HUDSON — The city’s leader said her staff is continuing with an approach that is "fiscally responsible" and "future-focused."
City Manager Jane Howington shared that message during her 25-minute State of the City address to about 120 members of the Hudson Chamber of Commerce at the Jo-Ann Fabric Conference Center on Wednesday afternoon. Working in cooperation with one another was a theme of Howington’s speech.
"Together, we are better and we are stronger and we need to celebrate our differences as well as our common goals," said Howington.
Howington reviewed the city’s financial standing, highlighted projects that happened in 2019 and looked ahead to the opportunities in 2020.
Howington said the city’s economic outlook is "very strong," noted Hudson has received clean audits "for a long time," and boasts a AAA bond rating, a distinction that Moody’s bestows on less than 8 percent of communities.
In 2014, Howington said council decided to take some of the money in its carryover and "invest it in ourselves to get a continued stream of revenue growth."
Money was invested in providing high-speed internet service to businesses through the city’s Velocity Broadband initiative. Howington noted the top reason businesses did not want to set up shop or expand in their operation in the city was due to problems they experienced with internet service. Extending the existing municipal broadband service to businesses "brought a huge return on investment in that short-term," she said.
After fiber optic lines were extended to the Hudson Crossing area, more businesses set up shop in that part of the city. Howington noted that while broadband service was not the only reason the companies came to the city, having that access to high-speed internet definitely helped.
"This is part of why our jobs have grown and our revenues have grown so much," said Howington.
Howington noted that income tax collection increased by 11 percent in 2018 and by 9.4 percent in 2019. A total of 39 new businesses opened in Hudson in 2019, 14 of which were either retail or a restaurant. Howington noted that many of the businesses are in the technical, research or medical categories. It is estimated that 432 new jobs came into the city last year. In addition, 54 percent of those new companies are using the Velocity Broadband service.
Typically, the city tries to maintain carryover that is 40 percent of the overall $24 million general fund budget. When council decided to do some short-term investment, it stipulated that the carryover remain at least 30 percent of the general fund budget. In 2020, more money will be invested in the city’s "accelerated road program," but Howington noted that due to job creation growth, "by 2024, we’re going to be well above where we started out [in 2014]."
It is projected that the carryover will be 56 percent of the general fund budget by 2024.
About $1 million in debt the city incurred for projects such as Barlow Community Center, Seasons Road intersection, and other road and stormwater projects will be paid off by 2024.
"The revenue’s going to keep growing; our debt’s going to keep going down," said Howington.
Those added funds mean the city will have a larger carryover amount, which will be reinvested in items such as roads.
"One of the biggest concerns is our roads and the condition of them," said Howington. She noted that thanks in part to the added carryover amount, money will not have to borrowed for the work that is planned.
She also highlighted some of accomplishments in 2019.
A brine well was constructed in 2019 that will allow the city to pull brine that will both treat the city’s water and its roads. Technology is also being used to improve efficiency. As an example, Howington said the city uses a drone to check for problems on power lines. The replacement of the Prospect Street substation was "one of the largest projects that we’ve overseen." City officials also moved into a new city hall on Terex Road last fall.
More work will happen on substantial projects in 2020.
Howington said the administration will give a presentation to council in February discussing how the city will go about paying for stormwater projects.
After many residents recently visited a council meeting to express concerns about plans for a new bike and hike trail as part of the Veterans Trail project, Howington said council, which has three new members, decided to "re-examine" the decade-old connectivity plan.
Another interesting trend: the city has more than 650-home based businesses.
"This is a trend that is going to continue and it’s a trend that we’re going to have figure out how we all deal with [it]," said Howington.
Noting that the city has a lot of large homes, Howington said the municipality now must respond to demands for smaller homes that are being sought both by older residents looking to downsize and younger residents who are starting out.
She noted she is trying to promote a spirit of collaboration, and does this in part by interacting with separate advisory committees for senior citizens, millennials and youth.
"We feel very strongly about getting together, working together," said Howington. "I’ve been working with a lot of our community organizations…so we can do more together and support each other."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.