Improving economy, budget cuts help Bay Village sail on

Mayor Debbie Sutherland addresses the West Shore Chamber of Commerce on May 12. Photo by Denny Wendell

As a rising tide lifts all boats, the waves of economic progress appear to be reaching Bay Village’s symbolic sailboat. In her May 12 State of the City address to the West Shore Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Deborah Sutherland stressed a continued emphasis on cutting costs and taking advantage of available resources, but does see hope on the horizon.

While overall revenues are still down, property and income tax collections in 2014 were up more than 3 percent over the previous year, an indicator to Sutherland that municipalities are catching up to the rebounding economy. Coupled with cost-saving measures that have reduced general fund expenses, the city is back to bringing in more money than it outlays, but is still working to overcome the loss of estate tax revenue.

“I can put on my Republican hat and say, ‘Yay, no estate tax,’” Sutherland said. “Then I take that hat off and put on my mayor hat and say … ‘How do you implement that without causing a tremendous amount of pain?’ And it was very painful. But we did it.”

Last year’s LeanOhio training session provided insight into ways of reducing wasted time and resources in city operations, resulting in savings across multiple departments. The service department’s new work-order program has helped eliminate redundancy and promote efficient use of equipment.

In what Mayor Sutherland called a “banner year” for commercial improvements, the building department issued permits for more than $16 million in alterations in 2014 – most notably to Bay Schools and the O’Neill Healthcare campus on Bradley Road.

“It was a very active year for us; potentially another indication that the economy is moving along,” Sutherland said. Fifteen new residential dwellings were constructed, above Bay Village’s annual average of 10 to 12, at a value of nearly $6 million.

As part of the move to reduce expenditures while providing quality services, the city looks for lower or no-cost alternatives, including citizen involvement and regionalization.

Mayor Sutherland praised volunteer organizations, including the Bay Village Green Team for running a successful community garden and Village Bicycle Cooperative for educating the public on bike safety and regulations.

Residents’ contributions helped the community services department in providing 8,700 outreach services last year including meals, holiday assistance and medical equipment loans.

“We really couldn’t do any of that without the generosity of our residents, not only from their donations but the also time that they spend,” Sutherland said. “They’re just so caring. We couldn’t do half of what we do without the folks in our town.”

The mayor and some of her Westshore counterparts are still in the process of examining options for cooperation and a potential consolidation of fire districts. One of the biggest obstacles Sutherland identified is coordination across the departments.

“We’re continuing to try to untangle how we’re doing things, how we can bring [all departments together] so that we’re all on the same page – train the same way, respond the same way and provide better service faster.”

The city recently switched its emergency notification system to take advantage of the county’s free ReadyNotify service. A method of delivering messages to residents via phone, text message or emails, ReadyNotify is comparable to the previous Nixle service, phased out last March, which cost $5,700.

A continuing priority for Sutherland’s administration is to address Clean Water Act mandates and other improvements regarding the sewer system. In a 2009 communication that the mayor jokingly calls her “love letter from the EPA,” the federal agency required the city to close up four sanitary sewer overflows. A commitment to resolve these issues, Sutherland said, has led to Bay Village becoming a model community in terms of response and compliance.

“There are some communities that, when they get their ‘love letter,’ they immediately lawyer up, which creates an adversarial situation right out of the box. We chose not do that and it’s worked out very well. [The EPA has] worked with us because not every community has the same issues, not every neighborhood has the same issues.”

As is to be expected in her annual address, Mayor Sutherland painted an optimistic picture of current state of the city. But the signs do seem to suggest that Bay Village has made it through the worst of the economic storm. If rebounding tax revenues and increased construction activity are indications, perhaps the headwinds of the last several years are shifting and smoother sailing is ahead.

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 9:56 AM, 05.19.2015