NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Construction of a new middle school and the long-awaited widening of Center Ridge and Lear-Nagle roads are projected to transform the face of the city.
But those major developments weren’t the elephant in the room when it came to headlines in 2013.
The shooting of five feral kittens that collectively came to be known as the “Woodpile 5” blew the doors off in terms of attention the city received during the past year.
“This is the most controversial issue I have ever had to deal with since I’ve been in politics,” Mayor David Gillock said Thursday at the North Ridgeville Education Center.
The June 10 shooting of kittens by Humane Officer Barry Accorti ignited a storm of protest that saw tens of thousands sign petitions from humane groups demanding an end to such practices and further calling for Accorti’s firing.
Dozens of angry residents also pressed for action during City Council meetings.
“The most astonishing part of this controversy was the power of social media,” Gillock said.
Facebook postings about the shooting soon brought emails and phone calls from Great Britain, France, Italy and other countries, as well as reports on CNN, in USA Today, and an interview request for Gillock from a Fox News station in Florida.
After the incident, the city changed its policies regarding feral animals and created a citizens committee now working with the Friendship Animal Protective League and police to devise alternative means of handling future calls.
“To a politician, bad news is better than no news?” Gillock said. “I respectfully disagree.”
Discussed and rumored for more than 20 years, the nearly $43.2 million widening of a 2.3-mile stretch of Center Ridge Road between Stoney Ridge and Lear-Nagle roads was also highlighted during the mayor’s remarks.
Voters will decide a 20-year bond issue in May that will generate the $8 million needed to pay for the city’s portion of widening Center Ridge from three to five lanes, as well as the widening of Lear-Nagle Road to three lanes from Center Ridge to Lorain Road.
The $12.2 million widening of Lear-Nagle is expected to be bid out in June 2015, while bids for the Center Ridge work are set to go out in 2016.
Coupled with last fall’s passage of a $58.1 million bond issue for a new middle school, the pair of road-widening projects will put the city “on the verge of the largest leap forward this community has ever seen,” Gillock told the estimated audience of 165 to 170 – believed to be the largest turnout in the 35-plus year history of the event.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people I had to turn away who tried to get in at the last minute,” said Dayle Noll, executive director of the North Ridgeville Chamber of Commerce.
By comparison, about 130 attended the 2013 State of the City address.
Gillock touted prospects for a new retail “town center” at Center Ridge and state Route 83 that could result from the road widening and anticipated sale of the current middle school property and smaller commercial businesses.
Gillock also noted:
- A trend of declining city revenues as seen in a $650,000 drop in local income taxes during 2013 because of delayed reimbursements from RITA. Full tax collections in 2014 should restore revenue, Gillock said.
- A new water service contract negotiated with Elyria, which provides two-thirds of the city’s water, will keep local water rates low for 10 years.
- 224 new home permits were issued in 2013.
- The city’s Meals on Wheels program delivered more than 10,000 meals.
- Police answered 35,753 calls.
- Firefighters went on 2,916 fire and EMS runs.