City manager says Hamilton can be a premier Midwestern city

Joshua Smith has been at the city’s helm for past 5 years

His first two years on the job were “particularly brutal,” he says, with losing what was left of the city’s two paper mills, coupled with significant cuts to General Fund revenue by the state. But in the past two years, this Butler County city of more than 62,000 has stabilized its budget and had new life injected into its local economy by attracting new employers that are creating thousands of new jobs.

Smith, who marked his fifth annivesary with the city of Hamilton this past week, credited City Council for creating a plan and staying the course.

“But we have lots of hard work ahead of us,” he said.

Smith, who was compensated $206,850 in 2014, is in charge of more than 600 employees and a $350 million budget. During his tenure, the city has seen a net of 3,064 new jobs created since 2013, and $176.5 million in total corporate investment since 2010, including $65 million invested in the downtown core.

A recent survey of city residents found many of them wanted to see improvement in the areas of overall economic health, downtown vibrancy, public transportation, code enforcement and street repair. Outside of the survey, a wish list of more manufacturing jobs, help for small businesses and more dialogue with EMS make the discussion boards and coffee shop discussions.

Smith sat down last week with the Journal-News to discuss his last five years at the helm.

Q: What are some areas that you would like to see improvement in?

A: There are many areas that need attention/improvement. Streets, parks, amenities for our youth and seniors, better/convenient retail for all of our neighborhoods, more police officers to patrol, additional blight/nuisance abatement resources, better collaboration with our educational partners to name just a few.

Q: Talk about the team that has surrounded you?

A: We are very blessed to have some incredibly dedicated and bright people who work for the city of Hamilton. Director of Public Safety Scott Scrimizzi is a life-long resident of Hamilton and is an all-star in the public safety arena. Tom Vanderhorst spent 15 years in Springfield, Ohio in their finance department, which has many similarities to Hamilton and has aided him to better understand our challenges. Tim Werdmann was an Assistant Law Director in Hamilton for 8 years before his current role as a deputy city manager. His experience working with civil service and labor has been a tremendous help. Jody Gunderson worked in Iowa and Minnesota as an economic development director and brought many years of experience, passion and best practices with him. Brandon Saurber, another life-long resident of Hamilton, has done a tremendous job helping shape City Council’s strategic plan and has worked to build understanding of it through the organization. Adam Helms has taken two liabilities in our golf courses and has turned them into assets. His tireless work with our Summer Concert Series has opened Hamilton up to a larger audience and has allowed us to showcase what is great about our community. All-in-all, I believe our entire workforce is strong and it does not go unnoticed that we have such a strong commitment from our workers when it comes to their civic involvement.

Q: Where is Hamilton going in the future?

A: There is no reason that Hamilton can’t be a premier city of our size in the Midwest. Education is key in that equation. I am excited about Tony Orr and the direction he is pushing the Hamilton City School District. Badin has a great leader in Brian Pendergest, and they are doing truly great things. If we can educate children who can thrive in a technologically-advanced economy, we can continue to attract new jobs because we will have a workforce that is desirable. Generating green energy is important because it differentiates us from almost every other city in the Midwest. What really makes us different is we can provide non-carbon emitting power at market rate prices…or better. You will certainly see a strong focus of strengthening our neighborhoods in the next few years and continuing to work on our primary corridors.

Q: Results of the recently completed city survey showed promise. Do you feel residents are happy with the quality of life in Hamilton?

A: No. My take-away was we made incremental progress in the past four years, but we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.

Q: With all of the development and growth along I-75, can small businesses survive in Hamilton?

A: Absolutely. Hamilton is a unique community with many assets. If we take care of the items listed in the “Areas of Improvement” answer (of the survey), the rest will take care of itself.