The following is the latest installment of Mayor Jim Boroff's monthly updates on city issues.
Capital projects. During the last six months of this year, the city will be undertaking a flurry of building and improvement projects - some of which will extend into the next year. Here is a brief summary of some of them:
Greenfield Street/federal highway project. Construction on this $1.2 million endeavor will begin in late fall. Greenfield Street will be widened near the Market Street intersection with a median strip between the lanes. Greenfield, itself, will cut across the now existing "point" between Perry and Market Streets - making the intersection much safer.
Rock Creek interceptor. This is another fall/winter project. Funded by an approximate $1.5 million low-interest state loan, this failing 4,000-plus foot section of our sewer system will be replaced in some areas or "slip-lined" in others, rejuvenating the lines and effecting relief to those who experience sewage backups during heavy downpours. Part of this project will include laying a new line on Main Street and rebuilding that thoroughfare from the Hedges Street intersection eastward to the bridge.
Hayes lift station. This major component of our sewer system is located on East SR 101. We will be rebuilding this pumping station at a cost of about $450,000. Work on this facility should be completed by fall.
Rainbow Muffler and Firestone buildings. These properties are being acquired by Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. for the purpose of razing the buildings and conducting an environmental cleanup. The buildings are scheduled to be removed this summer. The city ultimately will own these properties for use as parking lots and green areas, which will complement the streetscape along Frost Parkway.
Smaller sewer projects. We already have rebuilt (or will be working on sections of) our residential sewers along Gibson Street and Ella Street as well as on the west end of town and in the Lincoln Road area.
North Sandusky Street paving. The city will be working with Ohio Department of Transportation to pave an approximately 200-foot stretch of this street at the north end of town. This will fill the "gap" between of recently finished repaving on that street and the newly paved section completed by the state.
Emerald ash borer. In an earlier column, I reported the city received a $40,000 matching grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division to remove ash trees from our public rights of way and plant other tree species as replacements.
We have awarded the bid to a private contractor to remove about 33 of the largest ash trees on the city's rights-of-way at a cost of about $18,000. This leaves us with $32,000 to replace trees that have been devastated by the beetle.
Through the counsel of the Shade Tree Commission, Stephanie Miller of the Ohio Division of Forestry and our own foresters, we will be planting a variety of trees so as to forestall any future infestations we might encounter.
Speaking of new infestations, we just recently have learned Ohio has joined with four other states to deal with an Asian longhorned beetle infestation. This bug does damage to maple trees. As we learn more, I will pass the information along to you.
Wage and hour restoration. In May 2009, the administration cut hours and/or pay for our non-represented employees, which resulted in a 7-percent wage decrease for these people. At that time it was necessary because we knew we would be collecting less income tax revenue in the coming months.
The hope was this would be just for a short period and that the administration would restore these cuts as soon as possible. So that the employees knew what to expect, I outlined certain financial benchmarks which, when reached, would precipitate the restoration of the lost wages.
These benchmarks finally have been met - most notably the increases in income tax collection and our projected year-end carry over, which is looking healthier than I had anticipated. Therefore, I recently asked City Council to restore the hours for the non-salaried personnel in early July.
If our tax collections continue to improve, I intend to ask that salaried workers' wages be restored early this fall.
This does not mean the city's finances are in great shape. We are going to continue to face tough times ahead. The state is finalizing its biennial budget, which projects the city will lose about $65,000 in local government funding yet this year and at least $125,000 next year.
Also, there is discussion about reducing and/or eventually eliminating the inheritance tax by the state legislature. In some years, we collect as much as $500,000 in these estate taxes. These measures, if adopted in Columbus, would leave large holes in our local budget which would have to be addressed by City Council.
However, I believe it is prudent at this time to make the wage restorations for our non-represented employees for two reasons:
The administration made a promise to our hourly and salaried workers. This must be honored. They have worked very hard these past two-plus years to keep city services at a high level and need to see the "light at the end of tunnel."
Our fiscal year 2011 projections are on target and can sustain these wage restorations through the end of year.
No one is promising that employee concessions and wage reductions are out of the picture for next year, but, if Council approves, we need to restore the level playing field for all employees so any new rounds of budget cutting discussions will be fair to all. In the meantime, City Council and the administration will be looking for alternative ways to continue to provide the maximum benefit of services to our residents.