Mayor reviews Salem’s 2013, looks to future

SALEM – Mayor John Berlin delivered his State of the City address to Salem City Council Tuesday night, focusing on finances, infrastructure improvements, new businesses, investments in the community, volunteerism and optimism for the future.

“2013 for Salem continued a transition, from the recession of the recent past to what seems to be an ongoing economic upswing. Income tax collections have signaled an upturn,” he said.

According to the report, the income tax collection reached an all-time high in 2013 and the fourth year of continued increases in collections, with the increase in 2013 at 5.05 percent from the previous year.

He cautioned, however, that according to city Auditor Betty Brothers, a similar increase this year won’t cover the projected expenses for the 2014 budget.

“Anticipated income of just over $4.68 million falls short of Audit Department projections for citywide expenses of $5.32 million by about $640,000 for 2014,” he said, adding “the reported carryover of $1.58 million from 2013 will be reduced to $940,000 by the end of 2014, not counting possible cost increases due to the renewal of the hospitalization contract in August.”

Berlin said cuts to the Local Government Fund helped the state balance its own budget, but left cities looking for ways to make cuts to make up the difference. He outlined some of the cuts to state funding the city receives and eliminated funding streams that will affect the bottom line of the general fund, noting the importance of preserving the carryover to cushion the impact of those cuts and other possible losses.

He also explained how the city has less and less to spend on capital improvements due to the way the income tax income is split between the general fund and capital improvements fund. More and more of the money has to be used to maintain city services with less and less appropriated to the capital fund.

On a positive note, he praised the expansion of Salem Regional Medical Center, the addition of 41 new members to the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, ribbon cuttings for a number of new businesses, the remodeling of established businesses, new homes for businesses and efforts by downtown businesses to spruce up. He also touched on the Holiday Inn Express project.

In the area of infrastructure, he said the National Pollution Discharge Elimination Study of the city’s storm sewer system is nearly complete and will enter the public education phase soon. The street department completed several drainage projects in 2013 to reduce flooding, including on Washington Avenue near Pershing Street and the north end of Continental Drive. Part of an open ditch on the south side of Maple Street was closed in and crews repaired 15 catch basins and rebuilt 42 catch basins. The city also completed paving projects on East Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Streets, Superior and Madison avenues and Wilson Street.

The city secured some new vehicles, including two new black and white Ford police cruisers, a 1 1/2-ton truck for the street department and the planned replacement of the electrical division’s bucket truck.

Berlin devoted nearly a whole page of his four-and-a-half pages on volunteers who serve on the many boards and commissions, specifically 10 city boards and commissions and 56 residents who serve on them. At least five board members retired from the various boards in 2013. He also talked about the time spent by auxiliary police officers and the Salem Perry Crime Watch and groups like the Salem Preservation Society and Beautification Committee and of course, the many volunteers who staff the Salem Super Cruise each summer, leading to its success.

The mayor also touched on some of the personnel changes in city departments, such as the police department, auditor’s office, utility department, housing department, income tax office, health department, parks department and streets department.

He closed by thanking the four unions which represent the bulk of the city employees for working with him on several issues.

“It should be noted that each and every department of the city gave 110 percent this past year and I thank them for making my job much easier,” he said.

In other business, city council announced two upcoming meetings.

The Economic Development Committee will meet at 6 p.m. Monday regarding the economic development line item in the budget.

The Committee of the Whole will meet at 6 p.m. March 25 for a presentation by the Beautification Committee of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce regarding all the work done in downtown in 2013.

Council also approved resolutions commending former city Treasurer Bob Tullis and former city council President Mickey Cope Weaver for their service to the city. Tullis retired Dec. 31 after serving as Third Ward Councilman from Jan. 1, 1989 to Dec. 31, 1997 and city treasurer from Jan. 1, 1998 to Dec. 31, 2013. Weaver served four years from Jan. 1, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2013 as council president.

Council confirmed the appointment of Janet Bender to the Shade Tree Commission. The next city council meeting is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 4.