AURORA — Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin gave her State of the City address last Wednesday, focusing on development and infrastructure, while Aurora City Schools Superintendent Pat Ciccantelli overviewed the district’s accomplishments in his final State of the Schools address.
"To make us a 21st Century city, I have maintained my focus on infrastructure in 2019," said Womer Benjamin. "We invested $1.1 million in road paving; we widened E. Pioneer Trail in front of the library for about $226,000, and we completed a new stormwater couvert on Chatham [Drive] and a replaced a failing one in Geauga Lake at the VFW for just under half million dollars. Seemingly little things like this are not cheap."
The speeches were delivered at the Aurora Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon Feb. 12 at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center.
In addition, Womer Benjamin said the city has managed to replace several 100-year-old waterlines, each costing around $1 million or so, without borrowing, since they were identified in 2015 as needing replacement.
"Hurd, Harmon, Shawnee Trail and much of New Hudson Road … have new water lines, and this year we will replace the E. Pioneer Trail water line," said Womer Benjamin. "Our strong financial management and our growing economy have enabled these accomplishments, along with a city council which has supported these critical projects."
She also said the city will have to widen a section of Route 306 northbound from Route 82, a project associated with the citywide traffic signal replacement project.
"During the course of our design work for our major citywide traffic signal replacement — for which we have a $3.5 million AMATS grant — we learned that the 82/306 intersection did not meet state requirements for traffic flow."
The project will add a turn lane "primarily in our right-of-way so as not to change the character of the historic neighborhood."
Womer Benjamin also said the city developed three new parks: Pioneer Park, Paddock River Preserve and Hartman Park, which residents have been using regularly.
"This past year, we were able to purchase 91 acres on E. Mennonite Road adjacent to Sunny Lake and Moebius, providing a connection, as well, to the north across Pioneer Trail to Spring Hill. We are always seeking ways to preserve our beautiful land and community."
Speaking of beauty, she said the city is still working to oppose expansion of FirstEnergy power lines along the old Norfolk and Southern rail corridor, but added "FirstEnergy is not going away."
"In the last several months, the law director and I have been discussing options with the company to limit the negative impact on our neighborhoods, and we hope to eventually find a resolution that will protect Aurora."
She also said the city filed an appropriation action to acquire the railroad right of way by eminent domain "to use for our own purposes."
Womer Benjamin also mentioned the passing for former Economic Development Director Jack Burge, who has contributed significantly to the city’s tax base in recent years.
"Jack’s vast networks, entrepreneurial spirit and genuine enthusiasm for this city led him to bring incredible economic growth to us in the last decade with a 20% increase in our business tax revenue in the last six years," she said.
State of Schools
In his final State of the Schools address before retirement this summer, Ciccantelli said the district continues to excel, while touching on a variety of topics.
He said the district will have a 5.6-mill renewal of an operating levy on the ballot next month, which raises an estimated $3.5 million annually.
"It’s a huge part of our overall program," he said. "We use it to keep our education relevant so students can have an experience that enables them to continue to be successful."
One snapshot of the success students are having is within the district’s art program. Three students will have their portfolios submitted a national adjudication in Washington, D.C. because they were gold medal winners within the state.
"Only 15 in the whole state will go," said Ciccantelli.
Ciccantelli said a variety of community organizations, including the Rotary Club, continue to work with the schools and students on various endeavors.
"Our students have learned a love of service, and what a great thing to see," he said. "The art of service and love of service our kids have is second to none."
Other supporters and partners in the community include Liberty Ford, Ganley of Aurora, State Farm and more, he added.
He also said the district has fewer administrators per students than all but 3% of Ohio districts.
"We work hard to be good fiscal stewards," he said. "We have fewer administrators per student than almost any district in the state of Ohio."
Recently, he said the district has upgraded the stadium turf and track surface, "which was very overdue," and added four tennis courts.
Ciccantelli also said the district recently acquired a second school resource officer, thanking Police Chief Brian Barnes for his cooperation.
"You can’t talk about schools without talking about safety," he said. "It’s something that’s always on our minds."
Ciccantelli said he will be proud to say he was with Aurora City Schools.
"It’s a great place to live and a great place to be an educator," he said.
Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, firstname.lastname@example.org or @bobgaetjens_rpc.