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City of Coshocton State of the City

| January 28, 2014

Steve MercerMr. President, members of council, fellow elected officials, co-workers, guests and citizens; there are good reasons to look forward to 2014, and to set the foundation, let’s look at the building stones from 2013.

Financially, our various funds were both up and down, or otherwise, flat. Our main source of revenue is the 1½% Income Tax and it was up 2.06%, an increase for the second straight year, and from the pits of 2008 & 2009, we have steadily regained a total of 7.89%. However, to balance that news, the state’s funding was a net reduction of 19.81% which caused the 2013 General Fund revenue to fall 2.2%. The Estate Tax was eliminated in 2012 but we still received $350,000 from estates that were finalized in 2013.  We have projected no estate income for 2014 and will have to absorb that 9% loss of our general revenue. From 2012, we brought forward a cash carryover of $230,480., but we’ll start this year with only $120,728.  Even with 48% less to start the year, I’m very pleased to say that by living within the dollars given to us, we finished the General Fund in the black for the fourth straight year. For that, I express appreciation to a cooperative council, our administrative team including department heads, the Auditor’s Office and support of our employees.

Striving to always be as efficient as possible, City Council and the AFSCME Union approved the final restructuring for a Public Works Department. The reorganization consolidated the Street, Cemetery and Maintenance Departments under one Director, Jim Ruby, and established a new full time Assistant Director. This provides us the ability to utilize employees between departments, making our services as lean and efficient as possible. We are immediately seeing the benefit of these changes with much better staffing and equipment for our snow removal this winter. Our major Public Works infrastructure project for 2013 was the re-paving and installation of handicap accessible sidewalks on Chestnut Street. This extensive project went smoothly, but the addition of a full time assistant creates an efficient team to share the workload and assure maximum productivity.

The Second Street and Chestnut Street projects were both 80% funded by Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), for our 20% matching balance we obtained loans each over $200,000.  For 2014, ODOT has scheduled the complete paving of State Route 541 from the West to the Southeast Corporation limits. Our match is approximately $400,000. We have already received one grant commitment but we’ll still need another loan for over $200,000 to complete our portion.

Tonight, council will vote on a resolution to put a street levy back on the ballot this May. With the critical need for repairing our streets the request is being lowered a half point to 2.4 mills in hope of getting new supporters. Passage of the levy will allow us to use those funds to help make these loan payments AND to plan a paving and maintenance schedule for our crumbling streets.

Another part of the reorganizing was to establish for the first time, a City Safety Program. After nearly two years in the planning, council adopted a Safety and Security Handbook that becomes the basis of the program. They also approved a part-time Safety Coordinator position that validates the importance we place on our employees. I appreciate that we have an experienced retiree in Tom Scott that is willing to administer this program for a token salary. The value of this program will be seen in increased employee safety and security in the workplace.

Our Parks and Recreation Department operates with only a part time director and seasonal employees but we still improved our system. Last year, Director Steve Jones obtained a state grant that helped build a new large shelter at the Otsego Park. 2013 was the final year of our running and maintaining the main ball field at Lake Park. We have enjoyed a great partnership with them for the use of those fields, but with the passage of the park levy and a new lease signed by the Cherokees Baseball Team, our decades long recreation program at their fields came to an end. We will now exclusively focus resources on our own facilities. The levy’s allocation to our Park and Recreation Department of $25,000 a year will provide a refreshing new source of income for our underfunded park program.

Our Utilities Department worked closely with Lake Park to meet their EPA mandated changeover from raw to potable water throughout the park. The exchange of our water fees for park land, and the CountyCommissioner’s Ohio Water Development Authority (OWDA) loan on behalf of the park, helped them meet the imposed deadlines. It serves as an excellent example of how partnerships between entities can creatively solve issues, save taxpayers money, and solidify the spirit of cooperation we have in this county.

We undertook two major infrastructure projects in 2013. The Adams Street Waterline Replacement is a good example of the need to upgrade many old lines throughout the city. This undersized line was a constant maintenance issue and provided poor pressure to those residents.

The other more visible capital improvement was the complete refurbishing of the Roscoe Water Tower inside and out. The sandblasting and painting will assure long term sanitary use of that tower and the new color and lettering, recommended by Director Dave McVay, was a welcome improvement to the neighborhood.

Tonight, council also has an ordinance on the agenda for a 5 year water and wastewater rate schedule. Arcadis, a national firm, thoroughly examined the utility expenses, capital projections and loans to determine the rates necessary to meet these obligations. Even with the increases, our rates will remain in the lower 1/3 of utilities statewide.

This year, I hope to expand more shared services, resources and expertise with other governments and organizations. We are on course with the County Commissioners to finalize an agreement to accept the water and wastewater infrastructure outside the city limits and assume their remaining installation debt. This consolidation into one system that will be owned and maintained by the city has been discussed, examined and negotiated for over 8 years. The approval of the rate ordinance is one of the final stages of this long running goal of having a regional utility system proposed in a 2005 Community Development Plan.

Our Fire Department has been able to replace outdated equipment, improve inter-agency communications, replace worn out fire trucks and retain our high state rating because of the support of the citizens. To better serve their safety, Chief Layton initiated the addition of another tornado siren to the CountyEmergency system, to be located at the CoshoctonCitySchool campus. Coordinating with the County EMA, they will move the one we have at the fire station and we will replace it with a new one.

The Chief has obtained an actual I-beam section from the New York Twin Towers. With the help of private funding, he created a memorial in the lobby of the firehouse to honor the safety personnel, and all that lost their lives in the 9-11 terrorist attack on the United States. I want to encourage everyone to stop by and see or touch this significant piece of life-altering American History.

In addition to our city services, we see many entities that experienced significant developments in 2013. Perhaps the biggest was the completion and opening of a new 24 million dollar elementary school to the Coshocton City Campus. Levy support showed the commitment of our citizens to provide the best learning opportunity for our youth, and this state-of-the-art facility provides that and consolidates all the students in one school and replaces the three outdated buildings.

CLOW Water System purchased the former Pretty Products Warehouse on Clow Lane. They are underway with a multi-million dollar project so they can move a process here, from a current out-of-state provider, used in their growing light pole market. Over 100 years in Coshocton they are still a leading job provider and outstanding community partner.

RockTenn celebrated their 150th anniversary which is an amazing achievement considering it began in the midst of the Civil War. They remain an anchor industry as one of Coshocton’s largest employers and corporate partner.

Rural King purchased the vacant former Wal-Mart building on Second Street and invested millions to bring that supply chain to our city. Next door to them, Woodbury Outfitters continues to grow by building more warehouse space to their store and adding more locations around Ohio.

Three Rivers Energy bought the bankrupt ethanol plant and rescued it from the brink of demolition turning it into a viable production facility. They started up in October with a mostly local workforce of about 35 employees. The salvage value to the financial debacle the former owners caused the city, is that it brought back good jobs for the community and it’s located in the Joint Economic Development District, allowing us to receive income tax revenue.

We had numerous new small business start ups. It’s the hope of the entrepreneur that brings new energy and life to cities. I want to feature just a few that have made that kind of impact on the city.

Last year I presented a vision to unite the entire community in a common purpose, working together to make us known as: The Made in USA City.

I assembled a Coshocton USA team to help make this happen. Together, this group has developed a logo, established websites and a social media presence.

Many meetings led to creative ideas and a framework to proceed. But now it’s time to develop a marketing plan and solicit the resources needed to launch the branding. Recently, Jan Myers and the Convention and Visitor Bureau’s Board stepped up and will assume that role. The CVB is the perfect organization to carry the ball now with its mission to promote and market Coshocton. Jan is full of energy and creativity and I look forward to continuing with her to bring our retailers, manufacturers and tourism partners into a united picture of what makes us, The Made in USA City.

As part of this effort, I see the first-fruit support already shown in businesses like Commonwealth Americana. Presently located in Kiefer Florist, this was created by Ed Kiefer and Robert Colby as a means to showcase Coshocton made goods by local artisans doing authentic, Made in USA products. This business model is giving artists and craftsman the opportunity to share their talents commercially and its success is garnering attention statewide.

Another community shaker is Anne Cornell from the Pomerene Center for the Arts. Her drive and determination to make things happen, and to challenge the status quo, has been able to achieve what others can’t even conceive. The latest being to spearhead the purchase last week, by the Pomerene Center, of the former Park Hotel site, from one stubborn owner.  She originally secured a 5 year lease for the property allowing them the right to use it instead of it being an unkempt vacant lot in the heart of downtown. Now, armed with a grant she was awarded from the National Endowment for the Arts, she is partnering with the city, to proceed with the design phase for making it a beautiful, permanent Art Park.

Lastly, it is these kinds of businesses and industries that will sustain our city.  It is the unselfish contributions of civic minded individuals and many groups, churches and organizations that positively build and bond communities.  We are a very caring and benevolent people and working together, we will join in common purpose to live in what Dr. Martin Luther King called, “A Beloved Community.”

In closing, I want to specifically thank several people for their dedication to the city. To my immediate staff, Jerry Stenner and Cherry Wilson, all the department heads and supervisors, the elected officials, the many appointees on boards, committees and commissions, the employees that daily go about their jobs to make Coshocton a better place, and finally, to my wife Sharon, my greatest supporter, rock, and sounding board without whom this Mayor could not function.

May God bless you and bless this city.

Thank you!

Mayor Steve Mercer

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