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Ritenauer says Lorain's on the rebound in state of the city speech

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    Mayor Chase Ritenauer gets a laugh as he talks about fatherhood during his state of the city speech at the Antlers Grand Ballroom in Lorain.

    BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE

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LORAIN — Lorain is on the rebound.

Mayor Chase Ritenauer said at his State of the City address Thursday afternoon the city is strengthening, but is still grappling with challenges including low police staffing and controversies in the school district.

Schools

Ritenauer said for the duration of the year he is dedicating himself to working with legislators to stop the “catastrophe” looming across the state from House Bill 70. Passed in 2015, the law paved the way for the state takeover of Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland schools, with several other districts targeted if districts’ test scores don’t improve.

“Schools are part of the fabric that brings our community together. If we don’t address the schools, that fabric is going to tear,” he said. “It’s tearing right now.”

Ritenauer touched on the importance of residents renewing a 0.25 percent city income tax levy and 1-mill Lorain Port Authority renewal levy in May. He said both are essential for the city.

Talk of municipal levies sparked Chronicle-Telegram Editorial Page Editor Brad Dicken to ask the mayor’s view on the school levy renewal. The school levy generates more than $3 million a year and expires at the end of 2019 — but it is up to the school board to put the measure on the ballot.

If the measure doesn’t make it it to the November ballot, Ritenauer said, the district will not only be in academic distress, but also fiscal crisis.

Police and fire

Noting that violent and property crimes continue to decline in the city, so too does Lorain Police staffing, Ritenauer said. Working toward a budget for 105 officers, LPD now has about 94.

To mitigate the staffing bleed, pending Council and Fraternal Order of Police approval, Ritenauer said the city is looking to offer a $10,000 signing bonus for those committing to five years on the force, as well as giving officers their full pay rate when they start, rather than stepping it up after their probation period has ended.

With the Fire Department, Ritenauer noted construction crews are starting work on the foundation for the east-side fire station — replacing 100-year-old Station 4. A new west-side fire station will follow shortly thereafter.

“It has taken a little longer than we would have liked because when we passed the levy, we passed it with some really tight numbers and we’ve been working very hard to stay as close to the budget as possible,” he said.

Water and sewer

Acknowledging residents’ concerns with the hike in water and sewer rates, Ritenauer said he is looking toward the Water Infrastructure Flexibility Act to help mitigate some of the increases residents have been experiencing. The act allows cities to look at Environmental Protection Agency consent decrees and financing orders and assess the affordability to their residents.

He and Safety/Service Director Dan Given plan to discuss the issue at the Mayors Water Council Meeting, part of the United States Conference of Mayors.

Infrastructure and development

With housing stock growing on the west side and demolitions of blighted properties scheduled throughout the city, Ritenauer said economic development and infrastructure is moving forward. The Lorain County Metro Parks will take possession of Kings Woods, easing nearby residents’ concerns of logging in the area, and 2018 saw the demolition of the former Stoveworks site decades in the making.

Businesses are moving in on Broadway, he said, before the Streetscape is complete, and said the push toward the waterfront is key.

“I would say the state of the city is one that is strengthened — three years ago was a really tough time … we are starting to recover, we’re starting to strengthen.”

Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.

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