LORAIN — Mayor Chase Ritenauer said he believes the city is in a state of transition at his State of the City address Thursday afternoon.
“I’d say that the state of our city right now is that of a state of transition,” Ritenauer said. “We’re at a state of transition not just locally, but we’re in a state of transition in Columbus as well. Locally, we have a budget that we have to address this year. It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be painful, and it’s not going to be fun.”
Ritenauer, who named former city Councilman Dan Given as the new safety-service director at the annual speech, said Lorain’s budget issues are in part due to a declining oil, gas and steel market.
“When the market conditions impact our steel mills and impact our RTI site, we saw a reduction of about 10 percent in our revenue last year to a city that was pretty tight in its budget already,” he said. “And what we’re seeing as we roll into 2016 is that we’ve regrettably and unfortunately brought in a deficit. Now for 11 years the city of Lorain ran on a deficit, and we were in fiscal watch and still are because we continue to operate under fiscal watch.”
Ritenauer said some tough choices were going to have to be made to get the city financially stable going into the next year.
“Layoffs have been talked about, cuts through attrition have been talked about, fees have been talked about,” he said. “To me, my overall budget proposal is going to be a hybrid approach.”
Ritenauer said cuts would be across the board and the budget, which should preserve services and keep the city’s money balanced, must be finalized by March 31.
Ritenauer also cited a lack of funding from the state as causing several financial issues.
“It has to be mentioned that a lot of our money that could come into the city, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation today, if there wasn’t a $2 billion surplus sitting in a rainy day fund in Columbus,” he said. “The dollars have been taken from local communities so that there could be tax cuts at the state level, so what has happened is when there is budget turbulence in local communities, we have to make tough decisions.”
In addition to a partnership with Lorain Schools to encourage economic development, Ritenauer said he would also like to see serious development at the former Spitzer Plaza Hotel and the waterfront.
“These are very tall orders,” he said. “As many of you know, the Broadway building is in court right now, but what I would say is that, quite honestly, these deals take time. There are ideas out there, but the issue becomes, how does the city become involved? How do we make that happen? These are two things that I really intend to focus on heavily this year to see some movement.”
Ritenauer said if those two things come together, in addition to various other restaurants and microbreweries that are being considered for the area, it could be “transformational” to downtown.
“The Broadway streetscape project is just going to complement all of the other things going on in downtown Lorain. Rockin’ on the River has been great, sure. But Roverfest was here for a second time. Country Jam is coming, as well as the Fire Fish Festival, Brew Fest, the International Festival. All of these things are making Lorain an entertainment destination.”
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