Stow -- Deriving a new approach to school security, pursuing further collaboration of resources with neighboring municipalities and redeveloping the Stow-Kent Shopping Center all top the Stow administration's priorities for 2013.

Stow Mayor Sara Drew, who completes the first year of her first term as the city's top elected official this month, noted that her goals for Stow in the coming year are a combination of ongoing initiatives coupled with the unforeseen issue of re-evaluating school security.

In planning for 2013, Drew explained how a reassessment of roles and responsibilities throughout the city's various departments have created a "more efficient" government that helps prep Stow for the year ahead.

Realizing Efficiency Throughout 2012

Drew said the most significant accomplishments of the administration this past year center on promoting efficiency -- a driving a purpose of the city's Space Allocation Project that ran from January through September.

"We looked at all the physical space under control of the city and realized we needed to rearrange departments and look at how people are physically housed because we have approximately 20 percent fewer employees than we did in 2008," she said. "And that's a permanent paradigm shift in our local government."

The reduction in staff did not create any layoffs, Drew said, and was realized through attrition and the "careful management of vacancies."

Through the SAP, the city determined the parks and recreation department could be operated without the department's headquarters formerly located on Stow Road.

"It just didn't make sense for us to have that building," said Drew. "It wasn't sustainable and [the location] certainly didn't provide an optimum level of service to residents."

That building was vacated earlier this year. The savings of no longer maintaining that building is around $50,000 annually, Drew said.

Besides realizing a cost savings, the city's vacating that building enabled local company EnviroScience Inc. -- a biological-services firm founded in Stow -- to expand. The city will even earn money on the building, Drew noted, as the company bolsters income and property tax revenues.

"Being able to not only save the city money by vacating that building, but then also manage to do something that was just huge for economic development in this city by maintaining EnviroScience and their payroll as well as putting that building back on the tax roll so it'll generate funds for the school district is just a win, win, win for everybody," Drew said.

The SAP also resulted in other changes, including the creation of a customer service unit downstairs at City Hall's building, zoning and engineering department headquarters. There, clerks for those entities along with those for the parks and recreation department are being cross trained to help citizens with questions about city services.

"Those are some of the most heavily utilized departments by the public, so that's why we put them all together," Drew said.

Drew said the new structure of the service department is another exemplary area of internal collaboration. Referencing last week's snow storm, she said snow plowing is improved because of how that department operates.

"We've gone to a bit of a triage model there," Drew said. "Not just the street department plows. Others are pulled off of other non-essential duties to augment that. It's much easier to do when you have everybody in one place."

While it's hard to quantify the savings right now, Drew said the changes promote efficiency and will ultimately "result in better service to the residents and savings over time."

Priorities in 2013

Creating a new, viable and fiscally sustainable method for school security tops the city's goals for 2013.

Drew said the administrations of both Stow and Munroe Falls along with the safety forces for each are collaborating together with the school district to determine the best way to approach school safety. The financial feasibility of potentially paying for Stow police officers to staff or patrol the schools further is one of may topics being considered.

"Not that safety and safety in the schools isn't something we weren't mindful of before," Drew said, "but given the events of 2012, it has clearly jumped to the forefront of some of the ideas we're working on."

Another driving priority in Stow is the ongoing internal assessment of city operation to further efficiency and the pursuit of collaboration with other municipalities.

Drew noted how the city partnered equally with Kent and Ravenna this year to purchase a roughly $120,000 asphalt recycler used to repair deep potholes that will be shared between the three cities as needed. The city also has a history of collaborating with Hudson on other costly road projects.

"We're focused on other collaboration opportunities with other municipalities to share services and to work together to purchase equipment and make capital improvements," said Drew.

It's "premature" to divulge exactly what projects the city has in mind specifically, Drew said, noting that at least two collaborative projects are in the works.

"But look for some pretty significant initiatives to potentially be rolled out with our neighbors over 2013 that will help with the expenses of running a city."

Finally, Drew said a third priority for the city is to lay the foundation for the coming redevelopment of the Stow-Kent Shopping Center on Kent Road.

"One of the goals of the city and of the developers is to make sure whatever we have there is inherently more sustainable than what's there now," Drew said earlier this month.

The plaza's owners and the city administrators have both said they are hopeful preliminary site plans will be reviewed in January that reflect the ultimate goal of turning the strictly all-retail shopping center into a mixed-use development possibly featuring a new housing component and enhanced pedestrian accesses.

"We have had further communications with the owners and will be looking at some things right here after the holidays," Drew said.


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