By Sue Botos
Rocky River Mayor Pam Bobst is the first to admit that she is not given to brief, unemotional speeches.
“There are probably more bets going on in this room than at the Horseshoe Casino,” she quipped to the crowd of about 175 attendees during her annual state of the city address at the Rocky River Chamber of Commerce’s March luncheon, held at the Westwood Country Club.
Bobst did have a lot of ground to cover as she presented verbal as well as visual snapshots of the city’s building boom, set against a background of slow but steady economic recovery and continued budget austerity.
“We’ve had to make some difficult decisions which tested us, but there are signs of recovery. The outlook is encouraging,” she said.
The total valuation of the city in 2012 was $683 million, down from a high of $720 million in the mid-2000s, Bobst reported. She added that income tax makes up 30 percent of city revenue, and property tax 26 percent, the same as in 2011.
To date, Bobst said that 201 building permits have been applied for, representing $3.6 million in investments. She said this amount does not include the school district’s renovation projects. Total revenue for 2012 was $29 million, up by $420,000 from 2012.
On the expenditure side, Bobst reported that while 72 percent is spent on personnel, primarily in the areas of safety and service, “the dollars spent are consistent with the priorities of the city.” She referred to the goal of retaining the quality of services to residents while keeping an eye on the budget.
While the personnel budget may be considered high, it’s down by $954,000 from 2011, resulting from furloughs, retirements, firefighters voluntarily freezing their wages and 15 fewer Municipal Court employees, cut in part due to the creation of the North Olmsted Mayor’s Court.
“Clearly, we ended 2012 in a better position than 2011,” Bobst said, noting that the revenue-over-expenditure number was $7.5 million.
Bobst went on to touch upon several topics, such as Ohio HB 5, which calls for uniformity in municipal income tax collection. While there is support for streamlining the process and standardization of forms, she stated, “We still need to maintain control of our municipal income tax collection.” The city stands to lose $553,000 in additional revenue should the measure pass.
It was also noted by Bobst that it has been over a year since initiation of talks concerning refuse collection. She said that three things have stalled the process, those being finance, discussion and technology.
“Technology is a game changer,” Bobst said, stating that continual improvements such as robotic arms on trash trucks and automatic separation of recyclables is making the process easier. She said there will be more public discussion of the subject before any decisions are made.
Collaboration, one of the key words in today’s economic environment, was also emphasized by Bobst, who credited FEMA (for aid after Hurricane Sandy), the West Shore Council of Governments, County Councilman David Greenspan and U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D) and Jim Renacci (R), for their assistance. “They have resources we couldn’t begin to afford at the local level,” she stated. She added that the county auditor’s office has put together an online inventory of items owned by the county’s 3,800 jurisdictions, making it easier for them to pool resources.
“I’m optimistic about the future. Any investment we make today is an investment in our future,” Bobst commented. She said in light of an update to the development code recently approved by City Council, the city’s 2005 master plan will be revisited. “There are new opportunities presenting themselves,” she noted.
Those new opportunities are represented by a citywide building boom begun last year. Bobst illustrated this by speaking about the repurposing of the Rockport Shopping Center to a combined residential-retail area, the opening of several new businesses, including Ferris Steak House, and the planned Whole Foods store, which Bobst noted was a major coup for the city.
Bobst also revealed the new logo for the Old River area on Old Detroit Road, which is hoped to expand to include Linda Street. A renovation of Linda will be accomplished solely through several grants.
“This all doesn’t happen by mistake, but by careful planning,” Bobst concluded.