‘The Greenwood way of solving problems’

For the past three years, Greenwood has been spending within its means and finding inventive ways to replace equipment or rebuild infrastructure, the mayor said.

That’s the path on which Mayor Mark Myers said he wants to keep the city.

Greenwood finished 2014 by spending $400,000 less than it collected in taxes and tucked away $300,000 into savings.

The city is saving $120,000 per year in expenses since moving into the new city center, collected more than a half million dollars in utility liens last year and is building millions of dollars worth of projects with funds from the city’s tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts.

Meanwhile new businesses are opening, such as ULTA Cosmetics, which is bringing more than 500 jobs. The city is expanding trails, upgrading parks and opening a new aquatic center to improve quality of life, Myers said.

The city is catching up on major maintenance issues, such as aging sewers and drainage, before they become a larger expense, he added.

That’s why financial health continues to be a focal point as Myers enters the last year of his first term as mayor, he said. The city is no longer bleeding money, old problems are being corrected and new projects to improve the city are being tackled each year, he said.

“When I started working on my transition after the election in 2011, I was surprised by both the number and seriousness of the challenges the city faced. I was also a bit saddened that many in our community had lost hope in our ability to solve the problems,” Myers said.

“I’m especially proud of our efforts to become better stewards of our resources.”

Money was the main focus of Myers’ remarks as he recounted numerous ways in which the city is saving cash and applying it to new projects. That effort has started at city hall, he said.

The renovation and move to the new city center on South Madison Avenue helped bring all city offices into the same building, while simultaneously redeveloping a 1970s office tower in the heart of downtown, Myers said. But the project has also saved about $120,000 per year in utilities, insurance and rent, and the city is earning about $150,000 per year in new revenue by leasing the attached PNC Bank and office space on the third floor.

“It is a great example of how my administration has conducted business over the past three years. The city center meets our needs. The facility is both attractive and functional, but few have walked into the lobby and immediately asked, ‘What did this cost?’ The city center project is a great example of the Greenwood way of solving problems,” Myers said.

The move downtown is also the first step in the city’s plans to revitalize downtown, and Greenwood has adopted a plan to begin that work. Some of the redevelopment already has started, including a new barbershop, coffeehouse and fine-dining restaurant that have opened in Old Town. The city is now getting ready to remodel the former city hall and lease that out to a medical services provider, which employs more than 300 people, Myers said.

The city’s redevelopment commission will be instrumental in revamping the former city hall, but it is also paying for other multimillion projects that are needed, Myers said.

The city board, which controls money from Greenwood’s TIF districts, is paying for part of the new interchange and four-lane boulevard at Worthsville Road and the new aquatic center, which are all going to open in 2015. Property taxes aren’t enough to fund major projects, so TIF dollars have been key, he said.

Property tax caps have squeezed revenues for years and made the city get smarter about how to operate and spend money, Myers said. The city was burning through its savings when Myers took office, but Greenwood has since approved balanced budgets, which required sacrifices by city staff and residents, he said.

City controller Adam Stone has found ways to cut costs wherever possible while improving the city’s financial reporting, which has allowed the city to get better deals on loans and save more than a half-million dollars.

City attorney Krista Taggart and the legal department have been able to do work in-house, instead of paying an outside attorney to work on annexations or finalize loans. At the same time, they have collected about $750,000 in unpaid utility bills, Myers said.

The work is paying off, with the city recently ranked in one study as one of the most affordable communities in the country to live in, the mayor said.

While trimming costs, the city is reinvesting in equipment and infrastructure. Greenwood has replaced more than 30 vehicles, reducing the average age of the city’s fleet of trucks, fire engines and police cars.

And the city is spending millions to update stormwater pipes or sewer lines that are nearly 100 years old in some places, such as the Pearl Street project scheduled for this summer or the ongoing Pleasant Run Creek project in downtown, Myers said.

The city also is investing in quality of life, with parks, playground equipment, trails and the new aquatic center, which turn into a major selling point for new businesses considering Greenwood, Myers said.

“A high quality of life attracts high-quality employers and helps to ensure that employees chose Greenwood as their homes, as opposed to commuting from neighboring communities,” Myers said.

Greenwood highlights

Here’s some of the successes and upcoming projects Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers touched on during Tuesday’s state of the city speech:

Successes of 2014

Three years of balanced budgets, including finishing with a $400,000 surplus last year

Finishing renovations and moving into the new city center on South Madison Avenue

Getting the ULTA Cosmetics distribution center at Main Street, which will bring more than 500 jobs

Starting construction on the Worthsville Road widening project and new interchange

What’s coming up in 2015

Freedom Springs aquatic center will be complete and open Memorial Day weekend

Construction will start on the Pearl Street sewer, stormwater and road improvements, improving downtown infrastructure

Downtown revitalization plans have been completed and the first projects, such as facade renovations, can begin after being talked about for years

Also heard at the address

Here’s a couple other statements made by Mayor Mark Myers at his state of the city address:

“She taught all of us a lot about how to be leaders and how to be better citizens.” – about his mom, who was in attendance, and her influence on him

“No new taxes will need to be levied for the work. After decades of false starts, frustration and disappointment, it appears that revitalization of the Old Town Business District is finally underway.” – on rebuilding the downtown

“It will be slightly larger than the Franklin city pool. Sorry, Joe.” – zinging Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness about Greenwood’s new aquatic center, Freedom Springs

“Saving the city from financial ruin involved some hard and sometimes unpopular decisions,” – about the changes made to improve the city’s finances

“I am proud to be your mayor. Greenwood works because we’re willing to recognize and serve the needs of our future generations.”