AURORA — After setting aside about $6.1 million for capital improvement projects in 2018, the city plans to spend about $6.97 million on them in 2019.

At City Council’s Nov. 19 meeting, Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin and Finance Director Tim Clymer unveiled their proposed 2019 budget totaling $17.02 million in the general fund and $34.85 million overall. Council has until Feb. 28 to adopt the budget.

"We have accomplished much in the past year, with large projects being undertaken," said Womer Benjamin, who cited the Hurd Road waterline. "Some — like the service center roof replacement — weren’t expected, and some didn’t get done because of the weather [East Pioneer Trail-Route 43 widening].

"The nearly $7 million in improvements planned for 2019 include some critical infrastructure projects as we move forward," the mayor added.

Some of the major projects are road repaving, wastewater treatment plant upgrades, more Hartman athletic complex improvements, Chelmsford Drive and West Mennonite culvert replacements, traffic signal engineering, sidewalks and California Street improvements.

The city also plans to fill two newly created positions — an information technology manager and a construction and inspection manager — and make the seniors coordinator a full-time position.

"We have a very busy year ahead, with major infrastructure issues continuing to be addressed," said the mayor. "I believe we have appropriately identified priorities and included them for 2019. I hope we have no unforeseen problems like the service center roof.

"Infrastructure upgrades are important to maintain the quality of life and services in Aurora. Consequently, they continue to be my focus."

Womer Benjamin said she trimmed more than $600,000 from proposals that were initially made.

The budget sets aside a little more than $1 million for road repaving, with a road and bridge levy generating about $540,000. The first phase of a 10- to 20-year plan for upgrading the wastewater system is planned, with $450,000 targeted for engineering of sludge solutions.

Culverts on Chelmsford Drive and West Mennonite Road are set to be replaced, with $531,878 set aside, and $200,000 will go toward implementing Geauga Lake area stormwater recommendations, such as opening up ditches.

About $345,000 will go for the next phase of the Hartman athletic complex on Townline Road. The phase will add ADA parking, restrooms and pavilions on the south side and begin addressing drainage issues at the tree arboretum on the north side.

The mayor said about $2 million has been invested in the Hartman complex since 2015.

Aurora is carrying over $350,000 for its share of California Street improvements. Reminderville also is chipping in money. About $315,000 is budgeted for sidewalks as the city continues to improve connectivity, having installed 6,000 feet in the last five years.

"People are really enjoying our sidewalks," said Womer Benjamin. "I believe they have greatly enhanced our community."

Plans are to complete sidewalks down the east side of Route 43 from Aurora-Hudson Road to Aurora Farms, along Aurora-Hudson from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church to Greenbriar and continue the STAR sidewalk rehabilitation program.

"This year, we had 31 applicants for STAR and spent $7,876 as the city’s 50 percent share of the program," the mayor said. "I want to make sure we have accommodated all interested subscribers."

Engineering of the citywide traffic signal upgrades will amount to about $293,000, $220,000 will go for a Treat Road-Route 43 traffic signal and $65,000 will go for a Route 82-Aurora Commons Drive crosswalk and pedestrian signal.

The budget also includes playground equipment upgrades at several parks and $40,000 to design a possible spray park, plus $100,000 as the city’s share of refurbishing the school district’s tennis courts located between Harmon School and Veterans Stadium.

Womer Benjamin said the school district asked the city to chip in some of the $200,000 to $300,000 it will take to rehab the tennis courts. "I understand the schools are undertaking a fundraising project for their share of the work," she said. 

The mayor said $185,000 has been proposed for a new leaf pickup truck, which would have a vacuum system different from the leaf boxes the city now attaches to dump trucks. It also could be used for other cleanups. The city also wants to erect a second salt dome for about $85,000.

According to the mayor, IT upgrades are planned to minimize frustrations with computer failures and internet crashes, with $145,000 set aside. 

Improving IT services includes hiring an IT manager. Council approved that new position at its Nov. 19 meeting, with the salary expected to be around $85,000. Council also approved a contract with a backup IT consulting firm.

Creating a construction and inspection manager position remains on Council’s agenda. Womer Benjamin explained the hourly rate for outside contractors is expected to double next year.

"We believe bringing that work in-house will save the city at least $50,000 next year and will help us better oversee the projects going on," Womer Benjamin said. "The position is budgeted at $65,000. We would still use outside contractors as needed, but on a much-reduced basis."

The mayor also proposes to make the seniors coordinator a full-time position. "Our senior population continues to expand," she said. "We had 16 more events in 2018 over 2017, and registered 85 more seniors.

"I pledge that we’ll continue to evaluate positions as people retire to best use our resources and promote efficiency in our operations. Our employees have worked hard and will continue to do so."

The mayor noted salary increases for union and non-union employees are at 2.5 percent for 2019.

Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400 Ext. 4189 or klahmers@recordpub.com.