|Highland Heights earned the right to be called a "Tree City" in 2020. When plans for Arbor Day were canceled due to the virus, they distributed more than 50 trees to area residents.|
By Robin Gee, city council beat editor
At the June 2 city council meeting, Highland Heights Mayor Greg Meyers provided an update on the "state of the city." In his message, he acknowledged the many challenges and uncertainty as a result of the pandemic, but also took the opportunity to thank city staff, officials and residents for their flexibility, support and willingness to adjust during this time.
"We were cruising along very well until February when this Corona virus hit. We are not the only ones in this boat; everybody is. I just want to thank our department heads. We worked through this, and Jeanne Pettit [city clerk/treasurer], Steve Lehman in our public works, Police Chief Bill Birkenhauer. We all have a full agenda of work all day. We’re keeping all our employees employed, and I think that’s great..."
He went on to thank a long list of city staff as well as city boards and commission members, professional consultants, as well as city council members for pulling together to keep things going throughout the crisis. He also outlined the health and safety measures staff and department personnel are taking to keep the public and employees safe.
Meyers noted a list of city accomplishments and ongoing projects. This year, the city earned the national designation of Tree City and formed a Tree Commission. Staff has been working on a project with the state to digitize and organize city documents and is working through city ordinances to identify those that need to be updated or removed.
The Police Department has continued with training throughout the year, especially in the area of drug enforcement. Public works staff have been busy with ongoing street repairs and handled a number of snow events last winter. They also planted 27 trees in the city, maintained parks and recreation, all the while adjusting to closures and other guidelines from the state.
The mayor outlined efforts to relax some city restrictions to allow area businesses to post advertising banners along the US 27 highway and to spill out into some parking areas to provide curbside services. He noted that some development projects planned for this year have been delayed, but that the new St. Elizabeth medical building is now open and fully operational, the Highland Heights Senior Village development is now 100 percent full and work continues on a town center projects.
He listed events that were canceled but expressed hope that upcoming fall events may be able to go ahead, but is adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
"In conclusion, I want to say Highland Heights is a nice place to live, work and raise your family," Meyers said. He added that it would be a difficult year coming up, but the city is prepared to work together as things unfold.
The meeting marked the second reading for budget amendments. City council quickly passed an amendment to adjust the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget to reflect the year.
As with other cities across the commonwealth, the plan for the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget was conservative. In his address to the city, Meyers noted retirement system contributions, the rising cost of health care and maintaining the city’s competitive tax rate as features of the budget. The costs of dealing with COVID-19 has been a challenge, and it remains uncertain what the coming year may bring.
"This will be a really difficult year when it comes to proposing budgets," City Attorney Steven Franzen told council. "Don’t be surprised when we go to amend next year, there may be significant changes from where we thought we might be."
Franzen read the proposal for FY 2020-2021. Expected resources available are $2,351,687 with a total expected revenues of “3,883,800,” bringing the grand total of resources available to $6,235,487. Expected total expenditures are $4,170,344. City council voted to pass the budget.
Council voted to cancel a planned June 16 meeting, as well as the July 7 meeting of council. The council will meet next at the end of July. Meyers noted the next meeting may be done in person depending on state guidelines.
The Tree Committee chose two Yard Beautification winners for June: Celeste Roberts of 531 North Miller, and Greg and Barbara Yeager of 17 Honeytree. They will be invited to the next in-person meeting to receive their awards. Both yards have signs indicating their honors.
Because Arbor Day activities were canceled, the city gave away between 50 and 60 trees to residents in a "Trunk-a-Tree" giveaway on June 13. Residents were invited to come to the city building to pick up either a dogwood or cherry tree.