Green celebrates successes despite tough 2020
GREEN Following a year marked by uncertainty and apprehension, Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer delivered a cautiously optimistic outlook for 2021 in his annual state of the city address Jan. 26.
“Typically, over 300 residents, community and business leaders gather at Raintree Golf and Event Center to hear this address,” Neugebauer said of the virtual address. “But 2020 was not a normal year.”
Neugebauer recounted the city’s response to announcements in early March 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic had “hit Ohio.”
“As we watched the gathering storm with dread, we were unsure of what it would take to weather the storm, to operate a city in a pandemic,” Neugebauer said. “We knew our priority would be public safety. All our employees were essential, but perhaps now in different ways than before.”
Faced with mounting closures and cancellations as the spring wore on, the city developed a newly coined mantra of “Green Together,” the mayor said.
“We put together an emergency response team, led by the organizational talents of Fire Chief Jeff Funai and the public information skills of Communications Manager Valerie Wolford,” he said. “Our first task was to reassign employees to lead our community outreach teams.”
As Neugebauer himself focused on reaching out to senior living facilities, former Community Development Administrator Jessica Hyser did the same with day care centers in the city, the mayor said.
Likewise, city officials began regular COVID-19 related meetings with Green Local Schools, the Akron-Canton Airport, senior citizens and faith-based and community support organizations.
While these efforts were immediately directed toward COVID-19 response, some, like the establishment of a “Green Together Hotline” for residents needing assistance, are expected to become permanent, Neugebauer said.
“We connected those most in need with the resources they needed,” the mayor said of the program. “Over 70 volunteers began calling isolated seniors, twice a week, to make sure they were OK, to see if there was anything that they needed, or just be a friendly voice, someone to talk to.”
In May, Neugebauer said, community and church volunteers from several congregations partnered with city employees to conduct a food drive that collected more than 15,000 items. In October, a second drive collected another 10,000 items.
Green Together also became a “mask collection and distribution center,” Neugebauer said.
“Recognizing that some of our residents, notably April Drive resident Sandy Cline, wanted to help others by using their talents to make cloth masks, even before masks were required,” he said. “We began to encourage mask making, collecting the masks, and using other volunteers to deliver them to members of our community.”
The city also created “Takeout Tuesdays” videos to highlight Green restaurants and promote new take-out and delivery options.
Green City Council passed legislation allocating $50,000 toward a Summit County grant program and interest-free loans up to $6,000 for those businesses not receiving grants, to assist with rent and utilities during shutdown periods.
City Council also supported legislation allocating $50,000 to help the Akron Canton Airport re-establish air service routes.
“Along with Summit County and other regional partners, and matching funds from JobsOhio, we were able to offer a $1 million incentive program to restore air services at our convenient regional airport,” Neugebauer said. “I am forever thankful and appreciative of Green City Council leadership – President Barbara Babbitt and Vice President Rocco Yeargin – for participating in our daily team meetings, overseeing our volunteer and business outreach centers, providing community input and valuable recommendations.”
More challenges – and opportunities - in 2021
In 2020, the city’s income tax revenue, which typically makes up approximately 65 percent of its overall budget, was $23.4 million, down approximately 5.3 percent from 2019, Neugebauer said. Still, although income tax revenue was down due to a slow-down in business activity, Green received $30.5 million in other revenue sources in 2020, the highest amount in city history.
“Let me break down what led to our record-level of other revenue,” Neugebauer said. “We received $10 million by issuing bonds for the Massillon Road North project, $2.1 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security) Act funding, $4.8 million in federal grants for the Massillon Road North project and refunds totaling $575,000 from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Including several of these unique, one-time sources of other income, total revenue for the city of Green was $53.9 million, up $13.7 million over the prior year 2019.”
The city is projecting 2021 revenues at $35.1 million, more in line with fiscal year 2017 than the “extraordinary revenues” of 2020, the mayor said.
“What we don’t know is how businesses in our community will weather the pandemic – we know a few who have closed, some who are working desperately to survive and others who are thriving,” he said. “And in this uncertain business climate, our income tax projections also reflect the pending loss of Diebold Nixdorf, (which) is moving (its) headquarters to Hudson in mid-2021.”
In 2020, the city’s operating expenses also increased by 11 percent from 2019, to $28.5 million.
“The largest increase, which we planned for, was $1 million to staff and operate Fire Station Number 3,” Neugebauer said. “We also allocated funds related to the pandemic - $700,000 for grants and business loans to assist Green businesses, and $90,000 for COVID-19 supplies and facility modifications. We also incurred some one-time expenditures including $400,000 in salary payments due to an extra pay in 2020. Because City employees are paid every two weeks, an extra paycheck is required once every 11 or 12 years – and 2020 happened to be that year.”
The city paid more than $300,000 in income tax refunds, which Neugebauer said could reflect the impact of COVID-19 on the city’s business community.
“So, while some of the increase in spending is attributed to COVID-19, much of this increase was budgeted,” he said. “Even with the increase in spending in 2020, we ended the year with a general fund balance of $21.3 million. Our fiscal policy of maintaining a $20 million operating reserve helped us move forward in 2020 with confidence.”
Moreover, Neugebauer said, the city did not cut services, or layoff staff.
“We were able to do all the things we normally do, except where COVID-19 limited our community interactions,” he said. “Actually, we were able to expand our services this year to support our residents and businesses through the pandemic. And with our exceptional financial performance this year, we are in a strong position, as a city, to move forward into 2021 with confidence.”
The city also moved forward with several road construction and engineering projects in 2020, in spite of the challenges of the pandemic.
“We paved neighborhood streets. We resurfaced several of our busier roads. We started the Massillon Road North project in May, and by the end of the construction season, two of the three roundabouts were opened to traffic as the corridor began to take shape,” Neugebauer said. “Construction along Massillon Road will continue over winter and throughout 2021.”
A new playground at Boettler Park, near the newly rebuilt Lichtenwalter Schoolhouse, was constructed, replacing older equipment with a new inclusive play structure. The historic schoolhouse itself was recently restored after a devastating 2016 fire and will be “ready to host (third grade) classes when students are able to return,” the mayor said.
Construction of Green Fire Station No. 3, located, at the corner of Mayfair and Raber Roads, was completed in September.
“In a normal year, these new facilities would have been opened with community events and open houses – an opportunity for us to gather to celebrate our accomplishments with community pride,” Neugebauer said. “In a normal year, we would have hosted parades, ceremonies and special events. However, this was not a normal year and we did our best to celebrate without coming together.”
Looking forward to community events
Some degree of that normalcy is expected to return this year, the mayor said.
By mid-to-late-2020, the city was able to host some COVID safe events, including the 4th of July Raintree 5K and Fun Run, the Twisted Wilderfest and a Halloween Trunk-or-Treat.
“As 2021 begins, we are still dealing with uncertainty (but) we are planning for a more normal summer event calendar beginning with our Memorial Day festivities – including the parade and a memorial ceremony in Veterans Park,” Neugebauer announced. “We can’t wait to be a community again. Of course, we cannot promise that all events will be held, but once again we are aggressively moving forward with hope and optimism.”