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City of Coshocton state of the city

| January 29, 2013

Mr. President, Members of Council, co-workers, guests and citizens, 2012 was a turning point for Coshocton.

I believe we reached the bottom of this recessionary spiral that started five years ago and even though it hasn’t let us loose, it’s losing its grip. Unfortunately, governments lag behind in any turn around making our recovery even slower, but we have turned that corner. This certainly is not a time to get over confident, but there is reason for optimism as we see for the third year in a row the General Fund finished in the black. We’ll carry over an ending balance of $217,740, even though our income tax revenue dropped 2.6% from the previous year. This was a direct result of continued vigilance by the administration, council, the auditor and department heads, to scrutinize expenses and monitor cash flow. In addition, we completed the year in all funds totaled, showing an overall balance over 6.5 million dollars. This reflects a 1% increase in all accounts that include Municipal Court, the Health Department, Water and Wastewater and the General Fund, and keeps us in good standing with our creditors and state requirements.

However, this has not been without cost. With the goal to maintain existing services while operating with decreased income, we have pared some staffing below what should be minimum levels. In some departments we’ve been unable to adequately maintain or replace old equipment and worn vehicles. Though our projected 2013 revenue indicates we’ll remain flat, we’ll look to squeeze every dollar to begin a slow steady plan to make those repairs and replacements.

Last year, I said we needed to bring the Ethanol plant issue to a close, and we did. We negotiated with the state development office for a $300,000, reduction in a grant payback and have agreed to an extension of the capital improvement loan for our wastewater plant that will make our payments tolerably manageable. A new company has purchased the plant and hoping to reopen it by this summer. Our contract with the previous owner has now been voided, and with it, that possible revenue stream but, the prospect of new jobs to our area will bring added income tax to the city. To help offset some of that loss, we finalized an agreement with one the nations’ leading oil and gas drilling companies and installed a bulk water fill station at the Wastewater plant. As the drilling in the Utica shale increases in the next few years, we are poised to meet the heavy demands of that process.

The city’s major infrastructure project for 2013 will be the re-paving and installation of handicapped ramps on Chestnut Street from Third to the eastern the edge of the city. Just like the Second Street project several years ago, this is much needed on one of our most used east/west corridors. The major portion of this funding will come from ODOT along with other state money we’re leveraging.

To oversee this project on the city’s behalf will be our new Public Works Director. I’m very pleased to announce tonight the appointment of Jim Ruby, a former Ohio Department of Transportation Construction Area Manager, who will assume his duties on March 4. Jim is a lifelong city resident and recently retired from that position after 33 years with the department. He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge that will be a tremendous asset to our team. I’m very grateful that the timing of his retirement coincided with the opening of this position. As the Public Works Director, he will oversee the Street, Cemetery and Maintenance departments.

Filling this position is the final management consolidation that I began 5 years ago and completes another 2012 goal. Council’s approval tonight would authorize me to sign both union contracts that include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. That contract now recognizes the new Public Works management and provides us the ability to utilize employees between departments, making our services as streamlined and efficient as possible. I want to thank both AFSCME and the International Association of Firefighters for these agreements. We in the administration acknowledge the value and quality of our workforce and the unions that represent them. For their members, it brings continued stability for the next 3 years.


Last year I asked for a collaborative effort to examine our downtown and for groups to work together in a common goal. Through the efforts of the Port Authority and the Project to Restore America, a steering committee was formed from a diverse group of civic and community leaders. That committee is now underway to develop a downtown revitalization plan that will also include examining the business districts of Second Street and Roscoe Village. In preparation of this plan, the city commissioned an electrical engineering firm to thoroughly examine the street and bridge lighting problems and submit solutions. This report will be included in the overall plan and cost estimates being considered.

There are many organizations I could recognize that are helping mold the future of Coshocton, so forgive me for only singling out two, but I’d like to note the contribution of The Project to Restore America and Coshocton is Blooming.

Both have become active partners with the city and are dedicated to our economic restoration and beautification. Not just in word, but these private non-profit groups have committed finances to fund the Chestnut Street bridge sidewalk repair, support of the Arts and our CVB, financing the hanging baskets, trees and flowers and our participation in the National America in Bloom Awards Program. Their efforts have transcended just being “good projects” but have become key drivers in helping form our town into what we’ll be in the years to come. My sincere appreciation goes out to them!

So as I searched to what we will become… I’ve weighed the question I’ve heard many times, “who are we now and what will sustain this small rural community?” Many remember the days when there were no store vacancies on Main Street, and there were plenty of industrial factories that good, lifelong jobs were easily found. We don’t see that today but times change and businesses come and go.

The city has operated during this recession on a shoestring budget because of the loss of industry, outsourcing and this change to a global economy. For 5 years, we’ve pulled the strings tight just to maintain, while our local economy has been pummeled against the ropes. But, just like the prize fighter, when the arena crowd is getting up to declare the fight over, the beat down champion lifts his head from the mat, then slowly pushes with his hands to help his wobbly body to his feet. The crowd turns in amazement to wonder where he has found the strength to get up, and then in awe, to hear him say to his opponent, “If that’s your best shot, you just lost!”

So it is with Coshocton. What has the global economy done for us? It has beat on us and taken away jobs like a bully, only to throw a few bones, enough to sustain our industries. State and National policies seem to disregard the plight of small cities, leaving just enough water in the bucket to get us out of the ring, but not to keep up the fight.

However, I believe this opponent has underestimated Coshocton and our resolve.

There might be weariness from the fight, but it’s also galvanized our determination. It’s time to get off the mat, stare into the face of this economy and take the fight to them.  It’s time to take our strengths, our grit and our products and declare to the world, “We’re here to stay and you need what we have!”

In years past, we’ve been known as many things. Excepting New York, with our multitude of advertising specialty businesses, we once had the largest concentration of artists east of the Mississippi. We’ve had foundries and factories known throughout the nation, and been innovators of whole new industries such as latex gloves. There was the Ohio Erie canal that spawned the little mercantile landing of Roscoe Village. We have reason to embrace our 200 year history, but also obligation to take the risks necessary to ensure our future into the next century.

With that charge before us, and for as long as you keep me hired, I am committed  to bring these groups, these efforts and their energies together to spread a vision to take Coshocton to the world.  And what is that vision?  To unite a whole community in a common purpose, working together to make us known as: “The Made in USA City”. We will become the model nationwide for cities to emulate.

This vision is aided in that we are one of few counties where the county seat shares the same name, Coshocton. Even though the branding says city, the vision is broad enough and the county small enough, to include the entire county. Yes…“The Made in USA City”.

This is a two-fold plan: Manufacturing and Retail

We want the nation to know we make American products and are proud of it. We’re proud of our smokestack industries, our factories, our plants. They’re making world class, quality products using our mid-west hard work ethic. We’re proud that Annin & Company is the world’s largest manufacturer of American flags, and that plant is located in Coshocton, Ohio. Annin becomes a cornerstone for the foundation to build this vision. I want to see our corporations label their packaging, their products, their literature, with this new branding and our local plant managers convincing reluctant corporate boardrooms to be proud to identify their goods from “The Made in USA City”. I want the world to know that if they want to make products in the USA, come to Coshocton, we’re “The Made in USA City”. I want to see a renewed focus to bring manufacturing here to help support existing businesses. Just like what the Clow Corporation is doing with their upstart McWane Poles, bringing jobs to Coshocton instead of sending them out of state

The other fold is Retail and Tourism:

I want our current retailers see the value and appeal of American made products to today’s customers. To have them first seek suppliers that sell locally made and USA made. For new shops to spring up that complement existing stores. That tourism will capitalize on the Americana of Roscoe Village or grown and bottled in our wineries. I want to see U.S. goods in our stores that can’t be found elsewhere. I hope that entrepreneurs seize the opportunity to open new shops selling only American made products. We’ll work on establishing the criteria for what qualifies a retailer to display the “I’m a Made in the USA Business” brand.

Many communities can claim the heritage of the past and create beautiful streetscapes to make shopping in their communities unique. But we’ll not be any more unique than them if we follow that same model and only adapt it to our differences. We can’t stand out in the crowd if we’re dressed like everyone else. This is more than just dressing different and smoke and mirrors to attract business, it is real substance. With our industries, manufacturers, farmers and crafters making products and our stores full of USA made goods, we’ll take Coshocton to the world because it’s not just a name we call ourselves, it’s who we are!

In the coming weeks, I’ll assemble a “Coshocton USA team” to help plan the short and long range steps to make this happen. I’ll be visiting with individuals, businesses and organizations entreating them to pool their resources under a united vision. There are many great existing vehicles in place and new efforts already underway, all wanting to see Coshocton be that prize fighter. I can see all these dovetailing together in one strong cohesive bond, but we have to row in the same direction. We have to be willing to respond in cadence and not allow the legitimate need to remain autonomous to cause us jump the ship to paddle in our own boat.

This vision was a seed planted in me by another, but I took ownership of it and will do my part to run with it, as I hope you do. It has to be corporate ownership to succeed. This leadership team needs to provide a clear sound that compels our rowing in unison.

I call on all the individuals and organizations that have dedicated themselves for the betterment of Coshocton to come and join in a common purpose. To bring with them the best practices they have to offer and avoid the pitfalls that have paralyzed the progress.

I call on our industry leaders to set the foundation because they are the heart of our Made in USA products.

I call on our commercial and tourism partners to build on that foundation by investing in the attraction and value of American made products.

And lastly, I call on our religious leaders to pray and appeal to their congregations for prayer on behalf of our city and county. It is God that waters and will cause the growth, and it’s our relationship to Him that brings His blessing on this community. Without that blessing, our well-intended efforts will not bring lasting fruition.

In closing, I ask council for your support and to be the fighters for the city that I know you are. We’ve labored long under the beat-down of this recession. It’s now time for us to collectively raise our head off the mat, give hope to those who have grown weary, be in one another’s corner, and let’s go take this fight to the world!

May God bless you and bless this city.

Thank you!

Mayor Steve Mercer

Category: Government

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Article contributed to The Beacon.

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