Mayor Gerard Neugebauer painted a particularly positive financial outlook in 2017 during the annual State of the City

GREEN  In his annual State of the City address Thursday at the Raintree Country Club, Mayor Gerard Neugebauer painted a particularly positive financial outlook in 2017.

The city is projecting 4-percent income tax growth rate in the next 10 years, operating expenses this year are expected to remain at 2016 levels, and a plan is in place to pay down $10 million of the city’s $60 million in debt by the end of Neugebauer’s first term.

Much of the mayor’s speech, however, centered on partnerships, programs and projects both underway and in the planning stages for 2017 and beyond. Part of mayor's address put current numbers to one of long range projects.

“You can see the (Fire Department) call volume has increased significantly, so we have gone from thinking about adding a station in our city to talking about it,” Neugebauer said after reporting a 9.8-percent increase in Fire Department calls/alarms from 2015 to 2016.

Of those 3,638 total calls for service, 80 percent were for EMS service and only 2.7 percent for fire-related calls.

“Over the next couple years we’re going to see what that means and evaluate it financially,” Neugebauer said. “It is important for those in the parts of our city where we don’t have as good response times.”

Following the mayor’s address, Ward 3 Councilman Ken Knodel said fire department reports show the two fire department-defined zones with most consistently slow response times are both in Ward 1 in the northeast quadrant of the city.

“But keep in mind, a lot of it is traffic and not so much that there are more people there,” Knodel said.

Indeed, Neugebauer noted that one of his primary campaign platforms was reducing congestion, particularly in the Massillon Road corridor. In his address, he announced the scheduled start of three roundabout projects in the corridor - at Corporate Woods Circle and Corporate Woods Parkway, Massillon and Boettler roads, and Massillon Road and Corporate Woods Circle - between 2018 and 2023.

Fire Chief Jeffrey Funai, however, said that while traffic can be a challenge, the need for a new station is largely geographical.

“I would love to improve our response times,” Funai said. “As you know, Green is built on a square, with Fire Station 1 in the middle. Our response times to the corners are nothing we are proud of.”

The chief concurred with Knodel that given the response time statistics and the location of Station 2 on E. Turkeyfoot Road in the northwest corner of the city, locating a new station in the northeast quadrant of the city would be the most logical move.

“One thing that makes it easier is that it would be a satellite station, so I don’t think it would be a multiple-year project,” Funai said. “But you would still need office and living space.”

The current stations each have at least nine firefighters on shift at all times, Funai said, adding that while the department likely would have the apparatus for a new station, the department almost certainly would be looking at staffing increases. Though this undoubtedly would improve response times throughout the city, the chief said, the financial impact also must be considered.

“We’re a young city with a lot of infrastructure needs; fire and EMS is not the only one,” Funai said. “There is the building, but then there is sustaining it - is that something we can afford? Is this the right time?”