Mayor Stahler presents 2022 Recap to Council

Approximately 50 people were on-hand to hear the annual State of the City presentation by Mayor Ben Stahler at the first Bellefontaine city council meeting of 2023. Mayor Stahler also introduced new city engineer, Jim Bischoff, to council. Bischoff, who was most recently the Director of Public Works in Marion, OH, said he completed his second day on the job and he is looking forward to his new role as City Engineer.

In another action, city Safety/Service Director Wes Dodds informed the council that several city employees were able to sign up for CAD/GIS training through the Ohio TechCred program. This training, available to anyone, has been a blessing to city departments saving the city money as the training is reimbursed through the state program.

City Law Director Josh Stolly advised that there will need to be changes made to the city CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) ordinances that will enable the city to annex property moving forward. He expects to present changes to the current CRA ordinance language to the council in the near future.

Mayor Stahler highlighted the numerous awards given to Bellefontaine last year from various agencies. From his press release: “Bellefontaine received a number of accolades during the year. MORPC (Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission) gave out three awards in their 11-county region last year. The City of Bellefontaine and Small Nation was awarded the William Habig Collaborative Achievement Award. Smart Asset (a data collection group) compared criteria of 494 suburbs across the nation and scored Bellefontaine #14 from the top nationally.”

He also touted the availability of increased parking in the downtown area. There were increases in the number of 3-hour parking and monthly rental spots as well. In all, Stahler noted that there are 766 parking spaces in the downtown area.

Ward redistricting was also completed. According to Stahler, census data showed a disparity in the number of voters in the four wards of the city. With the aid of a computer program, the wards were redrawn and now carry a 4% variation in the number of residents per ward.

The police department saw an overall increase in calls for service, OMVI arrests, and felony arrests compared to 2021. The fire department also saw an increase in calls for service, both for fire and EMS. The awarding of a FEMA-backed SAFER grant has enabled the city to hire three additional firefighters bringing the total number of firefighters per shift to 7. Stahler said that two of the three new positions have been filled.

Also from the press release: “Our public parks continue to be a source of pride in Bellefontaine as they continue to maintain and improve our 16 parks on an ongoing basis…. With the hiring of our new Recreation Coordinator, Tim Hales, we were, again, able to offer 2022 also saw 1,470 area youth the opportunity to compete in ten different youth sports activities…. The tennis courts at Rutan Park were removed and a new set of courts were constructed. The three new tennis courts and two pickleball courts were constructed with matching grant funds from the State Capital Budget”

During the time for public input, two residents addressed the council.  Danielle Stefaniszyn and Devin Palmer, expressed their concern over a float in the Christmas parade that they thought was inappropriate for young children.

Palmer cited several cities that have adopted standards by which community parades are managed that could restrict costumes, outfits, behaviors, music, language, and dance moves, among other things, to be appropriate for younger audiences.

Council will next meet on January 24, 2023, at 7:30 PM.

Here’s Mayor Stahler’s written State of the City address (submitted by Mayor Stahler):

The state of the city remains strong.  Businesses, both large and small, consistently report positive news, as well.  The City of Bellefontaine, as an employer, is no exception. Our team approaches each day understanding the importance of safely providing essential services to our community.

We continue to operate under sound conservative financial principles; holding our expenses below our revenues. During 2022, the City of Bellefontaine’s financial position remained stable.

2022                    Revenues                   Expenses

General Fund      $10,734,171              $10,739,572

ALL Funds           $29,491,490              $25,505,385

Bellefontaine received a number of accolades during the year. MORPC (Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission) gave out three awards in their 11-county region last year. The City of Bellefontaine and Small Nation was awarded the William Habig Collaborative Achievement Award.  Smart Asset (a data collection group) compared criteria of 494 suburbs across the nation and scored Bellefontaine #14 from the top nationally. Criteria included available jobs, affordability, and safety, just to name a few. Lastly, Ohio Magazine selected Bellefontaine as one of Ohio’s BEST HOMETOWNS (2022-2023). Banners were sponsored and placed throughout the downtown area and signs were proudly displayed at the entrances to the city. A celebration was held in the downtown area, on the first Friday of November, to commemorate the award.

Parking in our downtown area was improved again in 2022 bringing the total public spaces to 766.  Additional spaces were added to 3-hour parking and monthly rentals. There were previously 84 spaces designated as 50 cents all day that were removed completely and added to the 40 spaces marked “free all day”, bringing those total spaces to 112.

The city team wished a fond “farewell” to several of its longtime associates as they retired in 2022:  City Engineer, Tim Notestine (34 ½ years), Fire Department Billing Clerk Lisa Kennedy (27 years), Police Sergeant Allen Shields, and Police Officer Gregory Van Buskirk.

The 2020 Federal Census results were revealed in 2021.  It was determined that the voting districts needed to be re-drawn so that each of the four wards would be evenly divided among the registered voters in Bellefontaine. The redistricting of the city wards was completed in June 2022.

Our Engineering Department had another busy year seeing the completion of a number of significant projects. Those projects ranged from stormwater work, sanitary sewer line projects, street enhancements, and improvements to our creek system. Currently, Wright Place Condos are being constructed and 56 new 1-BR apartments are being built at the end of Kristina Drive.

Our Street Department had a productive year with a variety of noteworthy projects.  Some or all of the 29 streets were paved this year, making it back-to-back years applying over $1M to our paving efforts.  This includes ODOT’s involvement with repaving portions of East Sandusky Avenue and South Main Street.

Our Police Department, with 31 sworn officers, remains on the front lines of our first responders. The Police Department handled over 21,500 calls for service.  Officers wrote over 2,500 reports which included 150 felony arrests. While 2021 reported 38 arrests for OVI, 2022 reported 90.  There were 310 auto crashes during the year.  The Citizen’s Police Academy graduated its 10th class in the spring.  They hosted their annual Community Safety Event and National Night Out and nearly 25 other community outreach events. The department continued to provide around-the-clock patrol at Mary Rutan Hospital and our schools remain a safer place to learn with two school resource officers (SRO’s) and one D.A.R.E. officer on duty throughout the school year.

Our Fire Department responded to 3,119 calls for service; 750 fire incidents (24%), and 2,369 EMS runs (76%).  Of those calls, Mutual Aid was provided to 31 EMS runs and 14 fire runs county-wide. In return, there were 17 mutual aid responses from other communities for Fire/EMS in 2022.  The department also conducted 176 building inspections in the community.  There are 15 full-time firefighters, 3 assistant chiefs, one captain, and our fire chief. Narcan was used 24 times throughout the year. The department received notice of the award for the Safer Grant (FEMA) which will provide salary and benefits to enable the department to add one more firefighter per shift (3) for a period of at least three years. The grant will total nearly $840,000 over three years.  In 2021, the city received a grant to help with the purchase of a new aerial ladder truck. The truck is scheduled for delivery in 2023. Our current ladder truck was purchased new in 1995.

Our public parks continue to be a source of pride in Bellefontaine as they continue to maintain and improve our 16 parks on an ongoing basis. The department also supported a national effort, in December of 2022, known as “Wreaths Across America”, with scores of volunteers placing 468 wreaths on the graves of veterans in the Bellefontaine Cemetery.  With the hiring of our new Recreation Coordinator, Tim Hales, we were, again, able to offer 1,470 area youth the opportunity to compete in ten different youth sports activities. The Hoffman Pool also showed a year of growth from the previous year.  One of our most popular attractions is the Myeerah Nature Preserve with miles of natural hiking trails, lakes, and woods on 450 acres of land. Volunteers made needed repairs to a historic log cabin on the property. The tennis courts at Rutan Park were removed and a new set of courts were constructed.  The three new tennis courts and two pickleball courts were constructed with matching grant funds from the State Capital Budget. In addition to maintaining hundreds of acres of parkland, the Parks Department also manages the Bellefontaine Cemetery and maintains the grounds of several other city-owned properties.

Our Water Department continues to provide the operations and delivery of over 741 million gallons of safe drinking water to our residents. We continue to meet and exceed the strict standards set by the Ohio EPA. Six of our seven experienced team members hold certain levels of Ohio Water Supply Licenses. The Water Department had another busy year as they maintained water lines and improved our water meter reading system.  They responded to and repaired 34 water main leaks. They continued our program of water main replacement projects in an effort to update our water line infrastructure on an annual basis.  They flushed all of our hydrants and the entire team is certified in the necessary lab monitoring procedures.

Likewise, the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) reported another year with zero violations of the Ohio EPA water quality. The WWTP handled over 998 million gallons of raw wastewater which produced 250 dry tons of bio-solid material.  Over 9,000 feet of sanitary sewer lines were cleaned as a preventative maintenance procedure and they raised 77 manhole covers.  The department took delivery of a new sewer televising vehicle.

The Bellefontaine Tax Department reported that our income tax revenue collections for 2022 were $7,448,283; an 8% increase from the previous year.  This was the seventh year for RITA to manage the tax filing and collections for the city. The cost for RITA’s services, in 2021, amounted to 1.56% of the dollars collected. They also manage tax returns for 368 other Ohio communities.  In 2022 there were 3,235 delinquent notices sent to residents and 2,789 subpoenas. Over $39,528 was collected as a result of those notices. Additionally, in 2022, there were 49 cases filed with the Municipal Court. Over $23,894 that was owed to the city, was collected as a result of findings within those hearings.

Our community continues to offer low water and sewer rates.  Out of 64 Miami Valley communities surveyed annually, Bellefontaine remains the 10th lowest for the combined rates. Our community also offers an aggregate gas and electric program to our citizens. Energy Harbor is our electric supplier until 12-31-2024 with a rate of 4.99 cents per kWh. This is nearly half the rate available to the average household in our area. The natural gas contract is with Constellation and the rate is locked at 0.756 cents per Ccf. through 9/30/2024.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-than-normal consumption rate in their home or business. In 2022, there were 3,477 service orders. Of those, 850 were service visits to notify customers of higher-than-normal consumption rates. The remaining service calls generally dealt with requests for new service, cancellations, transfer of services or equipment maintenance.  Our utility bill often contains flyers and important community notices which reach over 5,500 homes and businesses. We continue to see an increased number of residents taking advantage of paying online or ACH payments made directly from their bank.

Heather Harpst is completing her first full year as Code Enforcement Officer.  In addition to being the administrator over many of the city’s grants and construction projects, she also issues citations to violators of our city’s codes.  In 2022, 937 violation notices were issued, compared to 635 violations the previous year. 91% of these violations were completely resolved. The vast majority of those are for tall grass and/or exterior premises violations. There were 8 commercial/ residential properties demolished in 2022 with a scheduled 14 more slated for the coming year.

Our fleet of various cars, trucks and other such equipment keeps our Vehicle Maintenance Department busy throughout the course of the year.  In 2022, they managed 190 repairs and serviced 144 vehicles.  Like many of our associates, the year was completed without any on-the-job accidents and the department spending was kept within the budget for the year.

The Municipal Court saw 200 more cases filed in the criminal and traffic division for 2022 when compared to 2021.  There were 182 Felony cases filed; 629 Criminal cases; 174 DUI cases; 4,362 Traffic cases; and 201 Parking Tickets. There were 924 filed in our Civil Department and in Small Claims, 395.  Overall, an increase of 238 cases compared to 2021.  Judge Beck also performed 37 weddings in 2022. In an attempt to resolve open cases carrying balances due the court, Judge Beck declared an “Amnesty Program” from March 7, 2022, until March 18, 2022.   There were 200 people that participated.  The oldest case paid off was from 2007.  The amount collected this year was $53,750.30 with 279 cases being paid off.  The amount collected last year during our Amnesty Program was $28,327.25.

We have a very busy Regional Airport. There are 37 aircraft on our field including 9 multi-engine or jet aircraft.  With a staff of 18 associates (including 10 instructors), Midwest Corporate Air and Steve Buchenroth issued 666 pilot certificates in 2022. This number is twice the number of pilots certified in the previous year. Bellefontaine is host to a variety of pilots from at least 34 different states. Private pilots, commercial pilots, airline transport pilots, and flight instructors come to Bellefontaine’s Regional Airport for this important certification. Midwest Corporate Air added a motor glider and an amphibious seaplane to their fleet in 2020, and a Cirrus Aircraft in 2021. Their pilot training and certification continue to gather attention across the USA. Additionally, Cirrus selected Midwest Corporate Air to become one of its newest training sites.

The Logan County Chamber of Commerce continues to focus on four targeted areas, which include workforce, internet connectivity, housing, and infrastructure.  Committees were formed and continue to meet, discuss, and advance our community in these areas of opportunity and more.  The Chamber welcomed 68 new members bringing their total membership count to 495 businesses. Our virtual “one-stop shop” for employment continues to connect our citizens with job opportunities. The Chamber of Commerce continued its assistance to Peak Fiber as a residential fiber-to-home option to increase internet connectivity presently reaching over 140 residential customers.

Bellefontaine continues to be blessed with a nationally recognized healthcare system.  Mary Rutan Hospital, a non-profit healthcare organization, maintains a top-rated 5-star Quality Rating for Medicare and Medicaid services. In 2022, Mary Rutan Health continued its investment and expansion of its facilities.  The new Goble Center for Women & Children opened its doors, providing a dedicated facility for women and children to receive the care they need to live long and healthy lives, impacting the well-being of our community for generations. This $4M project renovated the 19,000-square-foot facility on Dowell Avenue, providing space for both Mary Rutan Pediatrics and Mary Rutan Obstetrics & Gynecology under one roof.  Another monumental $4M project that concluded at year-end was the completion of the 18,000-square-foot space on the 3rd floor of the Mary Rutan Health Center, providing a new home for Mary Rutan Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, ENT, Neurology and Audiology services. The space includes 21 private exam and procedure rooms, onsite imaging, a large lounge, and a soothing environment that promotes healing and enhances the patient experience.

Downtown Bellefontaine and small businesses continue to grow, thrive, and attract shoppers from other communities to our city.  Numerous businesses opened their doors or renovated their spaces over the last 12 months. Donations were collected to place 14 brass plaques on various historic buildings downtown, creating a historic tour along our streets. The Citizens Federal Savings and Loan renovated and opened at the corner of Columbus Avenue and North Main Street.  Lutheran Community Services broke ground to build a new facility ($1.2M) and Calvery Christian Schools began their expansion project ($800K) in 2022, as well.  Ohio Hi-Point Career Center opened its doors after an extensive $30M build/ renovation to expand its program. Continued renovations are ongoing at our historic Opera Block and Rainbow Row on West Chillicothe Avenue. Additionally, Small Nation and other business owners and entrepreneurs continue to make an impact on our downtown area. Over the past ten years, Small Nation has acquired over 60 historic buildings, created 34 upper-floor loft apartments, added over 200 jobs, and invested over $33M in total private investments.

I believe visitors and locals, alike, have come to know Bellefontaine as a very special place!  Folks from out of town enjoy our warm and inviting community filled with unique shopping opportunities, a variety of restaurants, and so much more. Locals know our town to be a safe community with many of the conveniences of a larger city.  We have a bright future ahead and I am excited to be a part of a team with the vision and determination to face challenges head-on and embrace the changes and opportunities that may come with each new day.  I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the City of Bellefontaine as Mayor.  Bellefontaine is, indeed, a great place to live, work, and play!

Respectfully submitted,

Ben Stahler