WARREN - Even in the face of a slow economy, Warren Mayor Doug Franklin expressed optimism Friday about the city's prospects during his second State of the City address.
"We still have families in need, neighborhoods that require our help, a decreasing tax base and the population drain of our youth as they seek better opportunities elsewhere," Franklin said at the Raymond John Wean Foundation. "But I'm here to tell you that I have not lost even a bit of the confidence I expressed last year (during his first State of the City address)."
Franklin said his optimism is based on the hard work of city employees and the partnerships it has developed with community groups, businesses and residents. He outlined positive things from 2012.
l Savings and services
Through the city's 2012 bond issue, Franklin said it has seen a $200,000 savings in its water department, a $1 million reduction in pension debt and a total debt service reduction.
He also noted that the city purchased eight new cruisers at $39,000 apiece, with the bulk of it paid for through the Special Law Enforcement Police Fund.
It also purchased a new fire truck with the help of a $332,500 Assistance to Firefighters federal grant and is purchasing a new pumper truck using money from the 2012 bond issue.
"Unfortunately, the city was not funded in the latest round of the S.A.F.E.R. grant, which we use to keep our manpower at a more optimal level," Franklin said. "Believe me, we will continue pursuing these grants for our firefighters."
The $4.9 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (S.A.F.E.R.) grant pays the salaries of 14 firefighters.
"Also under fiscal consideration is a new community development model, which will have potential for enhancing and automating tasks, such as permits, licensing parcel management, inspection process, code enforcement and more," he continued.
The first-term mayor insists the city is attempting to reduce the amount of blight and crime. This past year it worked with the state attorney general's office and the city's health and law departments to close eight of 10 massage parlors.
"My goal for next year is zero," Franklin said.
Using Neighborhood Stabilization Program money, the city razed 377 single-family homes. It also convinced the owners of the Pamela Apartments to tear down the complex. And this year, using a combination of Moving Ohio Forward and city funds, Franklin expects another $1 million worth homes will be torn down.
A land-use plan by the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership will enable the city to determine the best use of vacant land.
He also highlighted improvement in the parks.
"We are pleased to announce the city will begin construction in a few weeks of new volleyball courts at Perkins Park," Franklin said. "These courts will be open for use buy the public."
Learning that there are 3,082 businesses in the city, Franklin issued a challenge to each business to hire at least one city resident.
"That would be 3,082 new jobs that we would not have to worry about," he said. "Eighty percent of all new jobs are created by existing businesses, so as we are planning our future we need to tap into their knowledge and expertise."
Franklin said the administration will respond quickly to the needs of the business community.
Business high notes include The Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center's $3.1 million renovation of a vacant downtown building; Eastern Gateway Community College's announcement that it plans to expand; the Wean Foundation's $2.5 million renovation; and National Fire & Water Repair's $1.5 million investment.
The gains, however, are offset somewhat by the furlough of more than 1,000 workers at the former RG Steel on the south side and news that the GE Ohio Lamp Plant on North Park Avenue will close early next year, meaning the loss of about 200 jobs.
"We have plenty of challenges and obstacles to overcome," Franklin said. "I have no intention of failing, but the city can't do it alone. Strengthening our community takes partnerships."