By Jeff Gallatin
Halfway through his first term as mayor in his hometown of North Olmsted, Kevin Kennedy is ready to do more.
“I’m satisfied with what we’ve accomplished, but we have a long way to go,” Kennedy said after delivering the annual state of the city Thursday to the North Olmsted Chamber of Commerce at the Radisson Hotel.
Kennedy emphasized that his administration will continue to focus on development and business growth while maintaining strong services for residents despite diminishing resources from the state level.
He said utilizing a variety of tools will continue to be a key to helping North Olmsted move forward. He said Issue 34, which allowed his administration to restructure city government and combine posts such as the safety and service directors’ posts into one job, will continue to be an asset.
“It’s made us very successful,” he said.
Kennedy said when he took office, he did not want to increase taxes.
“We realize we have a lot of residents who had lost jobs, had cuts in pay or hours, and we did not want to add to that,” he said.
A businessman himself, Kennedy said Planning and Development Director Kim Wenger has been a major asset in a variety of areas. He cited his goal when he started as mayor to obtain grants to boost the city, and said Wenger has been fulfilling that goal regularly. He cited her work in planning, but also noted she worked with staff and other groups and organizations and obtained a series of grants that have helped build up the city infrastructure and push development.
He said getting the city away from borrowing $1 million every year for street work will also aid the city.
“Our ultimate goal is to pay for street work out of a dedicated street fund,” he said. “We always will borrow to pay for some major projects, particularly if we have a large 80-20 split with other agencies, but we want to eventually pay for regular street work out of that dedicated fund.”
Utilizing other resources will continue to be a key, he noted, with Gov. John Kasich’s continued scaling back of assistance to local governments.
“The governor told me he was going to be cutting us, but said he was going to give us tools to cope with it,” Kennedy said. “Well, I opened the tool shed and there weren’t any tools in it. If anybody can find those tools from him, let me know where they are.”
He also cited a wide range of renovations and improvements at the city-owned Springvale Golf Course and Country Club and the North Olmsted Recreation Center, such as work on greens and related areas at Springvale and the roof and equipment at the Rec Center.
“Not all those improvements might be visible to you, but they make them better,” he said.
He lauded different departments and their workers throughout the presentation.
All city workers helped the city by accepting contract concessions in 2010 and 2011, citing figures of anywhere from 4 to 10 percent in that time period, Kennedy said.
He noted the finance department and its director, Carrie Copfer, have been instrumental in keeping the city operating on a sound fiscal basis. He said its work has been instrumental in keeping a strong bond rating of AA- and the city being viewed as stable by Fitch Ratings.
He cited a diversified tax base, the city’s 100 percent tax credit for residents who work in other cities and declining debt. He also noted the establishment of separate funds for “rainy days,” 27 pay periods in certain years and compensated absences for city workers. Kennedy also lauded Wenger’s and the economic development staff’s close work with businesses in a variety of projects throughout the North Olmsted Auto Mile, Giant Eagle’s GetGo, Wal-Mart, North Olmsted Towne Center, First Federal of Lakewood’s plaza and the new dining court and planned theater complex at Westfield Great Northern Mall.
He lauded new Safety/Service Director Scott Thomas, saying he has the toughest job in the city by having to work with the largest number of workers, as well as dealing with safety and service issues. Kennedy noted the record-setting rainfall in 2011, but said his administration remains determined to respond to residents’ needs via town meetings and getting new facilities and equipment to deal with the problems. The new recycling and automated trash programs also are benefiting the city, he said.
With the retirement of former police Chief Wayne Wozniak, Kennedy cited a new management team in the department of Chief Jamie Gallagher and Capt. Mike Kilbane, a new lieutenant in Jeff Medves and Patrolman Jack Butcher being honored by MADD for his DUI enforcement work.
Kennedy said the city would also utilize information from the regional fire study to save money in joint training and bulk purchases while maintaining strong municipal services.
‘We’re determined to keep them,” he said of four laid-off firefighters brought back via a federal SAFER grant.
Human Resources also had a strong year with savings from being self-insured, a wide range of senior center activities, strong youth services and the newly renovated Oxcart Food Pantry at its new home on Butternut Ridge Road.