2014 State of the City

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The past year has been a busy one in Cumberland, but a productive one just the same.  The Council and I established a vision for our community after Councilman Caporale and Councilwoman Wagoner were sworn into office.  Yes, Council, that was only one year ago.

 

There is no question that financial constraints continue to challenge our city, but there’s good news.  Just three years ago, the word “bankruptcy” was being whispered in this building.  Today, just three years later, that’s not the case.  Our city is operating “in the black” with a positive general fund balance for the first time since 2007.  In 2013, the city has established $4.3 million in assets over liabilities.  It’s taken tough decisions and lots of work by the City Council, but most importantly the City Administrator, the City Comptroller, and city staff.  Things are getting better in Cumberland and more than anything, I am happy to report to you that the state of our city is improving.  At a time when we’ve paved more streets, removed more blight, and marketed our community for economic development and tourism, to paraphrase Councilman Kauffman, I have to agree, the achievements the city has made in 2013 are without a doubt the story of the year in our community!

 

Throughout 2013, the city has remained committed to delivering essential government services.  While the financial situation has improved, there is still much more work to be done.  And don’t mistake the financial improvement for anything other than that necessary to effectively operate our city.  A budget surplus is not just “extra money.”  It’s the capital our city needs to function every day rather than taking out massive, short term loans that cost city taxpayers tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in interest.  The city is turning the corner, but work continues and will continue for years to come.

 

This past year, we moved forward many initiatives.  An economic development cooperative agreement between Frostburg and community organizations was signed, better coordinating the economic development efforts in our community.  41 new business licenses were issued by the city for city businesses.  More than $430,000 was invested into the central business district of the city.  Fiber optic broadband was expanded within the city with more to come.  Unemployment declined to the lowest rate since 2008.  More than $350,000 in grants were obtained for economic development projects.  

 

The city’s planning department obtained further grant funding and completed the National Road Monument and plaza.  The 2013 Comprehensive Plan was extensively reviewed by the Planning Commission and just before the end of the year, the City-Wide Element was adopted.  A site plan for improvements to one of the premier downtown buildings, the Cumberland Arms, were approved and additional tax paying properties were annexed into the city.

 

The Constitution Park saw additional upgrades and updates, including an ADA pool side chair lift, new hand rails, and upgrades to pool operations.  2013 was the 74th operating year for the pool.  New events were added to the park, including outdoor poolside movies, an expansion of the summer lunch program that served 8,363 lunches to children, and the large and underutilized downtown gazebo was repurposed to the park for more frequent use.   The city invested to cut down on energy costs by installing new lights in the park.  New bleachers, new soccer goals and many more amenities were updated and added at the Mason Sports Complex, in part due to the Bowers Trust Fund.  New equipment was installed at the Springdale Street playground.

 

The city celebrated the 100th year of operation of the Evitt’s Creek Water Company, specifically of the dam.  The water filtration plant continued a 40% staff reduction, saving the city money, with use of the plant technician program.  The city’s water treatment plant again operated among the top rated facilities in the whole State of Pennsylvania.  Our water is clean, clear, and natural and we are proud of that!  Nearly 3 billion gallons of water were treated and used this year.

 

The city invested in downtown with efforts to reduce energy usage and cost by installing new LED lights.  The city created an agreement with CSX to share in the cost of maintaining the Baltimore Avenue underpass, keeping it open, keeping it clean, sanitary and safe.  More than a dozen new public area security cameras were installed by staff, to help protect citizens from criminal activity.

 

The City Council unanimously agreed to step forward in saving the city money by shutting down and beginning the process of razing the former Memorial Hospital.  The hospital, in a semi-used, semi-mothballed status, was costing the city as much as $1 million per year.  For less than $3 million, the building will be razed and the property will be available for a taxable use once again, in a quality, stable residential neighborhood.

 

The city applied for state funding to acquisition and raze the former East Side School.  An announcement about removing this eyesore should be coming early in 2014.

 

The city installed, through grant funding, more energy saving lights at the wastewater treatment plant, saving energy and saving the city more money, but costing almost nothing, due to the successful grant application.

 

The community development office utilized limited CDBG funding streams to complete 25 projects that were approved by HUD, as well as sidewalk replacements and repairs, street repaving and repairs, and housing improvements.  Seven neighborhoods were impacted by the city’s Neighborhoods Matter program, including advising residents of code violations, installing free smoke detectors by professional fire department personnel, and offering the opportunity for citizens to speak directly to elected officials, police, and fire department personnel.  Staff collected many past due licensing fees and more than $80,000 in licenses for 2013, for more than 50 major construction projects, more than 60 occupancy permits, and dozens of property demolition permits.  66 commercial construction applications were processed, valued at more than $2.6 million worth of development in the city.  95 residential construction applications were processed with residential development in the city totaling more than $2 million.  Blighted properties were targeted by city staff and more than two dozen were razed last year alone.  Despite bad weather months, that’s one blighted property removed from city inventory every two weeks!

 

The city focused additional attention on Downtown with the retirement of long time Downtown Manager Ed Mullaney.  The Downtown Manager’s office was moved to City Hall, reducing rent costs and Jennifer Light took over operations of the Downtown.  A grant of nearly $40,000 was obtained and additional funding was acquired for increased entertainment efforts downtown.

 

The city’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission was redesigned to improvement communications with neighborhoods and strengthen and expand the neighborhood organizations.  Let’s Beautify Cumberland grew stronger and implemented a residential recognition program for property beautification.

 

A testament to the expertise and quality of city staff, a member of the city’s technology department, Jon Daddysman, received the Maryland Municipal League’s Employee of the Year award.

 

The city’s finance department continued to improve the way the city manages its debt and drafted a budget that projected a city-wide surplus of nearly $1.5 million.  The same department worked to upgrade city software that would improve citizen access to tax and utility bills as well as city handling of all services that will ultimately streamline city functions and further reduce city expenses.  The finance department closed out the year with a general fund balance of over $1.7 million.  The City Administrator, Comptroller and I traveled to the bond rating agencies in New York City and successfully obtained bond rating improvements that reaffirmed the city’s bond rating and changed the city’s outlook from negative to stable in one case and to positive in another.  This directly saves the city money.

 

The city engaged in a Health Care Cooperative for city staff that would drive down healthcare costs for city employees and save the city potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The city stands ready to implement the improved health care that will save employees and tax dollars effective July 1.  It will lower cost and provide better health care to employees and save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

 

The city’s finance department received a Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 6th consecutive year in 2013.

 

The City Fire Department responded to a record high number of calls in 2013.  The City Council approved the purchase of an additional ambulance to replace a current ambulance in inventory in 2013.  The Council also approved the purchase of additional life pack equipment for the department.  The department installed more than 200 smoke alarms within the past year.

 

The Cumberland Police Department oversaw a 4% reduction in crime, in part due to the efforts of the Safe Streets initiative.  More than 1,200 back logged warrants were served, getting more known criminals off the streets of Cumberland.  Significant drug cases were solved and dealers were removed from our streets.  A repeat bank robber was nabbed and hauled away.  A murderer was taken into custody and removed from the public.  The department applied for and received more than $350,000 in grants. 

 

In 2013, more than 700 feet of sewer mains were replaced in the city, with a continued commitment to repairing and replacing aging infrastructure.  Repairs were also made to 61 water line breaks or leaks in the past year.  On top of sewer main replacements, over 3,000 feet of water lines were replaced in the past year.

 

The city continued to pave streets in 2013 with more streets paved in the past three years than in the entire previous decade.  A portion of Waverly Terrace was repaved by city staff.  More than 144 tons of blacktop were used to patch streets throughout the year, some repairs necessary following 17 snow and ice events that caused more than 2,000 tons of salt to be applied to city streets.

 

South Centre Street was repaved and saw the installation of a new water and gas line.  Baltimore Avenue construction began, a project costing several million dollars and receiving significant grant funding.  The City improved cooperation with Columbia Gas to implement paving rather than patching after the gas company completes work beneath city streets.

 

The city completed the design of the CSO storage facility.  State mandates required such a facility, but have yet to provide funding for the nearly $30 million project.

 

The city identified to the Western Maryland Delegation, priorities to include funding for the CSO project, funding for repaving of major routes through the city that serve as alternatives to state roads, and an upper story tax credit program to promote the redevelopment of upper stories of existing properties from Downtown to Virginia Avenue.  According to a former Annapolis City Administrator, the existing success in encouraging upper story redevelopment already exceeds most Maryland communities, including Annapolis.

 

Blight removed.

Streets paved.

Energy efficiency increased.

Taxpayer dollars saved.

The city is “in the black” for the first time since 2007.

 

That’s a significant list of achievements in one year. 

 

Yes, the state of our city is strong, and I applaud residents for working with the city.  I appreciate the dedication and devotion of all city staff for working to make our city a better place.  And I appreciate the cooperation and efforts of this City Council for keeping our city strong.

 

Our city has achieved a great deal in 2013.  Thank you.  Thanks to Mr. Rhodes.  And thank you, Dave, Dave, Nick, and Nicole.  2013 has been a strong year for our city and I believe 2014 will continue that success and improvement.