Munroe Falls state of the city focuses on services, businesses
Munroe Falls Mayor James Armstrong reported that city is strong despite the challenges of 2020, thanks in large part to ongoing planning, communication, transparency and support throughout various stakeholder groups.
"As one of our surrounding mayors advised me before I took office in 2016, we can accomplish a lot if we check our egos at the door," Armstrong said in his sixth state of the city address to the Stow-Munroe Falls Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. "And that's what we were able to do as a city."
Here's how four major groups fared in 2020:
1. Fire Department and EMS
Throughout the pandemic, there has been regular communication among the fire department, city administration and the county officials, which "resulted in solutions being developed to ensure our community did not see a decrease in emergency services while implementing and adhering to rapidly changing safety guidelines to protect our safety," the mayor said.
Fire Chief Lee Chafin and Finance Director Karen Reynolds worked countless hours reviewing CARES Act funding to ensure that the money was being used properly, and in spite of the financial strains presented by the pandemic, the city replaced a 21-year old ambulance without utilizing the city's general fund. They accomplished this "by implementing a sound financial planning and budget controls," Armstrong said, which saved the city thousands of dollars in potential interest costs.
The department also was recognized by Summa Health for its quick response to a medical emergency that saved the resident's life.
2. Police Department
"I don't believe it's an exaggeration to say the police were under [siege] this past year due to the actions of a few," Armstrong said. "What I found comforting was as those who suddenly became experts in law enforcement began making various statements about policing, Munroe Falls already put in place numerous community related reforms in our police department."
Those reforms include a contract with Lexipol to review department policies to ensure compliance with the law and new cases; collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to train officers in de-escalation skills when dealing with mental health crises; and further collaboration with the county's Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board.
"We implemented in 2017 our own quick-response team as part of the Summit County Opiate Task Force to assist those in need and to avoid the path that too often leads to a criminal courtroom," Armstrong said.
3. Service Department
Thanks to proactive planning, the service department was able to avoid a number of "possibly catastrophic problems," this past year, the mayor said.
During the November windstorm that knocked power out for much of the city, Munroe Falls made emergency connections to Stow waterlines, ensuring that the water tower was able to maintain proper water pressure. They were also able to hook up a portable generator to the pump station because the city previously added an emergency power connection to the facility as part of the ongoing improvement plan.
But the most significant cost-saving measure resulted from the Water Capital Maintenance Program. During renovations of the south water tower, the city found and addressed structural issues, that if unchecked, would have cost the city "hundreds, if not millions of dollars," the mayor said.
Now, both towers are renovated and refurbished, marking the first time both towers will be fully utilized since the North Tower was constructed over 20 years ago.
Local businesses demonstrated "flexibility and perseverance" last year, as well as a dedication to the Munroe Falls community, Armstrong said.
He cited several examples:
Lemongrass focused on its takeout customers. The Budding Tree adapted from a floral business with a fresh floral and clothing boutique that offers workshops. Studio 9 expanded once it was able to reopen. The Scissor Room continued its holiday tradition to feed the less fortunate. Thompson Electric made changes to its building to comply with social distancing. Small Steps Big Strides moved into the former Kathy's Preschool building. Float the River had a successful season providing summer enjoyment on the river. Signs 330 renovated and moved into a Main Street building that had been empty for many years.
"And in showing community loyalty, both Small Steps Big Strides and Studio 9 contracted with Signs 330 for their signs," Armstrong said.
On the city side, Lisa Hawes replaced Anne DiCola as the community and economic development coordinator.
What's to come?
"More than ever, we are focused on encouraging new businesses and new endeavors to join the wonderfully successful businesses that call Munroe Falls home," Armstrong said.
He is hopeful that the pandemic will subside "as more people become vaccinated and the economy improves as a result. Hopefully the federal government will not do something that hurts that recovery or harms the businesses and communities that are trying to survive after such a difficult period."
Munroe Falls continues to focus on financial transparency by participating in the Ohio Treasurer's Open Checkbook Program. The city's efforts were recognized by the state, receiving the Auditor of State's Excellence in Financial Reporting Award for the third consecutive year.
During that audit, the state auditor raised concerns about the city's aging assets, future capital needs and the methods for providing them. In the next 10 years, those needs will include replacing two fire engines and at least one service truck, potentially costing $1.4 million, as well as ongoing HVAC and repairs to the city buildings.
"Locally it is important to look to the future and identify and address the needs of Munroe Falls in the next decade," Armstrong said. "This is the non-Covid challenge as we move forward."
View the full address at http://bit.ly/smfstateofthecity.
Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-635-7546, email@example.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.