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INTRODUCTION: Once again, thank you to the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce and the Lorain Rotary for hosting this annual event where residents can hear what is happening in their city. And thank you to CenturyLink, once again, for your sponsorship of the Mayor’s table. To former President Frank DeTillio, thank you for your many years of leadership and service to our county. To incoming President Tony Gallo, I know that your passion and drive will mean great things for the Chamber and for the businesses and business prospects in our county. Thank you to my administrative staff not only for being present today but for all of the long, hard hours that they have put in the past two plus years. And to all elected officials, department heads, city employees, civic leaders and residents, whether in attendance today or not, it’s been an honor to work with you and to serve you in the last two years. 2013 was a busy year and a challenging year. Our focus has been on the core areas that needed improvement —areas that I discussed while running for Mayor and during my two prior State of the City addresses. At the midpoint in my term, I am happy to share with you our current progress and where we are going. BUDGET The driver of what we are able to do is our city budget. Ideas discussed last year like a 27th Pay Fund and a Compensated Absences Fund —funds meant to prepare for future liabilities—are now realities and getting funded. We continue to fund our budget stabilization or
“rainy day” fund and need to continue to do so . As of now, our budget stabilization fund is at 3 percent of anticipated general fund revenues. We need to work to get that to around 5 percent. Because of our approach and collective hard work, the City of Lorain is finally—after over a decade—out of state issued Fiscal Watch. Our financial health is important to what we are able to do regarding city operations, but it is also important to those looking to come to Lorain. We must continue to build upon this momentum and keep a watchful eye on our finances. Because while being removed from Fiscal Watch is in my mind a significant milestone for Lorain, it is not going to get any easier. Continued downward pressure from the state and federal government revenue streams are negatively impacting Lorain and so many other communities. Around this time last year, the City of Lorain lost a SAFER grant that funded 12 firefighters. Thankfully, through the hard work of our Chief, Auditor and administration, we were able to pull from a variety of revenue streams as well as revamp how we will staff in order to keep the 12 firefighters working. Despite this work, 2014 will again be a tight budget year. However, we are continuing to put money aside in our budget stabilization fund while also continuing to fund future liabilities. While operating in the present, we have also looked to the future with an eye toward efficiency. With better interest rates and a depleted fleet in critical need of an update, we have done two capital leases. These leases have been instrumental in providing better equipment such as new utilities and plow trucks and police cruisers to our service workers and first responders who need them to provide quality service. Additionally, long term maintenance costs will decrease because of these purchases. We also partnered this year with Lorain County to join their system for police software. Rather than operating autonomously, Lorain was the first community to pass a resolution of support to join Lorain County. The costs to be part of the
county plan are dramatically less than if we had done so individually and ultimately mean better software and better communication for our police officers and officers throughout the county. SAFETY In 2013 we continued to focus on safety. As previously mentioned, keeping the 12 firefighters covered under the SAFER grant was important to our Fire Department so that newer, trained firefighters who know the city could stay on the job and continue to provide services when needed. And in 2013, we had a wide variety of calls for service including structure fires, rescues, hazardous material responses and water and ice rescue. We continue to look for efficiencies in an effort to provide the best service at the best cost to our citizens. As a result, we are in the process of transitioning dispatch to County 911, which with any transition has provided its share of challenges. All mobile data terminals are installed and are working, and we will be working to a full transition this year. With the Fire Chief’s leadership, we were able to acquire a new pumper—Pumper 4—with an Assistance to Firefighters Grant that required a city match of $70,000 or 20 percent. Pumper 4 is the first new fire truck for the East Side of Lorain since 1988. From a safety standpoint, this is important as the East Side is accessible from Central Fire by either the Bascule or the Lofton Henderson Bridge. From both a staffing and equipment perspective, the East Side is seeing vastly improved fire service. Our Police continue to do a fine job combating crime. Violent crime in 2013 was slightly lower than in 2011 and the same as in 2012. However, property crimes decreased 12 percent from 2012 to 2013. Overall, crime from 2012 to 2013 is down 11 percent. We have slowly built our ranks, and while we are not yet at authorized strength, we have added officers. In conjunction with the FOP, we are also using retired officers part-time on investigative and on
station tasks so that our full-time officers can be on the road. This has helped immensely in feeling a greater impact on the streets. Our officers have been front and center in the fight against drugs, particularly heroin. Our Chief and police officers were at the forefront in bringing Narcan, the drug that reverses a heroin overdose, to the forefront and working with Columbus to get it passed in the Ohio General Assembly. In its infancy it has saved several lives and has garnered the attention of editorial boards in other parts of the state because of its life saving impact. This initiative, again, was pushed by our very own Police Department. Our Narcotics Division has participated in several drug raids—some that have disbanded those at the top of the food chain—in efforts to combat drug trafficking. We will remain vigilant in our efforts as we combat drugs—especially heroin—and their negative consequences for people, society, our city and our region. INFRASTRUCTURE 2013 was a historic year for infrastructure in the City of Lorain. After falling behind by more than 40 million dollars in roadway rehabilitation alone, the City of Lorain invested tens of millions of dollars in roadway and waterline replacement —critical investments for city. This amount in one year signifies more than the last several years combined. As a result, we saw roadway investment citywide on some of the city’s most traveling thoroughfares including Pearl and Clinton Avenues, Cooper Foster Pk. Rd., Tower Blvd., Oberlin Avenue, Rt. 611, and Reid and Washington Avenues. We also invested in new equipment, namely a machine called the Durapatcher, which has helped extend the life of many of our roadways. That, in conjunction with a cracksealing program, will extend the life of roadways and works well in conjunction with the millions in new roads. Because of the harsh winter, we certainly will need these approaches
as potholes and cracks are ever present in our roadways. While it will take time, I am confident the new equipment and approaches in the Street Department will extend the life of our existing roadways. In 2014, we intend to make another sizable investment in roadways in order to continue to catch up to the place we need to be with our infrastructure. This year, more focus will be on the roads where several waterlines will be replaced, including much work in South and Central Lorain, along with more secondary and side streets now that many of our major roads have been upgraded. In order to compete for jobs, development and, ultimately, investment, Lorain’s infrastructure needed a dramatic facelift, and it is getting one. We are continuing on that path to bring our infrastructure where it ought to be. And to stretch the dollar as far as we could, we needed to change the way we bid projects. Bids set up to dissuade people from participating because of onerous requirements are not in the taxpayers’ best interests. We cleaned up our bidding procedures and, as a result of competition on our projects, we saved about 2 million dollars on roadways and 2 million dollars on waterlines versus engineer estimates. It makes common economic sense that projects attracting 6 to 7 bidders vs. 2 to 3 bidders will have lower costs. We fought hard to remove barriers to our bidding process and as a result, we conserved tax dollars and are going to fix more roads. While not the city’s infrastructure, we continue to work toward a solution for the former St. Joe’s hospital. Once the cold weather season passes, demolition will begin later this Spring and will include removal of over 120,000 square feet of the oldest sections of the facility and will reduce space by over 50 percent. This will leave the currently occupied spaces intact while providing a 1.5 acre site for future development. The front of St. Joe’s will look much different next winter and it must as we need to continue to guide this lengthy this project to its rightful conclusion.
REORGANIZATION/CULTURE While on the topic of best use of dollars, we undertook a major change this past June by eliminating the department formerly known as Community Development and instead replacing it with a leaner, consolidated Building, Housing and Planning Department. Communities across the country fight every federal budget cycle for Community Development Block Grant Funds— known as CDBG funding. They fight for these funds because of the flexibility in use and how they are able to make tangible, lasting differences in a community. For many years in Lorain, we made the funding not about projects and improvements to our city but about how to amass staff. Paying salaries for the sake of having a large department is not in the city’s or the taxpayers’ best interests. The people that comprised the former staff are not bad people, and letting them go, as in any organization, is among one of the most difficult things to do. The staff was not at fault; the management style that prevailed in Lorain for years was at fault as millions of dollars were siphoned from projects to help those areas of Lorain most in need. No more. Even as we adjusted late in the funding and budgeting cycle for 2013, we were able to see the impact CDBG can have. For one, we were able to contribute dollars to improving Streator Park—the old Carnegie Library—before conveying it to the Port Authority and then to the Lorain Historical Society. As a result of our investment of funds, this historic icon of Lorain will no longer sit vacant but will come back to life and positively impact Lorain. Additionally, we were able to purchase Pumper 1, a new heavy duty 75 foot Aerial that will greatly expand capabilities and allow, in conjunction with Pumper 4, greater flexibility in scheduling to assist in keeping all four stations open daily. It also maintains aerial capabilities during times of repair and maintenance. Every time residents see Pumper 1, they will see firsthand how CDBG dollars are being put back into areas imperative to safety services.
Going forward we are going to continue to focus our CDBG funds on those things that are impactful to the community including roadways replacement, strategic demolition, handicapped accessible restrooms at Century Beach, handicapped accessible pool lifts and stairs at city pools and new equipment at Cityview, Central and Oakwood parks. In other words, we are going to continue to invest in projects that generate a positive impact for our residents. Unquestionably, Lorain traveled through a dark period with regard to CDBG dollars being misspent and the depart ment’s former director choosing to enrich himself at the expense of the well-being of the city. The City of Lorain did not allow this to pass without question. We took on the fight to get money back that was spent in the last decade on deals that were constructed based upon malicious intentions. Because of the City’s efforts, Lorain taxpayers were made whole to the tune of 3 million dollars and can hopefully put the black cloud of the dark past in the rearview mirror. NEIGHBORHOODS/LEGISLATION/POLICY Housing and neighborhoods have been a key focus and will remain a key focus of my administration. In 2013 we spent considerable time and effort drafting legislation that is necessary to improve our housing stock and our neighborhoods. A False Alarms ordinance is now in place and is aimed at cutting down on the number of calls to which our officers respond that are false alarms. Our new Nuisance ordinance will assist our police with those individuals who routinely generate police calls for nuisance activities. Now, after the 5th occurrence of a nuisance activity, these individuals will be billed for the costs associated with the response. Monopolizing police resources when they are needed for emergencies now comes with a hefty
price. Again, both of these ordinances are necessary to make sure our officers are spending their time on real emergencies. We also implemented a Point of Sale ordinance in 2013. A healthy debate ensued, and while its implementation did not come without criticism and still is not without criticism, it’s passage is yet another tool in our tool box to combat blight. Lorain as well as other urban centers have been ravaged by the transfer of homes that are nowhere near meeting applicable building and property maintenance codes. Our Point of Sale ordinance, which is actually modeled off of our Rental Registry ordinance, covers the very basic elements a home should have from not only a property maintenance standpoint but from a safety standpoint. Some examples of properties failing inspection have been brought out in recent weeks, and as I have said from the very beginning of the Point of Sale discussion, all we are requiring is that these properties follow existing law. Transferring severely deficient properties does nothing but perpetuate blight, and Point of Sale, over time, is going to help in stopping that perpetuation that has wrecked havoc on Lorain’s housing stock for far too long. In addition to legislation, we have added dedicated housing inspectors who will be charged with implementing our ordinances as well as conducting proactive housing inspections. We are working with the Law Director, Prosecutor’s Office and Judges to improve the process to hear these cases so that the outcome of a better housing stock is achieved. A comprehensive housing strategy needs enforcement, rehabilitation and demolition mechanisms. To help us determine which strategy to utilize in which areas of the city, we partnered with the Nord Family Foundation and Western Reserve Land Conservancy to conduct a Property Registry. This comprehensive registry will be helpful in attempting to secure future
housing demolition funds—namely through Hardest Hit Funds, which require a specific plan—a plan that we have. Demolition efforts have been successful to this point. In fact, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine was in Lorain to celebrate the Lorain County Land Bank’s 150 th demolition. But as is the case with other cities and counties, demand is outpacing funding. Methodological analyses are important in triggering future funding, and we are hopeful to see more soon as we estimate at least a few hundred more properties need to come down. Housing is not a quick fix. We must be vigilant using the varying tools at our disposal on that many fronts in which we combat blight. Housing will continue to be one of the central issues of our time as citizens of an urban center. BUSINESS While we continue to recover from the recession, we have seen some positive signs of business in the City of Lorain. U.S. Steel has invested tens of millions of dollars into their mill, and Republic Steel continues to ramp up its operations. These projects have not come without their share of challenges, especially in recent months, but we are hopeful that market fluctuations will stabilize and further growth occur. Another successful Lorain business, Camaco, continues to expand and add jobs as its business of manufacturing seat backings for Ford 150, 250 and Chevy Cruze models continues to increase. We also continue to see development on the west side of the city at Lighthouse Village and recently received news that the new ownership of the former Soccer Academy has reached an agreement with the Cleveland Gladiators to train in Lorain. We look forward to continued growth in that part of the city. While I referenced the St. Joe’s Center earlier, other efforts are underway to revamp our urban core. Several letters have been written and communications received regarding the
scheduled removal of the Broadway traffic lights. Broadway is one part of the comprehensive study that will lead to better traffic patterns in the city, and the Broadway traffic light removal is one part of our plan for Broadway. Further planning, such as incorporating multi-modal forms of transit such as bicycles in the downtown, a sidewalk design that is inclusive of both commerce and encourages pedestrian traffic with spot devices for pedestrian crossing visible both day and night, is in the works. We also want to pursue the idea of connecting Broadway to Black River Lane, which could either be done through the Eagles Building and Palace Theater alley way or through a connector elsewhere in the area. Ultimately, we want to design a plan for Braodway that creates a sense of place for residents and visitors downtown. We also continue to work toward improving our zoning code so that appropriate land use is represented throughout the city, but particularly in the downtown area where inconsistencies are present that have in the past thwarted these types of plans. Perhaps the largest benefit to future development prospects on the lakefront, riverfront and downtown is the removal of the high voltage transmission lines. The City of Lorain and First Energy entered into a public private partnership to remove the lines and to build a new substation to power the city. Because the high voltage transmission lines on the waterfront were operational, removal would include the cost of actually removing the towers, easements and the cost of a new substation. The City of Lorain split the total cost with First Energy in order to remove the lines and invest in its future as the lines had been a major obstacle to developers in the past. Had the lines remained, our options for development on the waterfront would have been what they have always been—nonexistent. Today, we are in a position to move toward fruitful discussion on development in the central core of the city.
Achieving many of these goals is because of the partnership between the City of Lorain and the Lorain Port Authority. The Port helped to facilitate the deal to relocate the new substation powering Lorain and has assisted in other deals. This partnership is going to grow from an economic development perspective as the Port becomes more active in economic development within Lorain. This year, because of positive improvements and because of a waterfront that now has fewer obstacles in its way, we are going to begin the process of engagement—engagement with developers, some of whom have visited us within the last few years, and some of whom do not know us but focus on the type of development opportunities that we believe our waterfront provides. This effort is not going to be a fast process but will instead be one where the City of Lorain and Lorain Port Authority finally go on offense as the result of an improved position. I believe now is our time to take the progress that has been made and see what our opportunities may be for one of largest yet most undeveloped assets. CONCLUSION We have made some sizable strides in the last few years but still have much left to do. A sense of momentum is in the air with roadways being replaced, houses being demolished and obstacles being tackled that have stood in the way of progress for too long. But that momentum will come to a screeching halt if we do not do our part to pass Issue 18 —a renewal of the quarter percent temporary income tax levy that was originally passed in 2005 as a result of Ford’s departure from Lorain. Issue 18 is essential to continuing our progress and is not, I repeat, is not a new tax and does not tax retirement income such as pension, Social Security or disability income. It accounts for over 2 million dollars of General Fund revenue that is critical to safety and service operations within the city—operations that over the past 2 years have greatly
improved Lorain. If we want to continue to see investment and forward movement in Lorain, we must renew this critical levy. Ladies and Gentlemen, I said last year that the state of the City of Lorain was strengthening. I largely believe that is true this year. We are strengthening and we are getting healthier albeit under continued budget challenges thrust upon us by a state government that has 2 billion in reserves while cities, townships and school districts struggle. But, as usual, Lorain will continue to battle. Our city in 2014, like last year, is continuing to grow healthier and stronger despite immense challenges. We are also poised —poised to make the next step of taking undeveloped assets and working to turn them into development. The road will not be quick nor will it be easy, but the city, because of the dedication to core improvements over the last two years, is in a position where it can seriously begin embarking on its journey to leverage these improvements into the redevelopment our citizens have long awaited.