January 1, 2014
At the final weekly press briefing for 2013, Mayor Tom O’Leary spoke at length about the first few months of Galion’s statutory form of government.
“Even though it was a short term, several important things were accomplished,” he began.
Next year’s budget was finalized and approved on time, reflecting the ability of City Council, the auditor and the mayor’s office. It also made clear what the city’s cash position was.
The city worked closely with the Ohio Department of Transportation to finalize plans for the State Route 598 widening project. O’Leary said his administration focused on improving the delivery of the project and considering long-term improvements for the city.
“This complex project is a good example of the traction the new government has gained,” he commented. “It is a big step forward for the city that will improve development opportunities.”
According to him, the bridge replacement will have the biggest impact on local commerce. That portion of the project is estimated to take 120 days. However, the amount of the local share for the project was lower than expected, and O’Leary said the city could use the leftover appropriations as an incentive to get the bridge finished ahead of schedule, by as much as 30 days.
He said it would be money well spent if the bridge is closed for less time, in order to limit the impact on businesses within the construction zone and rerouting traffic.
Speaking of traffic management, the mayor also discussed the successful funding for the new parallel road, which will involve the construction of a roadway from State Route 19, through the vacant land area owned by the Hesby Estate and connect to the school campus. Heise Park Lane will be extended to the west to connect with the new road.
On Dec. 27, city officials and the Galion-Crestline Area Chamber of Commerce met with representatives of the Galion West Shopping Center, affected business owners and representatives of the Hesby estate. The meeting concerned the possibility of a temporary road for the shopping center.
O’Leary noted it was a positive meeting and the Hesby estate was open to providing an easement. Business owners were concerned about potential locations of the road and whether or not it would be permanent.
However, it will be paid for entirely by private funds if they come to an agreement. Whether or not the road is permanent will depend on what each party agrees to.
Department staffing was a concern throughout the year, due in part to several resignations and retirements of key positions. Filling vacancies has been slow for several reasons but they are making progress.
O’Leary emphasized he wants to have the best city departments and retain employees. “But we cannot regain community support by being the cheapest.”
While he understands residents’ concerns about the cost of employee salaries and benefits, filling vacancies and reducing the turnover rate are priorities.
Union negotiations are still open. New contracts will be voted on early this year, then reviewed by City Council. He said he hopes to present the contracts at the same time, in order to be fair.