Sutherland wraps up last year in State of City speech

Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland discusses the successes and challenges of the last year with the West Shore Chamber of Commerce on May 7.

It’s been an up-and-down year for Bay Village. In the past 12 months, the city has garnered local and national accolades, faced budget challenges due to decreased revenues, completed a major infrastructure improvement and got slammed by one of the worst storms in decades to hit the region.

In her 13th annual State of the City presentation to the West Shore Chamber of Commerce on May 7, Mayor Debbie Sutherland’s focus remained on the positives – and the lessons to be learned from the negatives.

Since her last State of the City address in May 2012, Bay Village has been recognized as the No. 1 suburb in the region by Cleveland Magazine, was named to Family Circle magazine’s top ten best towns for families and received the state auditor’s award for “exemplary financial reporting” in last July’s audit for fiscal year 2011.

City leaders, facing much-publicized budget woes in recent years, have been forced to make do with less. General fund revenues dropped 5 percent from the previous year, which Mayor Sutherland attributed in large part to dwindling revenues from the state, including local government funding and estate taxes. Income tax revenues also decreased slightly between 2010 and 2011. General fund expenses were basically unchanged during those years. On the plus side, Bay Village’s bond rating has been steadily improving, from Aa3 in 2007 to Aa2 in 2008 to Aa1 in 2011 to present.

“This is something I’m very proud of,” Sutherland said. “We had two bond rating upgrades during the recession. There is not another community around that did that. It was tough. … We had to make very tough decisions, but we did.”

One major project in which the city didn’t have much choice was replacing the Cahoon Creek Aerial Sewer that runs alongside Wolf Road over the creek. The sanitary sewer, which was built in the 1940s and serves the western half of Bay Village, had eroded in some spots and was leaking. It took several months during the winter for crews to divert the sewage flow, replace the pipe, and reopen the lines.

The biggest news event in the city over the course of the previous year was Superstorm Sandy. “We have never been hit with a storm like that,” the mayor said. “It was devastating, and Bay Village just got hammered.”

Sutherland estimated that roughly 500 trees were downed, including 250 that fell into roadways. First Energy reported that nearly 92 percent of Bay Village homes were without power during the late October storm and its aftermath.

While praising the efforts of the service crews and safety forces, Sutherland acknowledged that the biggest challenge was communicating with residents. The city used the Nixle emergency text message/email service more than a dozen times during the week, but its reach is currently limited to those who have a computer or cell phone and have opted in to receive alerts. Those frustrations led to the creation of an Emergency Communications Task Force comprised of volunteers from the community, who recently presented their recommendations to city council.

“We are really focusing on trying to not only better communicate from the city standpoint, but to make sure that our residents take personal responsibility to sign up for the email newsletters and Nixle so they can take advantage of getting instant communications when something occurs,” Sutherland said.

In addition to the aforementioned task force, Bay’s residents have played a major role in improving the quality of life in the city. The Bay Village Green Team has been active in bringing attention to sustainable living by sponsoring educational seminars and coordinating “near zero waste” initiatives with local organizations. Green Team volunteers spearheaded an effort last year to install “share the road” (with cyclists) signs along city streets, with support from the Bay Skate and Bike Park Foundation and the newly formed Village Bicycle Cooperative. The three groups have joined forces to promote biking activity and advocate for a more bikeable community.

“Biking has become extremely important in the city of Bay Village as a whole,” Sutherland said, noting the popularity of the annual Bike-to-School challenge and also attributing a reduction in the number of car accidents in the city to more residents opting to travel on bikes rather than cars.

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Volume 5, Issue 10, Posted 10:29 AM, 05.14.2013