Healy delivers 2012 State of the City address, declares Canton the
Released/Published: Mar 2, 2012
State of the City Address 2012
Mayor William J. Healy II
Good evening and welcome to City Hall for the 2012 State of the City address. I'd like to first recognize and thank the sponsors of this event: The Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce and Aultcare. I would also like to recognize City Council for all their dedication and hard work and for the use of their facility this evening. Thank you all for your attendance and support of this event.
Before discussing the current state of the city and what our expectations are for 2012 and beyond, I would first like to take a few moments to recognize some people who helped move Canton forward during these difficult times. Canton has made huge strides forward during one of the most difficult economic conditions any of us have ever faced. I realize that this could not have happened without our entire workforce coming together with everyone stepping up and doing more than ever before. The city of Canton has an amazing workforce of hard working public servants who have performed at the highest levels over the past four years.
I would like to recognize all our city employees and thank them for keeping our city safe and providing the services that our citizens expect and deserve. I'd also like thank my cabinet and staff for their personal and professional dedication to the City of Canton. I couldn't be more proud of them or happier with their commitment to making Canton the greatest city in Ohio. Finally, I must thank you, the citizens of Canton for your continued support and confidence in our administration over these past four years.
When I took office in 2008 our city was struggling, but we had lofty goals of not only stopping those downward trends, but also turning it around and putting Canton on the path to revitalization. I told you back then that we needed to focus on the "Four Pillars" that are essential to creating a city that people want to live, work and raise a family in. Those pillars are SAFETY, EDUCATION, NEIGHBORHOODS and JOBS. Our city was struggling in all four of these areas, and that was before the Great Recession swept across our country, creating even more challenges. However, these challenges provided us with the unique opportunity to transform our city into a more efficient and effective operation while still strengthening those critical "Four Pillars."
Being Mayor over the past four years has been extremely difficult. Yet, it has also been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done in my life. I'm proud of what we have accomplished so far, but I'm even more excited for the city of Canton and its citizens for what may be the turning point in our history that will redefine Canton for decades to come.
Before I discuss more about this "defining moment", first let me share with you our city's current financial situation. We all know that our city's revenue has been greatly reduced over the past four years, but I'd like for you to take a closer look at a few specific items that can better explain our economic situation. The City of Canton's annual operations are roughly $160 million when you take into account all our funds including enterprise funds, capital funds, development funds and the general fund. Our enterprise funds are more stable today than they have been in nearly eight years as we have invested in our own operations for long term stability. Most of our attention however is spent on the General Fund because that is what pays for our day-to-day operations including our police department, fire department, health department, and parks department among others.
Over the past four years, we have had an unprecedented four-year decline. Based on this trend, we should all be very concerned about the state of our financial situation. But this doesn't tell the whole story. So, I would like to describe the General fund in a little more detail.
Our largest revenue stream for the General Fund is Income Tax Collections. There has been a steep drop in income taxes collected due to the Great Recession through 2010 where we bottomed out before seeing an increase in 2011. And we expect a further increase in 2012 as the local economy continues to rebound. So why does the general fund continue to go down when the Income Tax Collection in on the rise?
This happens because other revenue streams support our General Revenue fund. Our second largest revenue stream has always been the "Local Government Fund" distributed by the State to local communities as a portion of the state sales taxes collected.
This was an agreement with local governments by the State of Ohio when they asked the voters to approve the state sales tax. It has been distributed every year since the sales tax was enacted. However last year, the Governor and State Legislature reduced the Local Government Funds by 50% and have indicated they will eliminate the rest of the Local Government Fund in the next state budget. The Governor and State Legislature also eliminated the Inheritance Tax, another significant local government revenue stream. They also eliminated the Tangible Personal Property Tax. The bottom line is that we have weathered the storm of the Great Recession and are showing signs of growth. However the reductions made by our State Government, over $4.5 million so far, will have a dramatic impact on our city's available resources for the next couple of years.
As for this year, we have again submitted a budget to Council that does not leave much margin for error. We are using the same approach we have used for the past three years as we continue to be faced with fewer resources to address the needs of our citizens. Like most families our needs are greater than our resources, but we must live within our means. As our local economy continues to improve we expect our city's finances to improve as well, but it doesn't quite work that way as our early projections for 2013's budget may be more challenging than anything we have faced so far.
Again, the biggest challenge in managing our General Fund over the next couple years is due to the extreme actions of our Governor and State Legislature. The majority of the General Fund pays for our police and fire departments and helps keep our community safe. Those are the dollars that are being taken away by the state. The people of Canton need to understand exactly how the actions of our Governor and State legislature are impacting our lives. The State of Ohio should be helping out our local communities, not penalizing us by eliminating resources that are needed to keep our community safe.
Reducing crime in our city was my number one priority four years ago as Canton's crime rate was at an all time high. All "Four Pillars" are critical for a community to be successful. However, I believed that making Canton safer was the most important issue we needed to address at the time. We were very aggressive with a zero tolerance approach that since transformed into an "Intelligence Led Policing" strategy that proved to be very effective. With successful programs such as: the Targeted Enforcement Initiatives, C.I.R.V., and Canton's Most Wanted, just to name a few, we saw crime drop at record rates over a three year period.
As impressive as this was for our Police Department, we were still forced through attrition to reduce the size of our police force because of fewer and fewer funds. In spite of our reduction in man power, crime continued to go down. At least it did until the County Government started closing down parts of the jail and releasing prisoners. Of course, Stark County Government has been experiencing the same type of financial challenges as the city of Canton, because of the recession and the cuts from our State Government.
There was a direct and immediate link to Canton's crime statistics and the reduction of prisoners in the County jail. In 2011 we experienced a 12% increase in overall crime, giving back some of our reductions over the prior three years. Overall crime is still down 25% from our high in 2007 and with the passage of the County Sales Tax and the Sheriff's commitment to reopen the entire county jail, we are confident that Canton will see our crime numbers drop again in 2012.
I would like to formally congratulate and thank Chief Dean McKimm for his leadership and success during my first four years in office. As most of you already know, Chief McKimm retired a few weeks ago and has agreed to take on a new challenge with our CANCOM communication center. I wish him well in his new endeavors.
With his retirement, however, I had the opportunity to do something that has only happened two other times in the past 38 years. I had the honor to swear in our new chief, Bruce Lawver. Chief Lawver has been on the force for 18 years and had worked his way up to Captain before taking over as our new Chief a couple weeks ago. Chief Lawver has already received grants from NOVAC that will provide more leadership training for "Intelligence Led Policing" strategies, a system that has been extremely successful over the past few years. One of the new Chief's first requests was for more police officers.
Although we are operating on a very tight budget, we are seriously looking into his request to hire 10 new police officers that will offset some of the attrition we've had in the recent past. Seeing first hand his leadership abilities, police skills, and commitment to Canton, I am confident that our police department is heading in the right direction. Making Canton safer has been, and will always be, one of the top priorities of this administration.
The importance of a strong education system is another of the "Four Pillars" that make a community strong. If you talk to any realtor, they will tell you that property is more attractive in areas with high performing schools. People want to raise their families in neighborhoods that are safe and that give their children access to a great education. That is why I have always been a champion for our public schools as well as higher education in our community.
Although several school districts cross over and into our city, the largest percentage of our children attend Canton City Schools with the majority of the rest attending Plain Local. Plain Local Schools have long been known for providing a quality education with high test scores and graduation rates, and this year is no exception. However, most people evaluate the city of Canton based on the performance of Canton City Schools. Although our public schools have been facing the same challenges with the economic downturn and the reductions in funding from Columbus, Canton City Schools have managed to improve their results again this year and have seen a miraculous turn-around over the past several years.
McKinley and Timken's test scores and graduation rates are now something that the whole community can be proud of and can be used as a tool to recruit families into our community rather than an excuse for them to leave Canton. Congratulations to the administration and all the employees of Canton City Schools and to the children and parents attending those schools. As a graduate of Canton McKinley, I can speak first hand as to the quality of education provided by Canton City Schools.
By now you all should be familiar with the Mayor's Scholarship Program where the city has partnered with several colleges and universities to guarantee scholarships to any and all Canton residents who graduate from our public schools. Today I am proud to say that we have added two more schools to our program this year. The University of Akron and Stark State College are now officially part of the program, bringing the number of partner schools to 14, and bringing even more opportunities to Canton's graduating seniors.
In addition to Stark State College partnering with us for scholarships, they are also working with both Canton City Schools and Plain Local Schools to provide early college credit to our high school students. Stark State has invested in the Edward Peel Coleman Community Center to offer college classes in the southeast quadrant of our city and they have recently brought their Automotive Technology Center to downtown Canton. Their commitment to Canton doesn't stop there, as you have recently read in the paper, they are on schedule to potentially receive another $10 million to be used in expanding their downtown presence even further. It's partnerships like these that will continue moving Canton forward by strengthening educational opportunities and making our city even more attractive to businesses looking for a place to call home.
Speaking of Edward "Peel" Coleman Community Center, I'm happy to announce that the Spray Park for our youth is expected to be up and running by midsummer! It will be the first of its kind here in Canton and it has been designed for a possible expansion for some time in the future. If this model is successful, it could be the first of several spray parks around the city.
Besides our youth, we have also are very concerned about our senior citizens. Many of our seniors live on fixed incomes and for the most part, struggle financially with the rising cost of just about everything! Over the past few years, we have provided multiple food voucher programs that have been used by thousands of our citizens. But the vouchers are only offered once or twice a year and there never seems to be enough for everyone in need. When we spoke to our seniors one of their biggest concerns was the cost of health care, especially the cost of prescription drugs. So we made a goal to find or create a program that could help our seniors with the cost of their medications.
Tonight, I am excited to introduce to you the city's Prescription Drug Card Program designed to help seniors save money on prescriptions that are not covered by their insurance. Depending on your prescription and pharmacy the projected savings from this program should be over 20%. And Canton's Prescription Drug Card will be accepted at most major pharmacies. There is no cost to this program and all you need to qualify is to be a Canton resident. The best part about this program is that it is not only available to our senior citizens, but also to every resident of our city, no matter what your age!
Canton's Prescription Drug Card Program will be formally kicking off next month! This program will be managed by our Community Development office and has been made available to us by our partnership with the National League of Cities. More information will soon be available through our website at www.cantonohio.gov.
Having strong, vibrant, safe neighborhoods is the third of our "Four Pillars" of a successful city. Our city has lost tens of thousands of our residents over the past few decades because of rising crime, poor performing schools and deteriorating housing stock. In short, our "Four Pillars" were not strong enough to support or attract new families. As we were fighting to bring down crime and support our schools, the people of our great city were stepping up to take back our neighborhoods.
Several years ago, we saw the development of dozens of new neighborhood associations and over time, this organized effort continued to grow and become a significant force in turning around our community. We now have hundreds, if not thousands of citizens involved in neighborhood groups, neighborhood associations and homeowner associations all over the city. Together they are making a difference. I would like to thank every citizen for their role in being a part in Canton's revitalization. We have come a long way and this administration is committed to helping all of you reach your goals.
Over the past four years, we have contributed $50,000 a year towards neighborhood improvements. The most common concern we heard from our citizens still has to do with improving the safety of their neighborhoods. So this year our community development department in collaboration with our new Police Chief has created a new program that will provide safety grants directly to our neighborhoods. I am proud to announce that we will double our funding this year and be providing $100,000 for Safety Grants available to Canton's neighborhoods.
The application process will begin in May and you can contact our community development department for more information. Although we still have very limited resources overall, we believe making our neighborhoods stronger, more vibrant and safer is a priority. Together, we are making a difference.
Last year I introduced the concept of a Neighborhood Commission and today, I am putting it into action. I am formally requesting those interested in the commission to visit our website and send in your applications as the Neighborhood Commission will begin operations next month. The general purpose of this commission is to bring together key members from the administration with stakeholders from various sectors of our community. This will create a direct line of communication between our citizens and the city's department heads that are most involved with community services.
Their primary goal will be to facilitate the creation of a new Comprehensive Plan and provide an annual review with suggested updates to that plan. This commission may also be involved in the review and approval of neighborhood grants. With the help of this commission, for the first time in over 50 years, we will have a plan that will set the short and long term goals for every sector of our city.
As Mayor, one of my biggest concerns for the city of Canton is that we don't have a Comprehensive Plan. A Comprehensive Plan should determine long term goals and aspirations in terms of community development and should be our guide for public policy in terms of transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, education and neighborhood development. We have not had a formal Comprehensive Plan in Canton since 1960. That is why I am making it one of our top priorities this year to initiate the process that will create a citywide Comprehensive Plan for 2013 and beyond. This project will take quite a bit of time and resources as we will need to hire professionals and partner with many local organizations. We will also need the support of Council, local businesses and organizations, and input from our citizens. Together, we will prepare the blueprint for Canton's future.
In the meantime, to strengthen our neighborhoods and make Canton more attractive to new business opportunities we have committed a tremendous amount of time, energy and money to improving our infrastructure.
Over the past four years, we have invested nearly $80 million for infrastructure upgrades including a new fire station and renovations to City Hall and we have projected spending another $40 million on infrastructure in 2012. I'm proud to say that not only have we significantly improved our infrastructure, but we did it with a commitment to our local workers! This administration and city council was the first city in Ohio to pass a Project Labor Agreement and we also strengthened our "Local Preference" ordinance. When we are spending tax payer's money on city projects we are determined to do everything in our power to hire local workers!
This commitment to invest in our infrastructure is not only putting local citizens to work, but it also helps us retain existing companies and attract new businesses to our community that provides even more job opportunities, which is the last of our "Four Pillars" of a successful community. And we weren't the only ones reinvesting in our community. Over the past few years, many local companies have also reinvested in their own facilities here in the Canton area. Companies like Marathon Oil, Aultman Hospital, Republic Steel, The Timken Company, Stark State College, Malone University, The Akron Canton Airport, Diebold and even the Pro Football Hall of Fame, among others have committed and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in their local facilities that support thousands of jobs right here in Canton. Those investments have helped stabilize our economy during the worst of this recession.
In collaboration with the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Stark Development Board, local colleges and universities, and many other partners, this administration is constantly exploring ways to appeal to new businesses. And we have successfully attracted many new companies to our city. Companies like Medline, Astoria Nursing Home, Gervasi Winery, Old Dominion Trucking, VXI Global Solutions, Chesapeake Oil, the Cleveland Cavaliers and others have brought hundreds, if not thousands of new jobs to our community.
Because of local companies reinvesting in our community and all those new businesses locating here in Canton, we have seen a steady decline in the unemployment rate over the past two years. In fact, Canton is recovering faster than most other areas across Ohio and the Nation!
So what is the current State of our city? We have experienced positive movement in all "Four Pillars". We have seen a monumental drop in crime, until about half way through last year. We have seen tremendous improvement of our local schools test scores and graduation rates. We have seen significant investments in our infrastructure and positive growth across many of our neighborhoods, and we have seen the turn-around of our economic environment since the low point of the recession just two years ago.
Last year I told you that we had finally turned things around and were firmly on the path towards revitalization.
Today, although we are still very concerned about the city's finances because of the impending cuts by our State Government, I am confident that Canton has solidly rebounded from this recession and is stronger than ever. In fact, Canton is now on the verge of something special as we are experiencing the birth of a new economy. I believe that the exploration of Utica Shale by the oil and gas industry and how we embrace this industry will be a defining moment in our history.
Because Canton is the largest city centrally located in the development of the Utica shale oil and gas exploration, over the past several months, dozens of companies have been converging on this area searching for a place to locate their business. We have seen large companies like Chesapeake and Baker and Hughes as well as numerous small and midsize companies commit to our region. And that is why I am proud to declare tonight, that the Hall of Fame City from this point forward shall also be known as "Canton, the Utica Capital"! And I encourage all citizens and businesses to use this new logo to help encourage and attract any and all companies wanting to participate in the Utica Shale oil and gas industry to locate their business right here in Canton, Ohio.
Fueling Canton's Economic Future (Jul 24, 2012)