SIDNEY — “There were moments this past year when I could be counted among the civic leaders from around the world who hoped that 2020 would quickly be over. The year just ended saw more change and societal unrest than any in recent memory. If that were not enough, the novel coronavirus that swept out of China and across the world stage killed more than 2 million worldwide and devastated the world’s economies,” sais Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst.
His report continues:
Despite the worldwide turmoil, locally there has been cause for optimism. Some of our manufacturers have had record years. Others are on track to do at least as well as last year. There are help wanted signs outside the gates of most of our employers.
Other sectors of the economy have not been so fortunate. It has not been a good year to open a restaurant, build a hotel, or open a small business. Yet, as a community, we have persevered. New businesses have opened, construction of the new Marriott Town Place Suites continues, with their opening scheduled for the coming year, and at least one additional restaurant will open downtown in the coming year.
In reviewing the past year, there has been a great deal of good news. I’ll review some of that good news by looking at the goals established by City Council and the progress that has been made in reaching those goals.
Goal #1: Continue the development of the underground water source through the purchase of additional property and the establishment of additional wells.
The city last acquired property for the water source in 2019. That purchase completed a significant part of this goal. The city will continue to explore the development of additional wells as dictated by need.
Goal #2: 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.
A play structure designed for children ages 2-5 was installed at Roadside Park. In addition, amenities were updated and a swing designed for children with special needs was installed.
The restored 1879 Zenas King bridge, recently relocated to Tawawa Park, was officially dedicated. The installation of the historic bowstring bridge allows those using the recreational trails on either side of Amos Lake the opportunity to cross from one side of the lake to the other. The “new” bridge replaces two obsolete foot bridges.
Major funding for the project was through a grant received through the Ohio Department of Transportation. The grant required that the City of Sidney provide matching funds totaling $74,417, roughly the amount that had been budgeted for the replacement of the two foot bridges. The Transportation Alternatives Program grant provided 95% of the cost of the project.
We also actively worked to obtain funding through the State of Ohio Capital Budget for continued development of the Canal Feeder Trail, and learned in late December that Sidney will receive $850,000 in funding to extend the recreational trail from its current terminus east of Interstate 75 (I-75) under I-75 to Kuther Road.
The completion of this portion of the trail will move us one step closer to becoming the northern anchor of the Great Miami River Recreation Trail. When completed, the 99-mile trail will extend from Sidney to Hamilton and be part of the country’s largest paved trail network.
After discussion of how to provide recreational opportunities for residents in the Heritage Manor neighborhood and receiving a petition signed by 33 residents of the subdivision, Council authorized the purchase of land on Sherri Ann Avenue for the project.
This past summer a 16’ X 20’ shelter was constructed by parks staff, a drinking fountain was installed and as I write this, the play equipment is being constructed by parks staff and should be ready for use early in the New Year.
Goal #3: Focus 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.
Working with Sidney Alive, Council approved a downtown parking program that temporarily eliminated time restrictions for on street parking in downtown Sidney. Council continues to review the program, which thus far has worked well.
We welcomed Tavolo Modern Italian Restaurant to downtown Sidney. The restaurant, located at 101 South Ohio Avenue, occupies the ground floor of a building that was constructed as a financial institution.
Tavolo’s utilizes a D5L liquor permit. The permit is available only to those establishments within the Downtown Revitalization District. That district was established by City Council in 2018.
To assist in the marketing of The Ohio Building, a brochure was created, outlining work that has been done to the building, and work that remains.
In cooperation with the Shelby County Commissioners, Sidney Alive, Sidney-Shelby Economic Partnership and private investors, the city began exploring strategies to better connect the downtown with the riverfront. The Great Miami River is Ohio’s only National Water Trail.
Also working with Sidney Alive, Council passed enabling legislation that created a Designated Outdoor Entertainment Area (DORA), a designated public area in which alcoholic beverages can be purchased from permitted establishments and carried openly within the district. Since opening in late October, the DORA has been well-received.
Goal #4: Find ways to revitalize neighborhoods, including the downtown, through concerted efforts with the Shelby County Land Reutilization Corporation and strengthening property maintenance codes for rental, vacant, and owner-occupied housing and commercial properties.
We continue to work closely with the Shelby County Land Reutilization Corporation. Since its establishment in 2016, 80 housing units have been acquired within the City of Sidney. Four of those have been sold to developers for rehab, the remaining 76 have been demolished.
After attempting to work with the property owner of the former Cherry Cheer plant at 102 North Wilkinson Avenue for 16 months and making no progress, the building was determined to be in danger of collapse, was ordered demolished and the site cleared.
The Citizens Peer Review Committee reviewed nominated properties for the coveted Neighborhood Beautification Award. Three properties were identified including the property owned by Heather Dunn (224 North Main Avenue), Jeff and Carman Fogt (858 South Main Avenue), and Ethan Goffena (1280 East Parkwood Street).
Code Enforcement Officer Arthur Franklin continued the ongoing “Battle of the Blight”, working to keep aging buildings, homes and properties from becoming “eyesores” as the result of neglect. Of the 1,186 citations issued in 2020, 72% were corrected by the property owner with the remaining violations corrected by contractors hired by the city.
For the first time ever, City Council authorized the law director to initiate litigation to abate the use of a home deemed to be a public nuisance under ORC 3767. The property in question was repeatedly responded to by emergency personnel for drug overdoses, at least one of which resulted in a fatality. Other properties are being reviewed for similar action.
Late in the year, the Planning Commission and the City Council met in a rare joint session to discuss revisions to the Zoning Code. A steering committee comprised of community members has been reviewing the code for more than a year. Council expects to adopt the new code in 2021.
Goal #5: Effectively communicate the need for permanent tax levy funding to provide for improved public safety services.
Following the defeat of a combined street/fire levy in May 2019, Councilmembers made the decision to split the two issues in November 2019. The proposed 0.15% Fire Levy was defeated.
After the second defeat, Councilmembers determined that city initiated levies would not be placed on the ballot and allow Sidney City Schools the opportunity to make their case, without a competing levy for fire protection. Council believes strongly that without effective educational opportunities, Sidney will continue to be viewed in a less and less positive light by potential residents and employers.
Unfortunately, the need for a third fire station and additional personnel remains vital to the continued growth and well-being of the community. Councilmembers are in agreement that the public needs to be better educated about the need for the station and attempt to correct the misconceptions about the project that have been expressed.
Goal#6: Effectively communicate the need for permanent tax levy funding to provide for an ongoing aggressive street maintenance program.
The proposed 0.15% Street Levy was approved by the voters. As a result, the 0.25% street levy expired December 31, 2019, and the 0.15% Street Levy became effective January 1, 2020. The new street levy has an expiration date of December 31, 2024.
The City of Sidney has more than 111 miles of streets and roads to maintain, and an additional 18 miles of alleyways. There are also 33 bridge structures in the city. We have identified more than $22.9M in street and bridge work that needs to be undertaken in the next four years. Prior to the passage of the levy, we were able to pave approximately three miles of roads each year. Since the levy was passed, we have annually averaged paving ten miles of streets. You can readily see the importance of the street levy.
There are lots of other projects about which I could write, but in the interest of space, I’ll simply say that even in a year of worldwide upheaval, there were many positive things happening in the City of Sidney. Council looks forward to the New Year with eager anticipation of the challenges that we will face and with confidence in our ability to find solutions to those challenges. We are gratified to have a tremendously talented staff who can supply Council with prudent options for whatever comes our way.