By JOY BROWN
“The state of our city is strong,” Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik declared Monday, using a fable to illustrate city government’s adaptability and resilience.
In Aesop’s fable, “The Crow and the Pitcher,” the crow, she explained, approaches a seemingly insurmountable problem by using the tools it has to get what it needs to survive.
Similarly, the city last year tightened its fiscal belt and made changes to some operations. It is now benefiting, and those savings along with financial windfalls will carry it through this year and set it up for future years, she said during her annual state of the city address.
With a $1.6 million general fund surplus and an improved capital fund outlook, proper planning will help the city and its residents prosper, the mayor said.
Also expected to boost the city this year, and for years to come, are proposed developments and plans in various parts of the city, primarily downtown. They will strengthen the tax base and are already solidifying partnerships between governments and the private sector, she said.
Marathon Petroleum’s planned $80 million in improvements to its complex, scheduled to begin this spring, will serve as a catalyst for change that will affect downtown traffic and pedestrians.
If they come to fruition, the plans, both public and private, “will completely transform the downtown,” Mihalik said.
Marathon is also taking part in another downtown transformation by contributing significant funding to construction of a performing arts center at the former site of Central Middle School.
“There are going to be some changes, but change isn’t always a bad thing,” the mayor said.
At the city government level, strategic planning, initiated last year, “has really positioned us for some big-time successes,” Mihalik said. It is focusing on the city’s operational strengths, areas where it can improve, and targeting partnerships with other governments, businesses and nonprofits.
Other successes from 2013 include changes in Findlay’s health insurance program that are saving the city money, and three-year contracts negotiated with all unions.
This year, the city intends to use its budget surplus to better recover from service and employee cuts made in 2012 and 2013.
The Police Department plans to reintroduce its special assignment unit, which “helps target specific crimes in different neighborhoods, and has been a very functional police tool for the community,” Mihalik said. It also plans to bump up the manpower in the vice narcotics unit.
The Fire Department will be returning Ladder No. 1 to full service, she said.
The city’s capital plan calls for significant street improvements, and financially helping Hancock County with cleaning Dalzell and Oil ditches, which “have been ignored for years,” she said.
Flood control will remain one of the city’s top priorities for 2014, with the ultimate aim of getting the Army Corps of Engineers to complete its study and present a “chief’s report” with final suggestions for a flood-control project.
The region is still seeking about $1.5 million from the federal government to pay for the corps’ share of the study’s final phase. Some costs must be shouldered by the corps. The region could try to pay for the rest of the final phase if it wants to, Mihalik said, but that’s not the immediate goal.
Local government leaders are examining whether paying most of the tab will speed up the rest of the study, she said. “I think the jury’s out on that right now,” she said.
“I’m pretty optimistic about what’s going to happen within the next couple of weeks” in terms of corps funding for the remainder of the study, Mihalik said.
“Our next step, after getting this funding, is continuing to put the pressure on, and hold the corps accountable,” she said.