“I have a question for you,” Chardon City Manager Randy Sharpe said last week at the start of the State of the City meeting. “If 2020 was a drink, what would it be?” He paused. “Colonoscopy prep,” he quipped adding, “everyone must be muted because I hear nobody laughing.”
During the June 17 meeting put on in part by the Chardon Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Sharpe and representatives from each of the city’s departments discussed how COVID-19 flushed out their 2020 plans, where they stand now and what they’re looking forward to in 2021.
“We seem to have more tweaks than usual this year, and that was before the pandemic,” Mr. Sharpe explained. “All the department heads helped put this together, estimating all the revenues that are going to come in so we can know the expenditures.”
These revenues, he said, currently are estimated to be about $20 million for 2020, with $23 million budgeted for expenditures. Of that, $4.5 million was set aside for capital projects, including road projects and the phase two constructions of Mel Harder Park and the Maple Highlands Trail.
Chardon Director of Public Service Paul Hornyak talked about how the city street program has picked up momentum and is now able to perform a complete maintenance program on the roads. Mr. Hornyak said his department will look at using some of the available capital to repair Chardon’s sidewalks as well as storm and sewer drains.
By using an $18,000 NOPEC grant, he said, the city should be able to replace its remaining 285 non-LED streetlight bulbs with more energy-efficient options in the next four or five years. Some of that money could also be spent on reducing electricity usage at Chardon’s wastewater treatment plant, which Mr. Hornyak said was the single largest user of electricity in the city.
Another project on the horizon is gazebo rehabilitation. Mr. Hornyak said requests were sent out to local contractors for estimates to repair the gazebo by the end of the year. By purchasing a new woodchipper and training staff on how to use it, he said, the city has been performing brush pickup services in-house this year, helping to cut down on costs.
Chardon Parks and Recreation Director Adam Rogers talked about how much he had been anticipating this summer. “Our recreation department worked extremely hard in developing new partnerships and creating new programs,” he said. “This year, we had 16 new partnership and 31 new programs. We had a new digital program guide, we sent brochures to all the residents.”
These new programs include fall football, archery, a babysitting course and robotics camps. Unfortunately, he said, they may fall by the wayside depending on the coronavirus pandemic and guidelines from Gov. Mike DeWine.
Mr. Rogers also said that his department planned on giving Chardon residents nine free days to use the swimming pool, before the city decided to close the pool and cancel summer events due to COVID-19.
A silver lining, however, is that work on the Mel Harder Park and Maple Highlands Trail projects was able to continue. Mel Harder Park will focus on expanding the back half of the 12-acre plot with walking trails and a new, 360-by-225 foot multipurpose field for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey. The trail extension, meanwhile, is a 0.85-mile extension that completes the missing section of the Geauga County Trail Network, which will stretch a full 21.1 miles.
He said that the city has been able to offer a modified version of summer day camp, following new mandates that require a one-to-nine ratio of counselors to campers, but other summer programming activities are canceled through July. Still, his department has been staying busy, installing new sanitizing stations at parks, cleaning playgrounds daily and mounting information signs at facilities to make the public aware of new guidelines.
“It’s been a weird year,” Chardon Community Development Administrator Steven Yaney said.
“We’re busy, but in different ways. From a permit standpoint, we’re down about 34.5 percent of permits from last year to this time, including commercial houses, driveways, decks, sheds and that sort of thing.”
Mr. Yaney said that work will probably start on Brooks Meadows, Chardon’s newest housing subdivision, sometime next year, and that Redwood Real Estate has approached him about possibly building a new 90-unit facility in Chardon.
He also provided an overview of Chardon additions that have appeared within the past year. These include Advanced Cardiovascular Consultants’ new medical center on Seventh Avenue, a 20,000-square-foot Goodwill facility on Water Street and the American Cancer Society’s Chardon Discovery Shop located in Maple Leaf Plaza.
New businesses like Ten10 Design moved into Chardon Square, while Wonderland Arts and Antiques opened its doors for the first time during the pandemic. HomeSmart Realty is putting in a new office on Cherry Avenue, a Pet Supplies Plus opened on Water Street and former Berkshire Hills Golf Course owner Walter Miraglia is looking to open a new Italian restaurant called Bella Cucina on the square before the end of the year.
Finance Director Mate Rogonjic expects an 11 percent, or roughly $7,000, drop in income tax this year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s down, but not down as bad as it could be,” he explained. “We’re going to try to keep monitoring things as we go along and adjust what we need to, give you an idea of what we will have to do this year.”
Heidi Delaney, the deputy human resources and finance director, said her departments have reduced travel and training budgets by 30 percent for the rest of the year.
“The city has functions that need to continue to operate,” she explained of the cuts. “Police force, fire, municipal court, street department. So, we had to identify essential employees and find ways for them to operate in a safe manner for themselves and the people they were serving.”
Ms. Delaney said the city administration has set up new pay codes in the payroll system to account for expanded sick and medical leave policies and is now using electronic signatures.
“We’ve been able to adapt our processes to this situation, but some of it is discovering new ways of doing this,” she said.
Chardon Law Director Ben Chojnacki said the response to the pandemic situation has been timely, professional and comprehensive from city officials. As Geauga County’s only city, Chardon has financial obligations that are above and beyond other local communities. He said that city government has been working hard to balance these needs with the obligations it has as a municipal corporation and as an employer.
“In light of the times we’re living in nowadays,” he said, “we have been working diligently with law enforcement and administration to ensure everything we do is consistent with the law and unbiased and without prejudice to everyone.”
Chardon Police Chief Scott Niehus lauded local store operators who made sure to stock up on personal protective equipment like face masks, thermometers, disinfectants, sprays and wipes so that his department never had to go without them.
“As far as prisoners, it was a difficult period of time and we certainly had to be flexible and nimble in our response for this,” he said. “We went from our regular activity level to very limited traffic on the streets.”
Chardon Area Chamber of Commerce President Jim McClintock summed it up the meeting with a response to Mr. Sharpe’s initial joke about a drink. “I’d call 2020 a warm, flat beer,” he said. “At least colonoscopy prep has some use to it.”