Middletown looks ahead to new, important projects in 2018

Among the highlights coming in Middletown for 2018 is the completion of the NTE Energy plant. The natural gas-fueled power plant represents more than a $600 million investment for the city. FILE PHOTO
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Among the highlights coming in Middletown for 2018 is the completion of the NTE Energy plant. The natural gas-fueled power plant represents more than a $600 million investment for the city. FILE PHOTO

After spending the last three years working to strengthen and add more personnel in the public safety and economic development departments — and making a number of water and sewer department upgrades — Middletown is poised to move forward in a number of areas in the new year.

In 2018, the city’s master plan will be completed for the first time since 2005, and other key strategic plans for the airport, improving fire safety, developing new housing policies and forming a transportation master plan will be part of the year. .

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City Manager Doug Adkins said all of the planning will be framed with two underlying themes:

• Incorporating the city’s community visioning into each piece. “We know what we can do… how did you as a community want us to handle each piece of city services into the future?” he said.

• Sustainability. “We’ve always been good at building stuff, but we haven’t always done a great job of maintaining the nice things we add to the city,” Adkins said. “As we talk about adding things like recreation back to the budget, my goal is to do it responsibly and in a way that we believe is sustainable into the future. If we can’t maintain it, then we can’t afford it yet.”

Adkins said developing the best housing policies will be critical in moving the city forward.

“We not only have to do what is best for the city overall, but we have to understand the impacts of the best practices on the most disadvantaged in our community,” he said. “What will any contemplated changes do to fixed income seniors, the poor and minority residents?”

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Adkins said the city is suffering from 30 years of neglect of its housing stock, which only makes the discussion more challenging.

Adkins said for this to be successful, the city will need to hear their voices and understand their concerns.

“For us to be successful in changing our housing policies, we simply must address diversity and inclusion,” he said.

Adkins does not anticipate making any additional housing issues presentations and said his priority in the coming months will be to establish a committee of residents and stakeholders to develop those housing policies. He expects this to see progress, as the landlords committee was developed several years ago.

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Adkins said new housing in the Sawyer Mill subdivision could begin to add more homes to the housing stock this year.

Middletown residents will see more services coming back in 2018, as well. Adkins said those additional services will include restoring an animal control officer for the first time in 10 years to work on the city’s feral cats and other animal issues and adding staff at the health department so that public operating hours will be expanded to include the noon hour and all day on Friday.

Internally, the city will be changing its payroll system to be more in line with the private sector, which is expected to start saving thousands of dollars five years after it is implemented by spreading pay increases over several years. In addition, data collected in 2017 by Middletown Health Department during its Community Health Assessment will be reviewed with other data as the city looks at plans and programs to improve the overall health of residents.

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Additional beautification projects east of the Interstate 75 interchange are also being planned as revenues allow, and new LED street lights are being installed during 2018 to save on electric costs.

The city is planning to spend about $2.35 million in paving for 2018, said Scott Tadych, city public works director. The largest project will be the repaving of South Breiel Boulevard, which will include $1.1 million in state funding. Other major streets to be repaved include portions of South Main Street, Goldman Avenue, Lewis Street, Marshall Road and all of Park Lane.

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The opioid epidemic is expected to be another issue in 2018. While the city was in the national spotlight last year about responding to overdose calls, the problem has not subsided, Adkins said.

According to the Division of Fire, as of Dec. 26, there were 964 suspected opiate overdose incidents, which included 78 fatal overdoses. That is nearly double of the number of opioid overdoses reported in 2016. Adkins said the costs to the city was well over $1.5 million for 2017.

Adkins said the periodic Heroin Summit with local stakeholders will continue in 2018 to develop additional strategies and find other solutions.

“Everything we’re doing is working,” Adkins said. “However, the problem is bigger than the resources available. It would be much worse if we weren’t working on the problem.”