Mayor in State of the City address: Middletown has made ‘significant progress’ in several areas

Middletown has worked hard to overcome the Great Recession, and while there are challenges including aftermath of a boom in subsidized housing and poverty, the downtown area is stronger and ready to grow more, the city’s mayor said.

Mayor Larry Mulligan, presenting his State of the City Address on Tuesday night at the AK Steel Research and Innovation Center, touched on poverty, housing, public safety, roads and infrastructure, downtown and workforce and economic development.

He said the 1990s and early 2000s brought on the “unchecked growth” of Section 8 and more subsidized housing and there was “very little to zero oversight” that led to disproportionate and unsustainable amount of low-income housing. With about 15 percent of the county’s population, Middletown had nearly 50 percent of the county’s subsidized housing, he said.

That impacted schools and demand for police and EMS services and contributed to other social service challenges, he said.

When addressing poverty, he said the city faces “a societal issue” in dealing with the challenge.

“Middletown has welcomed the less fortunate to give them a hand out and a hand up,” he said. “Unfortunately, I believe we reached our limit and must look out for our collective best interest. That will ultimately help in creating opportunities for all.”

After years of work, the city resolved the voucher problem by dissolving the local housing agency and working with Butler and Warren counties to take a regional approach, one that is used throughout the state and country. He said vouchers were cut in half, and the city has stepped up enforcement of code violations and repeated nuisance issues.

Homelessness recently became a controversial topic when downtown residents and business owners brought their concerns to council. Mulligan said council is “formulating plans to address” the issue through city staff. The response will include increased police presence, more investigations and long-term solutions.

The city has made “great progress” addressing new housing, he said, with more than 200 apartments and 300 homes planned, development that will certainly “create additional interest” in the city.

Mulligan thanked Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw who is retiring after 30 years with the city, including five as chief. As a Middletown native, Muterspaw knew the community, led officers with “integrity and set the bar high for the future,” Mulligan said.

Public safety is the city’s top priority, the mayor said. Nearly 70 percent of the city’s budget is earmarked for public safety. He said the city has purchased new equipment and apparatus for the fire department, and the city should consider building new stations.

Mulligan said the city has made “marked progress” on paving more roads in the last few years. This summer, council added an additional $500,000 to this year’s budget to get more paving completed. He estimated the cost of future paving of 600 lane miles at $160 million.

He said downtown “continues to thrive” as businesses open and numerous events attract thousands of residents and tourists to the area.

“A community’s downtown is a reflection of the overall community,” he said.

Anita Scott Jones, who served eight years on Middletown City Council, including 2 1/2 years as vice mayor, was named the 15th recipient of the Robert “Sonny” Hill Humanitarian Award. Since Hill’s widow, Patricia, was unable to attend the event, the award was presented by her sister-in-law, Jackie Phillips.

Jones thanked all those who helped her career advancement since she moved to Middletown 19 years ago.

“You can not do this alone,” she said.

Anita Scott Jones became the 15th recipient of the Robert “Sonny” Hill Humanitarian Award that was presented Tuesday night after the State of the City address.

Here are the previous winners of the award:

2007: James B. Ewers Jr.

2008: Rev. Donald Jordan Sr.

2009: Jackie Phillips

2010: Maurice Maxwell

2011: Judge Mark Wall

2012: Gene Snow

2013: Rev. Gregory Hart

2014: Yudell Hightower and Stephen Hightower

2015: Judge Noah Powers

2016: William and Patricia Schaefer

2017: Rev. Gregory Tyus

2018: David Schiavone

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