LORAIN — The city’s challenges are steep, but not insurmountable, Mayor Chase Ritenauer said Thursday in his first State of the City address.
“With our location, our workforce and our access to water, we are primed for a turnaround,” Ritenauer told an audience of about 200 people at DeLuca’s Place in the Park in a speech sponsored by the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce. “We are a city of resilience, grit and tenacity, and we can, together, join to make Lorain’s comeback a reality.”
While a $345,564 surplus is projected this year, the city faces a projected $3 million deficit next year. In his 30-minute speech, Ritenauer wouldn’t rule out seeking a tax hike or laying off city workers as a last resort to balance the budget. Ritenauer said a decision on a tax increase will be made after a performance audit is completed in June.
Ritenauer said the red ink is largely due to shrinking state revenue. The Democratic Ritenauer blamed Republican Gov. John Kasich, whose administration he accused of balancing the state budget on the backs of local governments.
Ritenauer also accused ex-Mayor Tony Krasienko of leaving a mess. After the speech, Ritenauer said the mayoral transition consisted of Krasienko leaving him keys. He said the two haven’t spoken since before the November election.
Ritenauer said in his speech that his administration is breaking a culture of “secrecy and combativeness” in City Hall. Ritenauer said projects under Krasienko had “languished” and finances had been “completely misrepresented.”
Krasienko didn’t return calls for comment Monday night.
Among the unresolved issues are completing a multimillion dollar tax and water rate break with Republic Steel, which is creating 450 jobs.
Ritenauer said the agreement, which was supposed to be voted on by City Council members in December, will be discussed by Council members in a Monday committee meeting.
Another unresolved issue is an up-to-$7 million borrowing plan to purchase prime waterfront land from the FirstEnergy Corp., which is decommissioning its Edgewater Substation at 200 Oberlin Ave.
Ritenauer said he plans to go ahead with the plan, originally developed by Krasienko. The city sold land for the new substation off Clifton Avenue through the Lorain Port Authority to FirstEnergy for $10.
Ritenauer laid out short-term and long-term initiatives in his speech. They include:
• Reducing the percentage of people who use federal taxpayer-subsidized housing vouchers in Lorain. Ritenauer said he wasn’t trying to bash poor people but said people using vouchers were less likely to have a stake in the community than homeowners or traditional renters. Ritenauer said Lorain has nearly 60 percent of the Lorain County’s vouchers.
• Increasing the 12.4 percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees through a collaboration with Lorain County Community College so residents can get higher paying jobs. Ohio’s rate of residents with bachelor’s degrees is 15 percent.
• Changing the annual Mayor’s Ball from a political fundraiser to a fundraiser for deficit-ridden Lorain Schools.
• Holding an annual Mayor’s 5K run to raise college scholarship money.
• Creating a “Volunteer Lorain” force to address various city needs.
“We must change, and we will change,” he said. “Please join with me on our journey.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.