Mayor's Letter: Openness, fiscal responsibility will ensure city’s success

The following Letter to the Editor by Mayor Kristen Brown appeared in The Republic on Thursday, September 27, 2012:

By listening to our residents and our businesses and addressing your concerns head on, we at City Hall have begun delivering on the changes you are seeking. City officials and staff members have made great strides in fiscal responsibility, openness and transparency. We also are significantly improving the services we provide and charting a course for our future.

In fewer than nine months, we’ve achieved the following:

Fiscal Responsibility

  • Repealed the trash fees from residents’ utility bills, returning $1.4 million a year to our citizens.
  • Cut the city’s budget by $2.4 million while significantly increasing capital expenditures and still leaving a projected surplus of more than $800,000.
  • Terminated the problematic outdoor sports complex, using $4 million of its funding to repave city streets and $3.1 million to preserve our city parks and facilities.
  • Developed a five-year capital plan to address deferred, immediate and long-term maintenance issues.
  • Eliminated the take-home policy for city-owned vehicles except for fire and police.

Public Safety

  • Sold the mayor’s city-owned vehicle to fund ice water rescue equipment and training for city firefighters to ensure optimal victim survivability around the city’s 161 ponds and lakes.
  • Awarded a new ambulance contract to Columbus Regional Hospital after conducting a fair, transparent and competitive bidding process. Results in improved service at reduced cost, from nearly $1 million every year to $300,000 next year and $0 the following years.
  • Developing a first-ever Flood Risk Management Plan to determine the effect of flood mitigation efforts and create an emergency response plan.
  • Sending emergency responders to realistic training at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center to prepare for tornadoes, flooding and man-made catastrophes.
  • Changed the tornado alert system so that sirens activate only when a tornado warning is issued.
  • Implementing an emergency notification system that sends alerts to city and county residents by automated voice mail, text messages and emails.
  • Shut down two massage parlors that allegedly were promoting acts of prostitution. Passed an ordinance ensuring we won’t see similar establishments in Columbus again.
  • Began proactive community policing, resulting in a very significant increase in extra patrols and 8,400 more officer interactions with citizens this year against 2011.
  • Embarked on an accreditation process for the Columbus Police Department to adopt nationwide best practices.
  • Established a volunteer police reserve program to reduce overtime costs.

Economic Development

  • Encouraged industrial expansions that added more than 200 new jobs and investments of $63.5 million.
  • Identified properties that are undeveloped or vacant within Columbus to encourage developers to consider these spaces as an alternative to outward expansion.

Accountability and Transparency

  • Appointed fresh, new leadership to city government, including 10 of 17 department leaders and 57 appointments to committees, boards and commissions.
  • Opened Columbus Downtown Inc. records and stopped spending public money behind closed doors. Returning all assets to taxpayers and will complete the transition by year’s end. Created the opportunity for more public comment on every action and discussion at the City Council and Redevelopment Commission meetings.
  • Preparing an audio/visual system for the council chamber, allowing for live streaming of public meetings and online archives.

Other Improvements

  • Changed the name of Animal Control to Animal Care Services to reflect its mission and set a goal of having a 100 percent adoption rate of healthy pets.
  • Formed advisory councils for Safe, Available and Affordable Housing and for Disability and Accessibility to help ensure that Columbus is accessible and affordable for all.
  • Illuminating the Second Street Bridge to showcase its beauty and provide a stunning entrance to downtown after years of darkness.

Arts District Development

  • With the leadership and assistance of more than 40 community members, established the Columbus Arts District and developing a strategic plan to build on our existing cultural assets and programs. The goal is to provide accessible and affordable experiences to everyone in our community and to ultimately become the cultural and creative capital of the Midwest.

Community-Wide Vision and Strategic Plan

  • Collaborated with civic-minded leaders to formulate the first phase of a community-wide vision and strategic plan to be the very best community of its size in the country. This work in progress identifies our priorities in education, housing, jobs, public safety, health, the arts and community development. The plan will continue to evolve with stakeholder and public input in coming months.

In the first nine months, we’ve rapidly begun making the changes the community desires while establishing a strong foundation for our city’s future. I look forward to continuing to work with everyone to make our city the very best community of its size in the country.

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