Creating a livable community – Part 1

By Mike Barhorst - Contributing columnist

Every two years when a new council is elected, councilmembers and key staff members meet to discuss council’s goals for the next two years. Achieving some goals may require far more than two years’ time. When that happens, succeeding councils may decide to keep those unfinished goals on the list. On occasion, the opposite may happen.

An example of a goal that appeared on successive lists was “Finding an alternative water source.” Successive City Councils long thought that finding an alternative source of water was a high priority. Recently, council was able to finalize the purchase of another large tract of property for the well field. Having the well field will help to insulate the city’s residents as well as our industrial base against an interruption of the water supply.

Such an interruption of the supply was problematic when most of the water processed for use in the city was drawn from the Great Miami River and Tawawa Creek. For example, the summer of 1988 was one of the hottest and driest on record.

Earlier in the 1988 drought, the city ordered curbed use of water for watering lawns and car wash businesses were closed. Even with those restrictions in place, the city of Sidney came within three days of having to shut down all industry, something that would have had a devastating impact on the entire area.

An example of a goal that was short-lived was the creation of a cultural corridor. It was envisioned that the library would expand to the west along North Street (their recent expansion was to the north along Miami Avenue), the historical society would expand to the west along North Street (they purchased a building on the other side of the street), and an additional arts center would be constructed along North Street. While It was a good idea, it didn’t happen.

In preparation for council’s next planning retreat, we recently pulled the notes from previous sessions. About a decade ago, councilmembers were asked “What will 2020 look like if we do everything right?”

I thought it would be interesting to look at the list and see those areas where we’ve made progress as a community, and those that remain for either the community or future councils to tackle:

• Water source developed

• Streets paved

• Runway extended

• Large industrial additions

• Vibrant downtown

• North end fire station

• City fully staffed

• More jobs for citizens in community

• Lower unemployment

• More diverse retail outlets

• Schools even better condition

• Renovated theater

• Taylor Hardware lot developed

• Ohio Building occupied

• 420 shop not there

• Vacant housing eliminated or significantly decreased

• Entryways beautified

• Neighborhoods preserved

• Private local philanthropy continued

• Fair Road interchange developed

• Have additional hotels

• User-friendly city website

• Safe — low crime rate

• Crack heads gone

• State Legislature respects “Home Rule”

• No more unfunded mandates

• $3M — new revenue

• Fairground relocated

• Great City — County relationship

• State-elected officials that listen

• Continued good relations with other political entities (township, school district, county)

• Locally owned radio station

• Newspaper that trumpets good news

• Strong elected officials (for all levels)

• Continued quality city staff

• Equitable sharing of roads & bridges tax funds

• Property Code strengthened and enforced

• More citizen involvement/volunteerism

• Expand opportunities for volunteers’ participation

• Educated/engaged electorate

• Continue Tree City USA program

• Increased health services

• Reduced carbon footprint

• Improve recycling efforts

• City infrastructure updated/maintained

• Female in White House

• World Peace

• Hybrid motor vehicles/plug in stations

• Same congenial working relationship among councilmembers we have now

• Conference center

Obviously, some of those items are well out of local control. An example would be world peace. While it is something I pray for daily, it is not something that city officials can directly impact.

Other projects, like the extension of the airport’s main runway, required a massive infusion of federal grant funds. That project took far longer than anyone envisioned when it was first proposed. In fact, the airport runway project had a life of its own – outlasting multiple city councils, mayors and city managers.

Still others, like “Streets paved” and “North end fire station” are dependent upon additional tax revenues that can only be approved by the electorate. I want to address the street levy first.

Since the current five-year levy was passed by voters in 2014, nearly 70 miles (about 60 percent) of city streets and roads have been resurfaced. That five-year levy expires in December of this year. In November, voters will be asked to consider a 0.15 percent five-year levy that would begin in January 2020. We need to continue the progress that has been made so that we can have all city streets on a regular maintenance schedule. The alternative is to return to poorly maintained streets that will do far more damage to our vehicles than the levy will cost in tax dollars.

The need for an additional fire station was first identified nearly four decades ago. Since then, the city has grown from 5,204 acres to 7,740.89 acres, a 48 percent increase in size. In addition, Sidney’s population has grown 20.2%! That population growth does not include the several thousand people who do not live here but come to Sidney to work each day, use city services and then return home, but pay local taxes.

Perhaps more importantly, the call volume at the Sidney Fire Department has increased 899.55 percent over that same period of time! Call volume is at an all-time high. Over the past three years, call volume has surpassed 4,000 calls per year, or an average of more than 11 per day. We still have the same staffing levels that we had in 1995, when call volume was about six calls per day.

It becomes a choice as to the kind of community in which we want to live. Council can plan for the future, but we have to have the funds necessary to make those plans a reality.

In a future column, I’ll address both streets and fire safety as well as other issues that will help to make Sidney a more livable community.

By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.