Editor’s note: This is the full text of Bellefontaine Mayor Ben Stahler’s state of the city address:
The state of the city is strong. Our team of associates continue to focus on providing reliable services to our community. The City of Bellefontaine continues to balance its revenues with expenses in an effort to keep our financial position stable. Our 2019 year-end revenues were $9,982,954 and expenditures were $10,020,802. On a larger scale, our comprehensive revenues were $27,029,691 and our comprehensive expenditures were $25,768,215. The city’s revenue trend continues in a positive direction.
2019 had its share of landmark celebrations. The Holland Theatre had its grand re-opening after a major renovation. Mary Rutan Hospital celebrated serving our community since 1919. Honda celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the first motorcycle being produced at the newly constructed assembly line in Marysville while Honda of East Liberty celebrated its 30th year of operation, as well. Following some local fund raising efforts, the Simon Kenton Bike Trail was able to complete an 11 mile chip-seal pavement to Champaign County. Bellefontaine’s downtown was approved by the Ohio Historical Society and the National Parks Service as a Historic District, which allows for potential tax credits for historic renovations in that area. Additionally, the State of Ohio approved the downtown area as a Revitalization District, which allows 15 additional liquor permits for new or existing restaurants. City Councilwoman Diane Hager retired after many years of serving on City Council and Councilman Jordan Reser was elected to fill that vacated seat.
Our Engineering Department saw the completion of a number of significant projects. The heavy rains throughout May and June (20 inches of rain in a 30 day period) gave us the opportunity to observe our overall storm sewer system. Once the rains subsided, a number of repairs and improvements were instituted. Other projects, too numerous to specifically mention, include water and sanitary sewer line extensions, creek and storm sewer improvements, resurfacing city streets, surface work (FAA sponsored) at our Regional Airport, and several renovation projects within the Municipal Building. These improvements to our community, last year, came at a cost of over $2 million. In 2019, there were 24 commercial or industrial permits issued totaling $4.674 million of improvements. We also saw a significant rise in residential permits. There were 7 single family homes and 18 condominiums built in 2019. The Engineering office has a set of plans to develop an Industrial Park (west on SR 47) with $400,000 pledged in state funding.
The Police Department handled over 21,500 calls for service in 2019. Additionally, there were 3,200 separate 9-1-1 calls. There were 3,000 typed reports filed by our officers. Some of those reports included 39 breaking and enterings, 251 reports of thefts, 211 reports of drug activity and 114 OVI arrests. The department continues to provide security at Mary Rutan Hospital 24/7 and there are three officers assigned to the hallways and classrooms at various buildings within Bellefontaine City Schools. Canine “Boodik”, handled by Officer Jerrod Hostetler, joined our team in 2019 while Canine “Arco” retired having served more than seven years with the department. The PD remains focused in the area of community outreach with 38 neighborhood events in 2019. In 2020, we will offer our eighth class of the Citizens Police Academy and seventh Youth Academy. We continue our “war on drugs” as we combine resources with the Logan County Sheriff’s Department to investigate drug activity though the efforts of the Joint Drug Task Force.
Our Fire Department responded to 3,132 total emergency runs; 675 fire incidents (22%), 2,457 EMS runs (78%). 145 of those runs involved BOTH fire and ambulance. Of those fire responses, there were 21 structure fires (12 were in our community and 9 were mutual aid). Additionally, 76 of those fire runs involved grass, trash, car, and other sorts of fires. The department also conducted 124 building inspections in the community. The department received grants totaling nearly $200,000 to replace 25 self-contained breathing apparatus tanks, a new air compressor and fire equipment grade washing machine. The department continues prevention and fire safety education through public outreach efforts. In 2019, they offered 63 public events reaching over several thousand adults and students.
The city’s Streets Department also felt the effects of the excessive rainfall during the months of May and June. With the warmer than usual winter of 2019, our salt usage was reduced. In the spring, the team replaced or repaired 25 catch basins. Once the rains subsided in June, there was a great deal of clearing and repairs made to the city’s storm water infrastructure. They assisted the Logan County EMA with the flood clean up by picking up and hauling the debris from over 120 homes in our community. As summer turned to fall, they continued to repair roads and assist with our street grinding, repaving, and striping program. As autumn arrived, they switch gears and equipment to take on the task of leaf pick up throughout Bellefontaine. They are among our many unsung heroes that are keeping our roads safe and clear during our winter months.
The Bellefontaine Municipal Court saw a total of 9,699 cases in 2019. The nature of those cases, were traffic (6175), criminal (1521), civil (1252), small claims (439) and parking tickets (284). Their office sees a lot of foot traffic with 1,525 walk in clients and over 3,000 phone calls. Last year, the court remodeled some of their space creating a classroom/ conference room upstairs. Their probation department grew by another full time probation officer. In 2019, they supervised approximately 150 individuals.
The Parks Department maintains hundreds of acres of park land, other city owned properties and the Bellefontaine Cemetery. A new Dog Park was developed at Jack Martin Park from numerous donations. Mary Rutan Park celebrated the replacement of our Kaleidoscope playground with an all-inclusive playground project which our community knows as “play at the peak”. Our community matched some grant dollars to raise over $300,000 for this project. The Bellefontaine Joint Recreation District supports 10 youth sports with over 1350 youth participants. They help to coordinate an adult winter indoor walking program with four different school districts. In 2019, they also saw growth in attendance at the Hoffman Pool, Art in the Parks and the Summer Outdoor Movie Series. The Ring of Lights hosted over 400 participants this year, as well.
The Water Department had a busy year as they maintained water lines and improved our water meter reading system. They responded to and repaired 19 water main leaks (compared to 24 the previous year) and took on several significant water main replacement projects in a continuing effort to update our water line infrastructure. They flushed all of our hydrants and the entire team is certified in the necessary lab monitoring procedures. In 2019, we added two more towers to increase accuracy in reading our water meter system through telemetry. Both the Water Department and the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) reported another year with zero violations to the Ohio EPA codes. The WWTP handled over 1.1 BILLION gallons of raw wastewater which produced 263 dry tons of bio-solid material. This material was then provided to area farmers to spread on their fields to increase the nutrient content of the soil. They also cleaned and televised over 22,000 feet of sanitary sewer as preventative maintenance and raised or repaired 19 manhole covers.
The Bellefontaine Tax Department reported that our income tax revenues for 2019 were estimated at $6,350,000 and the city collected $6,739,067. This was the fourth year for RITA to manage the tax filing and collections for the city. The cost of collections last year was 1.53% of dollars collected. Presently, RITA manages the tax returns for 320 Ohio communities. In 2019 there were 3,119 delinquent letters and 2,014 subpoenas mailed out to tax payers. RITA filed 37 small claims cases representing $48,114 owed to the city, of which $15,218 has been collected to date.
Our community continues to take advantage of lower aggregate gas and electric rates available to our citizens. In 2019, we signed agreements which extended and lowered those rates to our customers. The Utility Department continues to upgrade our automated meter reading system. This helps us to bill more accurately, as well as notify customers that they may have a higher consumption of water in their home or business. Our utility bill often contains flyers and important community notices which reach over 5,500 homes and businesses. The department completed nearly 5,000 service orders over the course of the year; nearly half of those were to notify residents of possible leaks. The remaining service calls generally deal with requests for new service, cancellations, transfer of service or equipment maintenance.
Our Code Enforcement Officer handles a variety of important tasks for the city. In addition to being the administrator over many of the city’s grants and construction projects, he also issues citations to violators of our city’s codes. In 2019, he reported 674 various violations and resolved 89% of them. The vast majority of those are for tall grass and/or exterior premises violations. Eight condemned homes were demolished at a cost of $89,000 ($80,010 came from Logan County CDBG funding). The eight unit Sandusky Commons Building, condemned for many years, was torn down. Wes Dodds also helps with some of our community’s clean up by coordinating various volunteer groups and, on occasion, we utilize the efforts of inmate labor. Wes currently serves as the Vice President of the Ohio Code Enforcement Officials Association (OCEOA).
Our fleet of various cars, trucks and other such equipment keep our Vehicle Maintenance Department busy throughout the course of the year. In 2019, they saw over 300 repairs and serviced 140 vehicles. As well, they outfitted 4 new vehicles and prepared them for various city tasks.
We have a very busy Regional Airport. 27 of their 28 hangers are presently rented. There are 36 aircraft on our field including 9 multi-engine or jet aircraft. With a staff of 16 associates (including 8 instructors), Midwest Corporate Air had issued 270 licenses/certificates issued by Steve Buchenroth, who holds the FAA designation for this process. These pilots come to Bellefontaine from 25 states and several other countries, as well.
Downtown Bellefontaine continues to grow, thrive, and attract shoppers from other communities. We saw a growth of twenty new businesses in 2018. Last year, we welcomed an additional 14 new businesses. Small Nation was directly responsible for the development of seven of those businesses in our downtown area. Last year, Bellefontaine was proud to claim, among Ohio’s award winning businesses; Peachtree Boutique (Ohio Magazine’s Best Independent Boutique), Mad River Mountain (Best Winter Destination), and Brewfontaine (Craftbeer.com – #1 Beer Bar in Ohio). PowerBuilt Material Handling Solutions, LLC purchased the former Staples/Goodies Building and invested an estimated $2 million in that property and created an additional 18 jobs. In April of 2019, Honda of America Manufacturing opened a new 40,000 square foot facility as a training center of all new full time and temporary associates working in their Marysville, East Liberty and Anna production facilities. Economic Development Director, Ben Volrath completed his first full year during 2019. The Chamber of Commerce continues to develop new and innovative approaches to attract and maintain our area’s workforce. They are currently updating the Strategic Plan for Economic Development for Bellefontaine and Logan County. There are a number of exciting prospects that we are anticipating in the coming year. Some of those news-worthy events include the $34 M expansion and renovation of the Career Center at Ohio Hi-Point, the development of Campbell Landing (a 52 unit multi-family facility), a residential housing development that will allow for 158 single family homes, just to name a few. Several Small Nation downtown projects for 2020 include The Syndicate, the Flying Pepper Cantina and the development of Luxury Airbnb apartments.
Bellefontaine is celebrating its 200th Birthday in 2020. As Mayor, I believe we are positioned to have another exciting and prosperous year! We continue to position ourselves to promote our strengths and continue to compete with other similar sized communities. We will continue to strive to become a destination for visitors who choose to come and experience our community that we call home! We are excited to be a part of a city that faces its challenges head-on and embraces the changes and opportunities that may come with another day. I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the City of Bellefontaine as Mayor. Good things are happening in Bellefontaine and we feel it’s a great community to live, work, and play!