percent earned income tax increase with the funds to be used solely for the repair of streets, roads, curbs, gutters and bridges within the city of Sidney. With the passage of that levy, 63 percent of our streets have been addressed. It is obvious that resurfacing the streets will be an ongoing need.”
Barhorst told the Rotarians that as council discussed the need for a permanent levy, they looked at what it would take to continue maintenance of Sidney’s transportation infrastructure.
“Council ultimately authorized the selection of a firm to conduct polling concerning the dual street maintenance and fire and emergency service levy support,” Barhorst stated. “As a result of that polling, council has determined that a single levy that would provide support for both street maintenance and fire and emergency services would be placed before the voters in May 2019,” Barhorst stated.
Barhorst also talked about Shelby County and Sidney’s bicentennial celebrations, succession planning, the construction of an additional hotel, potential retail development and a number of other subjects before answering questions from the audience.