By Jeff Gallatin
Bay Village weathered a few storms in 2012, and Mayor Debbie Sutherland said last week the city survived and continues to thrive.
Sutherland made reference to the storms May 7 during her annual state of the city address delivered to a full house in a LaCentre banquet room. It was the 13th state of the city for Sutherland, who is the longest-serving mayor in Bay Village history and up for re-election this year.
After her address, Sutherland said the two biggest storms Bay Village weathered in 2012 were dealing with Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath, and dealing with the continued tight municipal finances caused by shrinking revenues and a bad economy.
“Those were pretty bad, but we got through them and it turned out to be a good year for the city overall,” she said.
She noted Sandy took a severe toll, knocking out power to thousands of city residents for anywhere from a day or two up to around a week. In addition, hundreds of trees and other movable objects went down, blocking roadways and hindering efforts to restore power and clean up the city.
“It was pretty bad all around the city,” she said. “We had a lot to deal with, with the loss of power for most people, as well as trying to get all the cleanup done and city services back on line.”
In addition to the inconvenience for most people of having their power out, it also caused another major problem by knocking out most of the services provided by the city pump stations – which keep the city sanitary sewer services running. Sutherland has noted the city came very close to the pump stations being out, but alert service department workers got a portable generator hooked up to keep the pump stations functioning. Otherwise, city officials have said many people could have had sewage backing up into their homes.
“I don’t know where we would be without our city workers,” Sutherland said, a theme she used several times throughout her address.
Sutherland noted the city has gotten two different sets of reimbursement for city resources expended during Sandy and its aftermath. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials recently reimbursed the city about $77,000 for expenses such as worker pay and overtime, as well as equipment and cleanup costs. In addition, city officials said the Illuminating Co. reimbursed the city about $81,000 for the problems caused at the pump stations by electrical issues with the equipment.
“That makes up a lot of what we had to put out in terms of financial expenses,” Sutherland said.
In addition, an emergency communications task force recently came back with recommendations about how the city could better communicate with its residents in an emergency. It recommended better use of social media for people who have it, as well as finding other, more conventional, means for those residents who don’t utilize it. It also recommended ways be found to encourage people to sign up for emergency communication contacts with the city. Sutherland noted the city is working on making those contacts, citing the Nixle Communication Service and popups on residents’ phone and computer services.
Referring to the financial problems, Sutherland said Bay Village was like many cities and deeply affected by state cuts in funding to local governments throughout Ohio. She cited the cuts and eventual loss of the estate tax as well as cuts in the local government fund. In addition, she cited her and other state and local government officials’ continued close scrutiny of state efforts to take a more central role in the collection of local income taxes. Local officials have estimated that cities like Bay, and others of similar size, could lose several hundred thousand more dollars from their already strained municipal budgets.
“That’s not a hit we can take,” Sutherland said. “Not when we’ve already been cutting the last several years anyway.”
In the other parts of her speech, Sutherland focused on what she sees as many good parts of Bay Village. She cited the continued high financial and bond ratings the city receives for its finance department. She also cited the strength of the service, senior and safety departments.