Middletown’s income tax revenues have climbed for the last five years, and are on pace for a sixth consecutive year of growth, causing City Manager Doug Adkins to say this is the “strongest, healthiest” the city has been financially in his 12 years.
The income tax revenues have jumped from $19.9 million in 2013 to $24.9 million in 2018, and revenues are up $221,000 through May 2019 compared to May 2018, according to Adkins.
Middletown residents and employees are seeing the benefits of those increases, too.
The city council recently approved spending an additional $500,000 for its 2019 street improvement program; $30,000 to provide recreational activities for residents this summer; and one-time $500 bonuses to full-time employees and $250 for part-time employees, compensation that will cost the city $188,250.
“It’s a great time to be in Middletown,” said Adkins, in his fifth year as city manager.
He doesn’t see the momentum ending anytime soon, either. He believes what makes Middletown unique — Interstate 75 exit, public transit, riverway, historic, thriving downtown — gives it advantages over other cities in the region. He believes one day the entire region will be one metropolitan statistic, and Middletown will control the middle.
That location will give Middletown “the biggest benefit,” he said.
“I don’t think we have fully hit our stride yet. I don’t think we have hit what we are capable of,” he said. “There is no reason for us not to be widely successful.”
When city officials projected the 2019 income tax revenues, they took into account two major completed projects — the $650 million NTE Energy Middletown Energy Center and $90 million in school renovations — and they expected revenues to slip this year because they were one-time construction projects.
But that hasn’t happened.
“We are healthier than we had projected,” Adkins said.
To continue to be successful, Adkins realizes Middletown — all cities for that matter — will need what he called “a little bit of luck.” No city can control what is passed at the state and federal levels or if another recession is on the horizon.
But he believes Middletown is better prepared than its recent past. He said the people, policies and master plan are in place to continue the city on its upward path.
“This is the window for us,” he said. “Shame on us if we don’t take advantage of it now.”
That wasn’t always the case. In the mid-1990s, when there was a “huge surge” and other communities experienced “a bump,” Middletown did not, he said.
“They weren’t ready to take advantage of things,” said Adkins, who wasn’t employed by the city at the time. “In the past, there often were things that were lined against us, impeded our growth, that hurt us, that caused us pain. The opposite is happening right now.
“We are doing a lot of things well. And we’re getting the benefit of some good things that are happening. The snowball will roll either way. It will roll backward or it will roll forward and gain steam in a positive way. We’re in a positive mode right now where everything is moving in the right direction.”
It’s important, he said, to always compare Middletown to cities with similar backgrounds — older, with heavy industry. He mentioned Hamilton, Lima and Springfield.
“We are not Mason,” he said of the nearby Warren County community. “That’s not apples to apples.”
He hopes the growth leads to more successful workforce, an attraction of “quality” families that increase the city’s income and property tax base. That additional revenue will allow the city to “catch up” on infrastructure projects and make Middletown “a better place to live.”
With a more diverse company base, Middletown no longer lives and dies based on AK Steel’s bottom line, he said. If the steel business slows, there are other businesses to pick up the slack, Adkins said. There was a time if the Middletown steelmaker “got a cold, the city got pneumonia.”
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