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Mayor delivers state of the city

| January 24, 2017
Mayor Steve Mercer

Mayor Steve Mercer

Members of council, fellow elected officials, co-workers, residents and guests, I want to begin by acknowledging my wife Sharon, my immediate staff, Jerry and Cherry, all the department heads, supervisors and other elected officials, who work together to make this city all it can be.  Tonight, I want to offer a special shout out to Jerry Stenner who will be retiring this year after 12 years of serving the city as the Safety-Service Director. Whether in business, Kiwanis, coaching or supporting multiple organizations and activities, he has spent his lifetime working to make Coshocton a better place in every way. Thank you Jerry!

When considering the current State of the City, I start by reviewing the past year so this report will not only look back, but will show, what I see, as a bounce back year for us.

The great challenge we started with last year was the closing of the WestRock paper mill and its’ financial impact on our Income Tax and Utility Departments.  It created a great amount of uncertainty on the potential long term effect.  We explored all those possibilities and solutions in depth. With many long meetings, sleepless nights and the help of outside professional advisors, we made significant cuts in our Utility Department and swallowing a bitter pill, also passed a significant rate increase. Those changes have enabled the water fund to finish the year in the black and assure our continued ability to provide high quality water.  With the County transferring their utilities to the city, it created our regional water/wastewater system, of which now, we are cautiously positioned to consider expansions to outside residents.  We have a robust infrastructure system and a tremendous supply of water to attract both residential and commercial expansion. We have already been exploring these opportunities.

Reviewing 2016 city government, we see more indicators of the city’s bounce back resiliency.

Starting with our financial picture, we ended 2015 with our general fund in a positive balance of $268,000. Two key reasons attributed to that turnaround: increased Income Tax and the passing of a Safety Services levy.  In 2016, we finished again in the black with a carryover of $1,161,000.  This can be credited to several factors including tax revenues, continued hiring at the Kraft/Heinz plant, and vigorous expense oversight.

Our Income Tax revenue showed another steady increase for the 6th straight year.

Over that time, whether the gain was tiny or modest, we are always encouraged by any growth from the tumultuous recessionary years we endured.

I want to thank Council, all the department heads, the Auditor’s Office and our employees for working together, with overall less staff, and reduced budgets, to help get through a year that started out so very uncertain.

Our Public Works Department made great strides in the most visible city service, our streets.  We again partnered with ODOT, Ohio Public Works Commission and the County Commissioners and Engineer, for multiple paving and storm water projects.

These include the key project of the total rebuild of Otsego Avenue with storm drains, guardrails and paving, and paving 5 other streets for a total of $775,500. Another $335,000. was spent on 6 major storm sewer projects including adding new drains at 7th and Main Streets.

With funding from the 5 year street levy, we are projecting paving at least 5 more streets in 2017 at a projected cost of $457,000.  Parts of 7th Street, a main corridor,  15th Street, the main access to the hospital campus, and completion of 3rd and Locust Streets around the new bank, will be significantly noticeable.

More key improvements last year were:

1)  Rebuilding at Bancroft Park and, with a generous donation from the Coshocton Rotary Club, we installed a paved walk path. We also obtained Hall Park from the City School District for future recreational development.

2)  The City was awarded the TREE CITY USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation for our Tree Commission’s urban forestry effort.

3)   Central Ohio Technical College celebrated their 45th year and we’re proud that Coshocton became their first of 3 satellite campuses.

3)  We signed a 3 year trash agreement with the Kimble Company as a major part of the citywide cleanup plan that provided our residents with uniform containers and recycling bins, and,

4)  Council approved a Property Code Investigator position that is showing to be hugely successful in our goal to clean up neighborhoods.

Contributors from the private side to our bounce back, include:

1)  Kraft/Heinz immediately investing in another $1.3 million dollar expansion on top of the original $40 million dollar project.

2)  School athletic boosters finished raising $475,000. for new Astroturf installation at Stewart Field, (which they might want to claim a little bit of credit for the state semi final appearance of our football team)

3)  On our commercial 2nd Street corridor, a new O’Reilly Auto Parts was built, along with completely remodeling the KFC and ARBY’S restaurants , and,

4)  In a significant change to our 108 year old medical mainstay, the Hospital was sold in November to Prime Healthcare, an organization whose mission is looking for, and helping, small struggling hospitals such as ours. They have committed over $10,000,000. to improving the facilities and making it financially sustainable for years to come. They are already making vast strides and have actively been exploring and recruiting the right doctors and staffing requirements for our market.

The name change to Coshocton Regional Medical Center accurately reflects the expanded vision of the company and I hope that the community will quickly embrace and support our hometown hospital that is the nucleus of all healthcare in the community.

So then, looking forward, what can we anticipate to continue this bounce?

1)  The city will be applying for a $500,000. State Neighborhood Revitalization grant through the Commissioner’s office for the section north of Chestnut Street, west from the 1-A bridge and to the railroad tracks heading east. Our goal is to improve and enhance the neighborhood around the Water Plant, which is a primary entrance into the city, and to improve throughout that area of the city.

2)  We are applying for funding to expand the existing walk path from Lake Park. Beginning at the 1-A bridge, past Baird Supply, under the Chestnut Street bridge and behind the Village Inn, the Eagles, the High School’s Stewart Field and possibly all the way to the Plaza. We want to create our own River walk for all to enjoy the beauty of the river that runs through us.

3)  Columbia Gas is doing another gas line replacement project in the Old Towne area between 2nd and 5th and Walnut and Ivy Streets.  Valued at $1.2 million, this improvement will add more taxable property to the city and our school district, and,

4)  Century National Bank will be expanding their locations in the city by building a new Banking Center on the former Jeff Drennen dealership property between 2nd and 3rd Streets, behind the Chestnut Street Plaza.

The loss of a lot of long time industry stalwarts in Coshocton has caused us to look hard at what we are becoming. We are still primarily a heavy industrial based community with multiple strong companies and just as the city had to wither the  challenges of a crippling recession, they too had to endure the storm.  I’m eager to credit these companies with the significant impact on our bounce back. They have emerged stronger, and with their visionary leadership, continue to expand their products and business models to compete in this global marketplace.

The challenge we have as a small rural community is the same that all cities our size face across the country. Declining populations, the attraction of larger cities, a trained labor force compatible with the needs of emerging industries, and on the commercial side, a desperate need for fresh risk-takers.  Those entrepreneurs that can see the great opportunity here for opening new stores and filling Main Street with the niche businesses that people now drive out of town to shop.  Coshocton has a very storied history of entrepreneurs whose innovations even created whole new industries.  Now is the time for those of you that have a yearning, an idea, a dream, to not delay any longer, but to act on it.  Our Port Authority is a terrific source for help along with the Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the Small Business Development Center and they can provide you with the tools to make that dream a reality.

Longer range planning for 2018-2019, Coshocton has the major ODOT-led bridge projects to look forward to.  Much planning and engineering is still in the works but we are now only a year away from starting.  A complete replacement of the land bridge over State Route 16 and new lighting and re-decking of the river bridge will make a complete new gateway and welcoming appearance to the city.  Adding to that same area with a riverwalk that will provide access along the Muskingum River, we’ll not only be showcasing our city , but attracting visitors to our entire County.

Finally, as I set my primary focus last year for the next 4 years, we made great progress in 2016. The goal, “To improve our neighborhoods by fostering pride and revitalize business districts” saw measurable headway.

We will continue pushing toward that goal.

The successful marketing of our city to new businesses is heavily weighted by their community perception when they visit. The prospect of bringing new jobs and their families here is factored in on what they see and hear as they drive around and visit with our residents.  Everyone and everything becomes a salesman, either with a sweet or bitter product.  What product do you sell?  Choose to be a part of the team to help Coshocton reach all the potential that lies here.

In closing, as I will do every year, I want to remind everyone that even with our challenges, God’s love for us and this city cannot be altered and His promises cannot be deterred. Our retreatment is to remind God of His promise He made to us in the Book of Jeremiah Chapter 29, verse 11:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to Prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you Hope and a Future.”

May God bless you and bless this city.

Thank you!

Mayor Steve Mercer

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