Change and balance … these conditions have emerged as themes in Xenia over the past months and they represent the State of our City moving forward. As a community, the past year has presented us with the reality of evolving circumstances all around us. We’ve experienced change in leadership; we’ve had to adjust to changes in funding from the State of Ohio; and we’ve been faced with changing economic and cultural conditions on a broad level that are impacting us locally. Yet even as we have encountered challenges during this transitional period, our community remains focused on what is important: our people and our values. Thus the State of our City is strong, because the resiliency of our people and the values they hold dear can see us through any challenge.
As we seek to evaluate the past year and lay out a pathway for success in the new one, we must take a realistic assessment of the overall situation presented to our community. A key consideration is the impact of external changes and conditions on our City. 2014 bore witness to the full impact of reductions in local government funding and elimination of certain revenue sources, notably the estate tax. The combined impact of these changes, ushered in by the state, has been just short of devastating. Total revenue losses from these sources on an annual basis could approach $1 million for the City of Xenia. This has been a difficult change to accept and the legacy of these reductions will be lasting for certain.
These losses are compounded by additional legislative changes that occurred late in 2014 that will bring significant new challenges to the collection of local income taxes. House Bill 5/Senate Bill 282 was passed late in the year and though the full scope of its impact will not be known until its complete implementation, we anticipate up to an additional $400,000 negative impact to Xenia’s bottom line. These new threats have combined with lingering effects from of the Affordable Care Act and the Great Recession to compound the local fiscal challenges we face. Adding insult to injury, local property tax revaluations which occurred in 2014 brought net reductions and consequently additional revenue losses to the City.
As a result of the revenue reductions and regulatory obligations we encounter, the City’s financial situation for 2015 is of concern. As administrative leadership anticipated over the past two years and has detailed to City Council, we are certain to face a short-term period of cash flow imbalance among our key operating funds. This situation is troubling, though not unexpected. While an acceptable risk over a short-term (1-2 year basis), intermediate solutions must be identified and supported in order to reposition the City’s overall fiscal outlook to a more stable situation. Essentially, there are two key areas we must focus on in order to correct this problem: immediate cash flow adjustments (revenue creation and expense reductions) and long-term growth and expansion in the tax base.
Administrative leadership has presented to City Council certain steps that can be taken over the next several years that could generate additional revenue and help bring balance to the cash flow situation. Among the steps identified include fulfilling a requested annexation of neighboring institutions, addition of a street lighting assessment, and further service consolidation of 911 dispatching as well as a more equitable cost sharing of municipal court victim advocacy services. Additional corrective action can be achieved by making alterations to staffing structures to reduce costs, which includes retrenchment of Fire Division staffing, through attrition, to the Pre-SAFER Act Grant staffing levels and through adjustments to IT and Law Department staffing plans. Additionally, we are pursuing steps to reduce costs by partnering with other local governments and area institutions for shared services and through joint cooperative purchasing arrangements. Administrative leadership believes these steps combined with conservative income tax increases should be sufficient to bring the City’s cash flow situation under control and over a five-year period could restore any reductions in our cash reserves to sufficient levels.
On a longer-term basis, we recognize that a concerted effort to fundamentally restructure our approach to economic development and attraction is critical to sustain excellent municipal services and to advance the quality of life for our citizens. Simply put, we must take a different approach and invest more directly in our efforts to attract and grow business interests, and with them the job opportunities and tax base expansion necessary to increase the prosperity of our City. To work toward this, staff has presented to City Council our ED 360 plan, a series of targeted initiatives developed from the goals and objectives of the X-Plan that calls for, among other things, increasing investments in local marketing and brand development efforts, expanding business retention and development and workforce planning programs, and establishing new efforts to improve quality of life factors to make Xenia more competitive. Achieving various goals within this plan will be essential if our community is to experience the tax base expansion that it desperately needs.
While our present challenges are real and must be faced with resolve, the past year has seen many successes and the New Year holds great promise. Taking time to tell the story of 2014 acknowledges the good work the people of our community are doing. Projecting our bold plans for 2015 tells the world that Xenia is committed to ensuring its success.
We should all be very proud to live in a community that steps up to take care of itself. In 2014, we saw leaders and volunteers from many different backgrounds step forward to answer the call for a variety of needs in our community. We saw important investments made and critical planning established for the future. Here is a rundown of just some of the accomplishments, projects, events, and efforts that made 2014 a great year for Xenia.
Play Xenia - City Staff launched the Play Xenia effort to reach out to community members seeking feedback and ideas on what Xenia needs recreationally and what types of recreation and entertainment-related investments would most benefit our community moving forward. Months of work including surveys, neighborhood meetings, and community roundtables among other efforts resulted in a series of recommendations that, once implemented will provide new recreation opportunities and amenities locally. Two key recommendations the City is pursuing are 1) development of rehabilitation/build-out plans for Sol Arnovitz Park and Sterling Green Park, as well as planning for a "splash pad" amenity at a yet-to-be-determined City Park; these projects will be pursued in FY 2015 and 2) exploration of a new recreation center, likely in partnership with the YMCA of Greater Dayton; work toward this effort is on-going. Learn more about Play Xenia.
Vacant Building Ordinance - Under the leadership of City Council, legislation was passed that raises the standards required of owners of vacant retail and industrial property and seeks to hold the property owners more accountable. It is the goal of these measures, combined with new programs offered by the City to assist property owners with rehabilitation and marketing of vacant structures, to see more productive, more profitable, and safer reuses of empty retail and industrial space across the City. Learn more about Vacant Building Registration.
Code Enforcement Program - In conjunction with the vacant building ordinance efforts, City staff launched a targeted code enforcement and property maintenance initiative designed to ensure a higher-degree of compliance with property maintenance requirements. This enforcement sweep was systematically implemented in every neighborhood across Xenia and focused on accountability and creative ways to help property owners bring their properties into compliance without necessarily having to resort to heavy-handed enforcement methods. Learn more about Code Enforcement.
Collaboration with Xenia Community Schools - In the spirit of true community-mindedness, the Xenia City Council and Xenia Community Schools Board of Education committed to a renewed partnership in the interest of advancing common goals. The two leadership bodies conducted multiple joint sessions, identified various programs and projects to work on together, and pledged close cooperation moving forward. Administrative leadership for the two entities is pursuing a host of partnership ideas including shared services, joint purchasing, and closer coordination in planning for critical events and weather emergencies.
Central State University Partnerships - In 2014 City staff galvanized a close working relationship with operational leaders of CSU, as the two communities look to become more closely related in the future. Regular leadership meetings have resulted in collaborative efforts on a host of services, dialogue on additional programs that will result in reductions of operating costs, and planning for new efforts to boost local workforce training and development availability.
ED 360 - As mentioned previously, administrative leadership recommended a new and more aggressive approach to our economic development service efforts as City Council offered up more funding to achieve higher goals. In 2014, groundwork was laid out for assertive, new efforts that will be pursued in the coming year focusing on brand management and marketing, workforce development, business retention and expansion, new business attraction, and improving quality of life to make Xenia more competitive and attract to the business community. View the presentation (PDF) made to City Council on December 16, 2014.
City Facility Plans - Facility development plans were finalized to pursue bids for two projects that would 1) rehabilitate the existing City Hall for expansion of the Police Division, 2) relocate administrative service operations from the existing City Hall and Public Service Center into a new combined downtown facility designed to improve customer service, visibility, and accessibility. While still in an exploratory phase, costs estimates for the projects are within the perimeters of those originally projected.
Completion of H and A and OVCH Clean Ohio Projects - Grant-funded projects targeting these brownfield locations here in Xenia were completed in 2014, bringing an amazing change to the community landscape—and safer sites for future use. Efforts in 2015 will focus on redevelopment options at these locations.
Financial Reporting Award - Thanks to the unceasing efforts of City staff who are committed to good stewardship, the City was once again recognized by the GFOA for excellence in financial reporting.
Downtown Historic District - Downtown Xenia Now and a host of local volunteers coordinated efforts to achieve an historic district (PDF) designation for a major portion of downtown Xenia. The designation will open up new funding opportunities for property owners looking to rehabilitate their historic facilities within the district.
New Housing Starts - The City’s Planning Department was pleased to observe a significant increase in permitting requests for new housing starts in the City of Xenia in 2014. As a result of the Great Recession’s impact locally, new housing construction had slowed dramatically in recent years. The increase in housing starts in 2014 was a five-year high and is a good sign that local economic conditions are improving.
Cost Containment for Employee Health Insurance Program - As a primary services provides, the City of Xenia is involved in labor-intensive operations. One of the greatest labor costs we face is the provision of healthcare insurance for our employees. This is especially true with the on-going implementation of the Affordable Care Act. After several years of significant renewal increases, the City’s employee insurance committee was hard at work in 2014 seeking out ways to contain insurance costs without having to reduce program coverage. Their efforts culminated this year in several new program options which are being pursued with the expected outcome of limiting premium costs for FY 2015 to zero increase.
U.S. 42/68 Project - In lieu of a more robust local street rehabilitation program in 2014, City street repair resources were combined with state grant funding to construct new curbing and resurface US Route 42 through the length of the City and to resurface a portion of US Route 68 along Home Avenue. The project provided a meaningful visual and practical improvement for Xenia residents, particularly through the downtown corridor.
N Detroit St/Kinsey Road Project - At the request of the Xenia Community Schools, City staff developed a concept plan and received a grant award to construct major improvements to the North Detroit Street/Kinsey Road intersection. Despite some unexpected complications resulting in minor delays, the state-let project was completed in the fall of 2014 and included a new left turn lane from Kinsey onto South Detroit, resurfacing of the entire intersection, new curbing, and installation of new mast arms with stoplights. The project should improve traffic flow and safety for motorists and pedestrians, especially during critical periods just before and just after nearby Xenia High School is in session.
Downtown Streetscape Expansion - The City’s streetscape program was expanded to portions of Main Street from King Street to West Church Street. Improvements included new ornamental street lighting, curb restoration, new tree lawn greenspace, and planters and park benches along this 3-block portion of downtown Xenia.
New Investments at GMH - Greene Memorial Hospital reaffirmed its service commitment to the Xenia community through a host of investments, highlighted by installation of a new imaging center here at their Xenia campus.
BRACA Community Events - In the absence of a formal recreation program in the City, volunteers from the Board for Recreation, Arts, and Cultural Activities have stepped in to host a series of great events every year, and 2014 was a banner year. Movies and Music in the Park, the annual Easter Egg Hunt, Youth Fishing Derby and other events were all rounding successes. The entire community is grateful to the individual volunteers, churches and other service groups who helped make these events possible. Check our website calendar or government channel for upcoming events.
2014 Xenia Community Festival - Community volunteers and coordinators from the Xenia Area Chamber of Commerce once again brought fun for the whole community during the Community Festival, as this year the festival returned to Shawnee Park. Highlighted by the Saturday morning parade, two days of entertainment, games, and activities ended on a "light" note with the always spectacular balloon glow. Visit their Facebook page.
IT Strategic Plan completion - After an extensive evaluation process, the City’s Information Technology Department submitted to City Council an IT Strategic Plan aimed at ensuring high quality services within a critical infrastructure system that is essential for City operations. Among the key recommendations approved by City Council were investments to improve our network redundancy and reliability, the addition of a full-time staff member, and reorganization of the IT Department to better meet internal support service needs. Learn more about our Information Technology Department.
X-Out Hunger - As a tangible example of the love of neighbor that exists in Xenia, the X Out Hunger program was expanded and provided much-needed food resources to Xenia’s youth. With the help of community volunteers and scores of individuals who donated, many of Xenia’s youngest in need experienced the love of their community through healthy food options. Learn more about X-Out Hunger.
2014 was a busy year full of changes, new opportunities, and happenings; the list included herein bears witness to this, but it is only a partial list of the many challenges our community experienced in the past year.
As Xenia is all too accustomed to, 2014 also bore witness to tragedy with the untimely passing of a Xenia Community Schools student. In the sadness and shock of this terrible event, we were all reminded why it’s great to be a Xenian. In the midst of unexplainable loss, our schools were made safe by Xenia Police and Fire personnel. Our students were watched over and nurtured by teachers who care for them dearly. Our teachers were supported and encouraged by school administrators whose love was visible in the broken hearts they reluctantly shared. Our City stood together in a moment of silence to proclaim that every life matters and that we are a community of hope. While we will never revel in tragedy, it is beyond reassuring to know that in spite of such challenges, we live in a community that knows faith, knows love, supports all, and protects the most vulnerable. It is with this spirit that we look to a New Year knowing that whatever we face, we will face as a community, and that good and positive things can result.
We will seek out positive new things in 2015 through a variety of important projects and programs. Among the exciting initiatives we are planning for in 2015 include: Parks Build-Out Project - As mentioned, up to three City parks will see major investments, notably including a proposed "splash pad" project that will be a fun new attraction for all of Xenia.
- Zoning Code Rewrite (known as Shape Xenia) - Evaluation and updating of the City’s zoning code will be initiated in 2015; an enormous project that is overdue, this effort is focused on improving the ease of doing business while ensuring a high quality of life for our residents.
- Downtown Redevelopment - Concerted efforts are underway to facilitate a substantial redevelopment of the Xenia Towne Square Shopping Center.
- Independence Celebration - In conjunction with the regular summer First Fridays event, the City of Xenia in partnership with Xenia Rotary and various private sponsors will host a series of events on July 3rd highlighted by fireworks at Shawnee Park. The return of this traditional celebration will be free to the public and full of entertaining activities. Learn more about the July 3, 2015 event.
This snapshot of the assertive initiatives in the works for 2015 shows our commitment to improving the quality of life in Xenia. In the midst of the on-going change we face, City staff will be focused on moving forward—balancing costs and careful spending, meeting basic needs and creating new opportunities. We will concentrate on maintaining quality services and will be attentive to developing a competitive environment where new job prospects are abundant.
Our leadership is optimistic about Xenia’s future starting with 2015. With the collaborative support of other local institutions and the community in general, we know that continued success and expanding prosperity are within our reach.
Brent W Merriman