Fairfield looks to have a busy 2022 with several projects, but one of the top priorities is to find a new city manager.
The new Fairfield City Council members and the new mayor took theirs oaths of office on Dec. 27. Here’s a look at some of the things they’ll oversee in 2022:
City manager search continues
One of the top priorities for Fairfield City Council in 2022 is to find a new city manager, a position that’s been managed by the city’s fire department for the past year.
It was anticipated in the weeks after the former city manager’s resignation, the search to replace Mark Wendling would take four to six months, but after two “pauses” in the search process, it was decided in August the three new members of City Council needed to be involved in the hiring process. Don Bennett has served as acting city manager as well as the city’s fire chief since Wendling’s Dec. 11 resignation.
The city manager search will be headed by Councilmember Leslie Besl heading into January, who said her plan is to bring it up for discussion at the first city council meeting in January.
Possible fire levy
Fairfield City Council will explore the need for a fire levy on the 2022 ballot, Bennett said.
The city’s fire chief the levy would “reflect a transition in the fire department.” If City Council accepts Bennett’s recommendation, the department would transition from a combination department to a professional department, which means converting all part-time positions into full-time positions.
The transition is due to the lack of part-time personnel available, Bennett said. It’s a problem fire departments across the region have faced. Since 2015, the department has seen a rising increase of part-time firefighters leaving the department for full-time employment elsewhere.
The city’s recently approved 2022 budget set the fire department’s budget for $9.4 million, a 20.4% increase over the 2021 budget. But large increase includes the hiring of six new full-time firefighters and salary adjustments of three firefighters to lieutenant earlier this year. Collectively these nine personnel moves will add more than $1.28 million to the 2022 budget.
With the Fairfield Fire Department’s inability to retain part-time firefighters, the inexperience of new hires, and with rising costs, the current fire levy fund is projected to be in the red after 2023.
Big public utilities year
Public Utilities Director Adam Sackenheim said 2022 will be the biggest growth year for his department in the better part of a quarter-century.
The city announced in 2021 a collective 1,000-plus new jobs would be coming to the city over the next few years, the most from tax-incentivized projects, Koch Foods’ expansion and the Brennan Investment’s proposed speculative industrial park to be called Seward Pointe Commerce Park. Koch is planning to bring on between 400 and 600 new jobs while Brennan said its park is expected to attract at least 250 new jobs.
Sackenheim said these types of jobs coming to the city are in the commercial and manufacturing fields and “they’re heavy utility customers, they’re heavy water users, they’re heavy sewer users, and they’re heavy gas and electric users.”
“It affects us by forcing us to make sure we have enough capacity in our system to meet all that demand,” he said. “Really, that’s what’s 2022′s all about for us.”
Based on the Koch Foods project, the city is planning for a sixth water tower along Port Union Road, the first new tower in 25 years. The tower is tied to the Koch project, but it will be needed with the commercial and industrial growth.
“Depending on how quickly water demand increases out on the industrial part of the city, around the Seward Road area, we are in a position to construct a new water tower to meet that demand,” Sackenheim said.
The city is also planning to drill a new raw water well, also the first in 25 years, and add an additional high-service pump at the water plant which pumps treated water from the water plant to our distribution system. The city is also looking to re-rate the water treatment plant to be permitted to treat 10.5 million or 11 million gallons of water a day. Currently, it’s permitted to treat 9.1 million gallons of water per day. This increase is to accommodate the 6th tower and accommodate growth out by Koch Foods and other industrial park and commercial areas.
“It’s actually a really exciting time in utilities because we’re in growth mode, and we haven’t been in growth mode in 20 years because we’ve had sufficient capacity in the last 20 years now. We had a day this past summer where we topped 8.5 million gallons (of water) through the plant. We’re rated for 9.1, so we’re starting to bump up against our limit so we’ve got to complete some projects to allow us to continue to grow and meet this demand.”
The largest project for the utilities department in 2022 is its $5 million water smart meter replacement project. The city had installed around 1,000 smart meters known as advanced metering infrastructure, or AMI, system. Smart meters will be installed for the remaining 12,500 water customers in the city.
Other projects for 2022 include a waterline replacement on Ohio 4 from the bypass to the southern corporation line at Crescentville Road and adding sewer capacity on the east side of the city from Commerce Center Drive to Union Centre Boulevard.
Harbin Park expansion continues
The last time the city’s parks department was fully operational was before the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced drastic budgetary cuts in the parks department.
The department has slowly reopened over the past two years, and in 2022, the city’s operational budget has been restored to pre-pandemic levels and Parks and Recreation Director Tiphanie Mays said they’ll resume all of the parks events and activities.
Mays said her department will focus on “enhancing our events,” providing " a little bit different experience and a kind of welcome back from everybody.”
But in addition to theater and parks programming, the city will finish up the first phase of the multi-phase renovation of Harbin Park and start Phase 2. The loop trail and pickleball courts have been completed, and the pavilion construction is continuing.
Phase 1, which also includes an all-season restroom construction, should be completed by mid-2022. Engineering and architectural work for Phase 2 should wrap around mid-year 2022, and construction should start in the second half of next year.
One of the marquee features of the second phase, which incorporates the central area of the park, includes, among other things, constructing a larger play area. Mays said it’s still a conceptual idea as architectural and engineering work still needs to take place, but is “excited” for this project of Phase 2. This phase will also replace the four smaller 25-person shelters with two 50-person shelters.
“We’re designing this to be utilized by our entire community,,” Mays said.
But Mays said while a lot of focus will be on Harbin’s renovation, it won’t be at the expense of the city’s other 27 parks as they’ll see continuing upgrades.
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