May 18, 2020
May 8, 2020
2021 State of the City
A mayor can certainly begin any State of the City address by stating that the previous year was like no other in the history of Bucyrus. This year that statement takes on special meaning because of the Pandemic of 2020. The previous year began as any normal year with residents dealing with snow and cold weather issues and our administration closely watching tax revenues. Early in the year we hear the term “coronavirus” but it was a distant threat—from way over in China. We watched anxiously as the virus spread quickly throughout our country and eventually made its way to Crawford County. Life as we knew it changed when the Governor ordered a shutdown of most offices and businesses in anticipation of slowing the spread of COVID-19. We have been dealing with the effects of the virus ever since March of 2020. Local cases started out slowly then peaked in May—the shutdown worked and had delayed the spread—but only delayed it. But that delaying move on the part of Governor DeWine’s administration bought time to distribute protective equipment and get our medical community ready for the effects of the virus. The summer months saw a low case load and we breathed a sigh of relief. Then September came and the cases soared and now are finally declining in February of 2021. So much has happened in the last year with testing and illness and hosptitalizations. Citizens were encouraged to social distance, not hoard toilet paper and sanitizer and, of course wear masks. Operation Warp Speed brought us vaccines which are being administered now and the early results are good. There is still much to learn about COVID-19. Variants are being discovered and we are not out of the woods as of this writing. Please keep up the practices that have helped keep us as safe as possible.
COVID -19 made life difficult for our business community. Retailers, especially restaurants, struggled to keep staffs healthy and remain open. The federal government passed the CARES ACT which provided relief through forgivable loans to small businesses and this has been crucial to keeping many of our local businesses open. Thank you to our local SBA banks and accounting firms who did extraordinary work in the application process. An additional PPP (paycheck protection) program was introduced in January and is now in effect for a narrower subgroup of small businesses which actually experienced large sales declines due to the virus.
City workers were also affected. PD Chief Koepke was our first city worker to feel the effects of COVID-19 and was very sick for two weeks. City Hall was closed for several months during the year as we attempted to slow the spread and keep our staff healthy. Numerous other city workers contracted the virus with varying degrees of severity. We were able to maintain a high level of services to the community and we owe a debt of thanks to our staff for their dedication and courage during tough working conditions. It was important to maintain our services and keep our parks open for the community and we did it—thanks to a dedicated staff.
Many important events were cancelled for fear of becoming “super spreader” events. Churches closed and then many reopened as the Governor lifted the closure order but maintained social distancing practices with smaller congregations. Many used Facebook for online services. Our hospital closed to visitors and prepared to be inundated with COVID -19 patients which didn’t occur until late in the year. Schools cancelled spring sports but allowed fall sports to take place with good results. Our beloved Bratwurst Festival cancelled for the first time in history with a promise that 2021 will be bigger and better than ever—we are holding them to that promise. As of this writing I am optimistic that life will begin to return to normal over the spring and summer months. There may be a “new normal” with continued mask wearing and social distancing as we wait to see the effects virus variants and the efficacy of the vaccines but the outlook is markedly improved since December—just two months ago.
Although we are still navigating through the pandemic I would like to take this opportunity to thank some folks who have more than risen to the occasion. Crawford County Board of Health is the first group that comes to mind. Led by Director Kate Siefert, the Crawford County Board of Health has performed incredibly well during the pandemic. None of us can imagine the stress level of being responsible for the health of tens of thousands of citizens but they performed their jobs professionally and with a high level of compassion. Now they are working even harder in providing the long-anticipated vaccines to our citizens—one shot at a time. Thank you also to Dr. Christopher Johnson for professional leadership during this crisis.
Avita Hospital deserves our thanks for their work in preparing for the effects of COVID-19. Executives from Avita developed a plan to treat a large number of anticipated victims and those numbers didn’t materialize initially. This came at a great financial cost to them but they never complained. We thank Jerry Morasko and the entire leadership of Avita as well as the hundreds of health care workers who cared for so many of our community members putting themselves in harm’s way.
Many other people and organizations deserve our gratitude. Our school systems had a difficult task educating our young citizens while keeping everyone healthy. Thanks to all teachers and staffs. They performed admirably. Retail workers, especially food service workers, deserve our heartfelt thanks. Where would have been without our grocery store workers who stayed on the job in a difficult time stocking shelves (especially with toilet paper) and keeping us fed.
First responders stayed on the job during the Pandemic. BFD and BPD both have experienced cases of the coronavirus but others stepped up to fill-in as needed and, so far, services were uninterrupted. Portsmouth EMS has had similar issues with staffing but has managed to keep Bucyrus served. Kirk Williamson and Jette Cander from Crawford County EMS were instrumental in coordinating supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and masks and were capable interlocutors between agencies. Let’s not forget our nursing home staffs for their dedicated service during a time where many of the deaths from COVID -19 took place in nursing homes. This surely had to take a toll on all involved. I also want to thank Wise Funeral Services and Munz-Pirnstill Funeral Home for their fine work during the difficult grieving process where traditional calling hours were not always possible.
I cannot forget to mention the wonderful work of our social agencies which stood in the gap created by massive layoffs in the initial time of the pandemic by providing meals and encouragement to an apprehensive population. Special thanks to Pastor Dan and Karolyn Rebon from Father’s Heart Healing Center, Deacon Julius Fritz from Holy Trinity Community Kitchen and Salvation Army leaders Ray and Connie Valdez. They would be the first to tell you that the Bucyrus community stepped up financially to help out—this couldn’t have been done alone. Corporate giving was exceptional and I would single out just a couple of organizations who stepped up early—Ohio Mutual Insurance Group and the Community Foundation, but there were many more who helped including our generous service clubs. Thank you.
In the early days of the Pandemic much my time was spent listening to White House updates as well as the daily briefings from the Governor’s office. I believe that we owe a great debt to the Trump Administration and the DeWine Administration for the tremendous level of communication that was given to us. This crisis was unlike anything we have experienced and we hope that the worst is past and we will someday look back on those who made the right decisions and offered courageous leadership. Our State and Federal leaders rose to the occasion in a very difficult situation and they deserve our thanks.
2020 was also a contentious political year—the most difficult in our lifetimes. The pandemic seemed to make everything more divisive and there was an incident in Minneapolis involving a resident by the name of George Floyd who was killed during an altercation with the Minneapolis Police Department. This incident set off a chain of events nationwide that protested the killing. Our own community saw a peaceful event in June that allowed those in attendance to show their concerns about issues with racism in our country and community. We were asked to examine our own views of race relations in Bucyrus and see where we can improve and be more inclusive to all. Over 100 in attendance marched peacefully down Sandusky Avenue to City Hall and back to Millennium Park. We were concerned about possible violence during the event since other communities across the country had confrontations during their protests. Ours went off without any confrontations and we breathed a deep sigh of relief. Thank you to our county law enforcement for their presence.
Let’s now turn to the business of government which continued in 2021 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. I will go over some of the major projects that we worked on in last year.
Way back in the 1970’s, the City of Bucyrus was notified by ODNR of serious issues with the deteriorating dam at the Pines Reservoir. The cost of repair was put on the ballot and voters rejected it. Our administration was given a warning by ODNR of penalties that would have been assessed if the issue was not addressed. Pines Reservoir was no longer a safe water source and it had been disconnected from our water lines. The estimated cost for repair to the dam was over a million dollars. ODNR approved our plan to drain the reservoir and breach the dike so that it would not be a threat in case of a break in the dam. I am happy to report that the 40 year-old issue is now rectified and ODNR signed off on the project in November of 2020. It is good to have this project off our backs and we are continuing discussions about the future use of the former Pines Reservoir.
2020 was a busy year in the City with regard to our Consent Decree with the Federal EPA. Work continued in the southeast section of Bucyrus and Groups 1, 2, and 3A were completed. We are working with our engineering firm, Arcadis, who is now developing a report to present our progress to the Federal EPA and work toward a plan for the next cycle.
New Engineering Firm
Makeever and Associates, Inc. were chosen as the new engineering firm for Bucyrus, replacing Brandstetter and Carroll, Inc. We owe a huge debt to BCI for their work with the separation program, mill and pave program, and in obtaining important grants for Bucyrus. Makeever and Associates hit the ground running and have many good ideas to maintain and improve our city streets and other services to our residents.
Safety Forces Leadership
2020 saw a changing of the leadership guard in our Police and Fire Departments. Long-time Chiefs Dave Koepke (PD) and Jay Keller (FD) retired after many years of dedicated service to the City. We thank them for their leadership and wish them the best in their new endeavors. Captain Neil Assenheimer was sworn in as our new Police Chief and Captain Chad Schwemley continues as acting Fire Chief.
New Fire Equipment
We were able to replace a fire truck that was thirty years-old in 2020. Engine One was brought in to service in the fall and will serve the citizens or Bucyrus for many years. We also were able to purchase a new ambulance in anticipation of providing EMS service to our citizens later in the 2021. Our current ambulance is a 2010 model and the new model is a state of the art vehicle and was purchased with funds from the federal CARES Act which saves the citizens of Bucyrus over $300,000.
Congress enacted the CARES Act to provide relief to states, counties, and cities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Strict guidelines were in place for the use of the funds. We used our funds for enhancing the safety of City Hall by installing many touch-free doors and in our restroom facilities. Funds were also used to reimburse the City for time off for City workers who were stricken with COVID-19. Other uses of the CARES Act funds were for our new ambulance (see above) and for enhancing safety for our utility and income tax offices. Personal Protective Equipment was bought through the funding and we also are replacing commercial water meters to become radio-read meters thereby reducing exposure for our City meter readers. Touch free improvements are being made to the pool house. Crawford County officials released funds to the Bucyrus Chamber of Commerce who distributed funds to city businesses in the form of grants
General Electric Sale
Long-time employer, General Electric Lighting Division, was sold to Savant, Inc. in July. Savant began aggressively hiring new workers which was a very good sign. However, at the time of this writing, GE Lighting is in negotiations with the IUE-CWA union after announcing the closing of the LED line. We are very concerned that losing the LED line will not bode well for the future of the plant in Bucyrus since LED is the lighting of the future. We hope and pray that the negotiations will be fruitful and GE Lighting will continue the long history of quality work right here in Bucyrus.
Bucyrus Precision Tech
Bucyrus Precision Tech was the original tenant in Ohio Crossroads Industrial Park and they announced plans to close in the summer or 2021 affecting about 100 workers. BPT has been an asset to the community and we are saddened by the closure. They will be missed.
Economics and Tax Revenue
The shock to the local economy began in March with the ordering of business closings by Governor DeWine. We anticipated a very difficult 2020 with as much as a 20% reduction in tax revenue due to the many business closings. The Governor allowed businesses to reopen in May and this move had a positive impact on our tax revenue. Although we did not meet our 2019 revenue or achieve our 2020 goal we saw revenues better than we had anticipated in the early days of the pandemic. Our reduction in revenue as compared to 2019 was about 2% and this translates into a loss between $100,000 and $150,000. Many of our employers have “help wanted” signs out. This is good news and bodes well for the City. As part of the CARES Act the government provided Paycheck Protection Loans (PPP) to eligible businesses with the intention to become a 100% forgivable loan. The program was very successful and put many workers back on the job. In addition, the State of Ohio developed many programs to help small businesses which were beneficial. Our business community has weathered the storm pretty well. Sadly, we have lost a few businesses during the year but were fortunate to have others replace them. Family Video was replaced by Dollar General. Burke’s Outlet replaced Gordman’s.
Popular grocer, ALDI purchased the Bucyrus Motel--Otto’s Dining Room on East Mansfield Street. We have been working with ALDI for several years in bringing a store to Bucyrus and we are thrilled that it has come to fruition. Many city residents shop at ALDI in Mansfield and Marion and were very happy to hear the news. Thank you to City Attorney Rob Ratliff and Zoning Administrator Landyn Hill for working closely with all the parties involved, including Township officials in achieving the annexation of the property. Well done and welcome Aldi!
Water Line Expansion
We continue our efforts to expand City water service to rural areas. City Council approved a rate change that will facilitate expansion to Nevada which is projected for 2023. We are waiting for approval for expansion to Stetzer Road which will begin shortly after approval is received. The interest from Stetzer Road residents has been strong. The redundant water line on route 98/Plymouth Street from the water treatment plant to the City limits is out to bid and should be completed this year.
Access Channel and Communications
Veteran Access Channel coordinator, Gary Hess resigned in 2020 because of health issues. We hired a veteran Bucyrus City worker, John Rostash to replace Gary and become our City communications director. John is a valuable asset to the City and has already made great strides in improving equipment (CARES Act funded) as well as our website, YouTube and Facebook pages. We pride ourselves on being transparent and making our media efforts interesting and informative. Congratulations and thank you to Gary Hess for your service and welcome back to Bucyrus, John Rostash!
We celebrate our Bicentennial in 2021 and we have been planning for this year for several years. Our year-long celebration is intended to focus on the history of Bucyrus beginning with the settling of the Norton family on grounds near the current court house in 1819. Incorporation was achieved in 1821. Many events are scheduled including the “Bratwurst Drop” on May 1. Founder’s Weekend will be over the 4th of July. Lots of other fun things are planned by Bicentennial Coordinator Kelli Patterson, Legacy Chair Randy Fischer, and Events Chair Rhonda Rowland, along with many dedicated Commission members and volunteers. Stay tuned for a fun year.
COVID-19 has delayed some of our events but certainly not eliminated them. A legacy project is in the works—Norton Bicentennial Park just to the north of the Sandusky River on Sandusky Avenue. This area is in the FEMA flood way and the best use for this are will be a green space. We are currently raising funds to make this park a reality in the coming years. It will honor our founders, Sam and Mary Norton. I highly recommend viewing the Bicentennial website—www.Bucyrus2021.com which has lots of good information and a place to donate to this worthwhile project.
Quality of Life Issues
Our Administration’s top concern for many years has been in stemming the population decline and this is not a short-term project. Population decline has reduced our tax base and we have been seeing the effects of stagnant tax revenue growth in the last four years. The effect of slow growth is felt in the ability to provide the same level of City services and we have been able to balance our budgets by carefully watching expenses and by not replacing workers.
We have been laying the groundwork for growth by investing in the Crawford County Partnership which works closely with employers and potential employees to match up skills. The Partnership is also our economic development agent and has been very busy in efforts to attract new employers. Citizens have invested in our streets by renewing the Streets Levy and we have established a tree program to help replace the loss of hundreds of shade trees in our parks and streets over the last generation. All of these and more efforts are aimed at retaining and attracting residents—especially young families and we have had success in the important 20-29 age group. Every year (except last year due to COVID-19) I have met with area high school students to make a sales pitch on making Bucyrus a great place to live and work.
There is one area that has been frustrating for our Administration and that is in our City park funding. My hope has been that we would be able to carve out part of our tax revenue to fund park staffing, repair, maintenance, and improvements. Due to flat tax revenue we have not been able to achieve that goal. Parks are critically important in attracting young families and are used by all ages. Aumiller Park had large crowds last year with the addition of Kiwanis sponsored Pickle Ball Courts and the addition of Michalek Family Woods. The swimming pool opened in June after being closed for a year for major repairs. Our citizens want and need good parks in order to maintain physical and mental health. Our collective health as a thriving community depends on accessible park but it has been a financial struggle to improve or repair our parks. We always have to borrow funds or raise funds from businesses or residents to allow us to make any major changes. I would like to change that by asking voters to approve a small income tax levy to be used for quality-of-life improvements to our park system that residents will be free to use.
A Parks Income Tax Levy would allow us to fund a Parks Director, who would have programs during the year, add playground equipment, repair existing equipment, and add restrooms and also provide funds for walking and bike paths. We have an excellent park system but we cannot be satisfied but must continually improve our offerings to our residents. I am requesting that you refer to Committee the possibility of putting a .0125% income tax levy on the fall ballot. This levy, if passed, will raise approximately $350,000 per year and will cost the average household less than one dollar per week—for the entire household! This small investment will ensure that every citizen regardless of age or income will be able to use any of our parks 365 days per year.
Downtown Business District
We have an attractive Historic Downtown Business District and we need to maintain and improve its character to ensure that it remains attractive and vital. Schines Art Park stage was installed in 2020, a generous gift from the North Central State Foundation and the Cathcart family which owns Bucyrus Railcar Repair. The formal dedication ceremony is scheduled for this summer. Schines Art Park is an important part of the renewal of our Downtown District. I am working on a proposal to add green areas to our business district to make it more attractive.
There is one major headwind that should be addressed. The proposed minimum wage increase to $15 will, in my opinion, devastate our small businesses. The bill that is in Congress would cause the loss of 1,400,000 jobs (OMB figures) and I expect that most of the job loss to be felt in rural areas like Bucyrus. The cost of living in Bucyrus cannot be compared to larger (especially east coast) areas. We need entry-level jobs for our young folks and for part-time workers, which currently pay $10 to $12. Speaking as a small business owner, the competitive nature of retail business will not allow for the raising of prices to offset higher payroll costs. The beneficiary of a $15 minimum wage will be big businesses like Amazon. The victims will be small business owners and workers who will lose their jobs. At the time of this writing, Senator Brown is in favor of the increase to $15 per hour and Senator Portman is against the increase and I ask you to reach out to Senator Brown (who is from Mansfield) to reconsider the effects of such a large increase will have on his hometown and our town.
We have a top notch team running the Administration for the City of Bucyrus with SSD Jeff Wagner, Kelli Patterson, Landyn Hill, Greg Travis and John Rostash. Rest assured that we work diligently and effectively to spend tax dollars wisely, promote business, attract new businesses and work with our partners in the private sector who add so much to the quality of life. We pledge to work tirelessly to prepare Bucyrus to be a one of the premier small towns in Ohio and beyond.
Lessons Learned in 2020
Celebrating the Bicentennial provides us with a time to reflect on the history of Bucyrus and the effort and bravery that it took to get us to this time in our City’s history. We have weathered much as citizens in our history—at least two pandemics—economic depressions—wars and political divisions but we have found a way to persevere and come out stronger. 2020 has been exceptionally challenging but it could have been much tougher and many people deserve to be thanked and I have mentioned only a few in this address. Try to imagine the thousands and thousands of good folks who rose to the challenges that were faced in the past, beginning with the Norton family. Life has never been without challenges but our citizens have shown time and time again that they have what it takes to get through whatever comes their way and this is what makes Bucyrus a special place. Yes, we have seen divisions nationally and some even locally but those divisions will cease and we will be stronger for our trials.
God has richly blessed Bucyrus during the first 200 years of existence with fine citizens who care about others and want to make Bucyrus the best that it can be. We pray that we continue our history of cooperation and we especially pray that our history of putting first others will thrive—this is the building block of any successful community. We pray that we may help to raise up good citizens in our families, churches, and schools who understand that progress and peace are not automatic but need to be guarded faithfully and passed on to the next generation.
As we say goodbye to a difficult year we thank God for the many blessings and for lessons learned. We look forward to the fruits that those lessons will bear in respecting others and in building a loving community that will grow and prosper and be welcoming to all. May God bless Bucyrus in its next 200 years!
Mayor Jeff Reser
February 16, 2021