OBERLIN — The city of Oberlin won’t be resting on its laurels in the coming year.
Rather, City Council has sketched out an aggressive, wide-ranging plan to improve the city that includes addressing safety, economic development and tourism, creating sustainable practices and partnerships, upgrading infrastructure, creating a model for social justice and race relations and expanding recreational programs.
During the first State of the City address Thursday — the city is governed by a city manager rather than a mayor with City Council oversight — Council President Scott Broadwell said City Council’s agenda for the year also includes solidifying the budget by passing the tax issue Issue 22 on the May ballot; addressing the relationship between the town and the college; proceeding with the development of the former Green Acres site; increasing the percentage of minorities in city jobs; supporting economic development; proceeding with the Underground Railroad Center; and addressing parking and transportation needs.
The event, sponsored by the Oberlin Business Partnership, is the first in a series of quarterly luncheons focusing on city business, said Janet Kaar, director of the Oberlin Business Partnership.
The address was given by City Manager Eric Norenberg and Broadwell, as well as other city leaders.
The city is negotiating an agreement with a development partner for the Green Acres property, according to Broadwell. He said the proposed development will include mixed-income housing, single-family homes and a neighborhood park.
“This is a project that we’re really excited about. We’ve been looking at this project for many years,” he said.
The first phase of the Underground Railroad Center, which consisted of repairs to the building, has been finished. The city is now entering the second phase, which has been funded with $200,000 from the state, according to Broadwell.
The Oberlin Project
The Oberlin Project announced a milestone in its partnership with the city to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
The city of Oberlin became the 18th city in the world to join the Climate Positive Development Program, also known as the Clinton Climate Initiative, in 2010. The goal of the program is to reduce the impact of urban areas on climate change.
Since joining the effort, the city has reached the second step in the program, by developing a “climate action plan,” which was approved by City Council last year.
“It’s actually a pretty big deal,” said David Gard, executive director of The Oberlin Project.
Gard said the project’s focus is to ramp up efforts to provide food from local farmers and invest in efficient homes.
The city, Oberlin College and The Oberlin Project received awards Thursday for their efforts toward carbon neutrality.
City manager’s report
The city has spent $170,108.45 on downtown revitalization projects, as part of the Downtown Rehabilitation Grant project, according to City Manager Eric Norenberg. A total of $222,502.44 in private money also has been spent.
A total of 14 of 58 buildings have been rehabilitated for a total cost of $392,609.88.
Norenberg added that $121,318 has been spent on streetscape and sidewalk improvements, $37,580 of which has come from local income tax funds. Street improvements — the paving of West College Street — cost $75,262.
Norenberg said the improvements will benefit businesses as well as their customers.
“I do want to say thank you very much for everyone’s patience, whether you’re a shopper or a shopkeeper, restaurateur, or anyone who walks downtown in the fall. We were challenged by weather and timing, in a lot of respects, but we do have that part of it nearly done,” he said.
Norenberg added that the contactor who was working on replacing streetscape pavers has gone bankrupt, so the city is working to hire someone else for the project.
The city also is working on a study of properties, as part of a housing inventory by the Nord Family Foundation. The study should help the city strengthen its housing stock, according to Norenberg.
Norenberg said downtown business has flourished. The downtown has more than a 98 percent occupancy rate, with no first-floor vacancies.
After a fire at the city’s Public Works Complex, the city is working to purchase six new garbage and recycling trucks, which were damaged in the blaze. Norenberg said the city is hoping to move toward an automated collection system.
Temporary recyclable collection bins are behind the Oberlin Public Library and at Republic Services’ Recycling Center, 43650 Oberlin-Elyria Road.
Garbage collection has been uninterrupted during this time.
Oberlin is asking voters to approve an income tax increase, which, if passed, would generate $1.8 million of additional tax revenue for the city’s general fund.
Issue 22 calls for raising the tax rate from 1.9 to 2.5 percent. The money would be used for providing essential services to the city, including police, fire and street services.
Norenberg said Issue 22 is needed because of a $1.2 million budget shortfall, due to a reduction of State of Ohio Local Government Funds, which have attributed to a $310,541 loss since 2011, as well as the elimination of the Estate Tax.
As a result, city works have had a three-year pay freeze and are paying more for health care, Norenberg said.