Mayor gives state of city address

EAST LIVERPOOL — Although admitting there will be challenges yet to face, Mayor Ryan Stovall expressed confidence Monday night that his administration has met many goals and the city has a bright future ahead.

“Please take a moment and think back to 2016 when I took office. I was less gray, more rested, and I had inherited a city that was seemingly stagnant. Over the past year, we’ve come a long way in achieving our initial goals, and while there are still many challenges ahead, I’m proud of what we have accomplished together to position East Liverpool for a better future,” he told a packed city council chambers during his State of the City address.

“And make no mistake: East Liverpool is beginning a resurgence,” Stovall said with confidence before offering a litany of success stories the city has seen in the past two years.

“Sometimes, a State of the City address is an opportunity for celebration. Our city’s future will be set by those coming together to build community and create opportunity, not by those who are out to destroy it. Tonight, we work,” Stovall challenged.

He thanked not only public officials from the city but on the state and county level, members of East Liverpool Municipal Court, city council, fellow administration members and, “most importantly, the residents of this great city” for being “partners in everything we do.”

Among economic development successes Stovall cited was completion of the $12 million Market Street Loft workforce housing apartment complex, saying, “In the coming weeks, working class families will be moving in and will fill these apartments.” He noted these 40 families will be shopping, eating and going to school in the city.

He noted his attendance a year ago in February at the grand opening of The Orchards Rehab Suites on Armstrong Lane, a state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility that can help up to 12 people recovering from medical surgeries.

“The opening of this facility created 15 well-paying jobs here in the city, and we are grateful the Fox family chose East Liverpool as the home for its new rehab center,” Stovall commended.

In June, he reported, came the announcement that O’Reilly Auto Parts was building a new store on Jackson Street, creating up to 10 new jobs which Stovall said is a “welcome new addition to our business community.”

Also welcomed downtown was Family Care Ministries, a non-profit addiction rehabilitation counseling service, location of Fastenal Tools in the former Kiddings building on Walnut Street and Fresh on 5th on Fifth Street are two more new downtown businesses mentioned by Stovall, who said, “Job creation and retention inside the city are priorities of this administration.”

This past December, the mayor pointed out, New Castle School of Trades held graduation for its first class from the downtown school and said administrators of the school have indicated enrollment numbers are “right on track with projections,” with possibly more programs added to the facility.

Saying he is not at liberty to release details just now, Stovall said citizens may see several new businesses making plans to located in several empty downtown businesses this spring, each one creating 10 to 15 new jobs.

Stovall offered his personal thanks to council members Jeff Kreefer, Ray Perorazio and Fred Rayl for “recognizing the value in having their businesses inside the city limits,” saying, “It is a great thing when you are vested in the business community that you represent.”

Stovall said he is making plans to testify before the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program to explain the importance of having a company like FarmaceuticalRX locate in the city.

The company has proposed investing more than $4 million to transform the former Ferro manufacturing plant in the East End into a state-of-the-art cultivation and processing facility and business center, also pledging to commit $1 million over a 10-year period for worthwhile projects to uplift and benefit the city.

FarmaceuticalRX CEO Rebecca Myers and several other company leadership team members were in the audience for Stovall’s address last night.

The enterprise would create more than 70 jobs and bring first year tax revenue of about $195,000 into city coffers with $1.3 million in salaries and benefits that Stovall said would steadily increase.

Stovall also outlined a steady stream of service and aesthetic improvements seen over the past year in the city, including the city teaming up with Dr. Marc Hoffrichter and East Liverpool Fawcett Community Foundation to raise funds for replacement of all decorative lights in the downtown with new, high efficiency LED lights. The $30,000 upgrade will save the city $5,000 annually in electricity costs.

A $1.34 million grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation was announced during the year which will be used to restore the lighting on U.S. Route 39 from East End to the cloverleaf, and the project entails repairing the outdated pipe bridge.

Stovall credited Planning Director Bill Cowan, working with engineering firm Dallis Dawson & Associates, for securing this funding.

He reported a $1.449 million grant from ODOT has also been awarded to restore the brick portion of Fourth Street between Washington and Market streets, which he said is geared toward helping that area grow.

Stovall also related that a joint project between the city and Kent State University resulted in restoration of the brick portion of Broadway, expansion of the intersection to make it safer for students and other amenities, at a cost of $833,997.65.

In an effort to halt illegal dumping and trash piled behind houses, the city also implemented, at an additional $5 per month cost to residents, a bulk curb-side cleanup program, purchasing a new claw truck. Stovall said the program has been very effective and useful in cleaning up several dump sites.

The health department coordinated one of those illegal dump site cleanups along Shadyside Avenue, utilizing a $29,600 grant obtained by health Commissioner Carol Cowan through the Environmental Protection Agency.

Stovall also reported his administration was pleased to get the fountain in Devon’s Diamond restored and operational this past summer, saying, “The fountain and Devon’s Diamond are the centerpieces of downtown, and, as such, should always be well kept and open to the public. This spring, I am hoping to get a new pump and lighting for the fountain to make it more attractive.”

The mayor thanked Robert Ritchey, county commissioners and the city’s representative to the county land bank program, Sherrie Curtis, for its help in ridding the city of 44 blighted properties at a total cost of more than $750,000. He said there are also currently seven homes in the city under rehab contracts through the land bank and said the program will be “ramping up all operations” this year, with 12 properties in the city currently being tested for asbestos in preparation for demolition.

Safety forces and the East Liverpool Municipal Court figured heavily in the past year’s successes, according to Stovall, who thanked Judge Melissa Byers Emmerling for her help in deterring crime by “making sure criminals were held accountable and victims of crime had the help they needed and deserved.”

The court handled 2.570 cases resulting in more than $365,302 in fines and costs collected and 3,761 hours of community service completed by defendants at more than 36 non-profit locations in the court’s jurisdiction. He noted the probation department had a successful completion rate of nearly 80 percent for the year.

Stovall said the police department had s “tremendous success in curbing crime,” specifically drug offenses in the last year, saying having two officers assigned to the county drug task force has been effective in communicating information from the streets to the task force and vice versa.

He reported between 12 and 15 homes were raided after officers were able to gather sufficient evidence to have search warrants issued.

The police department responded to 11,032 calls during the year, an increase of 286 from 2016, and Stovall said officers made 1,974 traffic stops in 2017, up by 292 over the previous year. In 2016, Stovall reported, the department responded to 915 accidents with 39 involving injuries, compared to 800 crashes in 2017 with 16 injuries reported, or a 66 percent drop in accidents with injuries since implementing the new traffic cam enforcement procedures.

“As you can see by the numbers, our traffic enforcement policies are working, despite what some critics say,” Stovall pointed out.

As part of his administration’s aggressive approach to combatting the drug and crime epidemic, Stovall said a promise was made to increase the police department to 20 officers, which was achieved in December, which he said, “is making a difference.”

In the fire department, restructuring of the contract made it possible to replace two retiring veteran firefighters with three new ones, bringing the department to full staffing with four firefighters on each crew.

During Monday’s council session, Stovall said he looked forward to signing an agreement implementing the first-ever ambulance partnership that would ensure an ambulance is available for citizens’ needs.

Stovall also referred to more than $250,000 in federal and state grants secured by fire Chief Bill Jones during 2017 that enabled the department to update and improve equipment.

With Auditor Marilyn Bosco, department heads and employees working together, the city was able to end 2017 with cash balance of about $235,000, and Stovall pointed out, “The city employees, for the first time in a long time did not have to hear about possible layoffs during the fourth quarter of 2017.”

He commended the aggressive collection process and diligence of tax Commissioner Linda Harpold and her assistant for income tax collections being more than $120,000 greater in 2016 than the previous year and said, “We are currently on pace for an even better year in 2018.”

It wasn’t all work and no play for the city in the past year, and Stovall talked about the first-ever Jazz and Barbecue Festival sponsored last summer by East Liverpool Partnership for Revitalization (ELCPR), which he said was such a success that it has been sanctioned for this year by the Kansas City Barbeque Society as the championship event for Ohio, with at least 25 professional vendors expected to compete.

He also commended ELCPR and the Beacon Association for the successful Ceramic City Christmas and parade which he said “was one for the record books” with the streets “packed full of families” and more than 100 floats.

In conclusion, Stovall said, “Even with all these great things I have spoken of, much more hard work remains, and it is going to require that all of us work together.”