MUNROE FALLS — Looking forward to continuing work on long-range road and water projects is Mayor James Armstrong’s focus for his second term in office.

Armstrong on Tuesday defeated challenger Mike Barnes by a tally of 858 (56.63 percent) to 657 (43.37 percent), according to final but unofficial results from the Summit County Board of Elections. Barnes is currently an at-large city council member.

Armstrong thanked the voters and added, "I appreciate their trust."

Looking ahead, the mayor said there is much work to do when he begins his second term in the new year.

"The reason I was really happy to get re-elected was I wanted to make sure that we continued down that course of getting back to the basic services of the city," said Armstrong.

Armstrong said he felt he kept the promise he made when he was first elected four years ago to focus on providing strong city services.

"I think you get into difficulty when cities lose that focus on roads, water, [and] public safety because that is the purpose of local government," said Armstrong. "What good is it to have a wonderful downtown commercial project if you can’t plow your streets when there’s a snowstorm?"

City leaders are working on the 2020 budget, which Armstrong noted had not commanded his full attention during the campaign.

"It’s hard to focus on next year when you always have that unknown of the election," said Armstrong.

The mayor said he’s asked the department leaders to compile a list of capital items that must be addressed during the next five to 10 years. The next step would be to use the budgeting process to finance purchases and projects. As an example, Armstrong said the city needs to replace a 25-year-old fire engine.

"I think it’s my job to look down the line four, eight years … to make a long-range plan, and not just focus on the next year or the next two years," observed Armstrong.

With the passage of a road levy that the city first began collecting on in 2018, the mayor said, "we’ve really just started to be able to get moving down this path."

The process to obtain grant funding for road projects is an example of the need for long-range planning, the mayor said. The city applied for a grant for the North River Road project in 2017, and has since received the grant, but the work won’t happen until 2022. Armstrong added he expects the city will soon learn whether it has received a grant for a Munroe Falls Avenue project that would happen in either 2023 or 2024.

The city has begun work on $5 million worth of water projects. Armstrong said the north water tower is being refurbished this year and similar work is planned for the south water tower in 2020. Work is continuing to set up an emergency generator system to provide an alternate source of power for the booster station. 

With the safety forces, Armstrong said he is pleased that there is now at least one full-time police officer working on every shift.

"They get to know the community and it’s easier to do community policing," said Armstrong. 

Thoughts from Barnes

Barnes said while he was "disappointed" in the outcome of the race, he said his team was "so encouraged by the support that we received."

"We believe we had a good message," said Barnes. "We ran a good, honest campaign."

However, Barnes noted he was "angry" with voter turnout.

"While the end result may have been the same, we once again have an election decided by 40 percent of the registered voters deciding important issues for the other 60 percent," said Barnes.

The city has 3,668 registered voters, according to the Summit County Board of Elections results. The unofficial results from Tuesday’s election show that 1,515 votes were cast in the mayor’s race, which equates to a 41 percent turnout.

With two years remaining as an at-large council member, Barnes said he will "continue to represent the voters of Munroe Falls."

"I plan to do everything I can to work with the mayor, his administration and my fellow councilmen in a way that keeps the city moving forward," said Barnes. 

He noted key issues for him are developing a formal disaster recovery plan, formulating a five-year revenue and expense forecast, creating a "strong" economic development plan, reviewing unused real estate assets, and preparing to pay more legal fees.

On that final point, Barnes is referring to former police sergeant Bob Post’s federal lawsuit against the city, Armstrong and two other officials. Post was terminated from his sergeant’s position in April 2018. In his complaint, Post is seeking compensation for lost earnings and benefits, as well as damages, court costs and attorney fees. The trial is set to begin on April 27, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.

"Are we prepared for what could be a financial disaster?" asked Barnes.

The mayor’s office earns an annual salary of $24,000.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.