Rules of the Road

The purpose of this blog is to share with you my thoughts on issues pertaining to Oil City and Venango County and to foster discussion.

However, that requires some basic rules. Personal attacks, inappropriate language and venom-filled postings will not be tolerated. Comments will be screened, and if necessary edited, before posting.

Disagreement and a variety of opinions are encouraged, but I ask that it always be in a respectful, positive manner. So fire away, but do so cleanly

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The 2010 Budget -- Take 2

After council’s budget directives to City Manager Ryan Eggleston on Monday, I’m not sure where we are going with the 2010 budget.

The city manager came to the Monday meeting with a pared down budget/tax proposal as requested by city council at its Nov 23 meeting.

Largely as a result of a 34 percent increase in health insurance costs, the city’s 2010 expenses were greatly inflated even as some revenues dropped. To maintain the status quo required a 1.5-mill hike in real estate taxes. On first reading council approved the budget and accompanying tax hike on a 4-to-1vote. However, council also directed the manager to try to cut costs and pare down the tax increase.

By negotiating some savings in health and other insurance costs Ryan got the tax hike down to 1.25 mills and then gave council two additional options. Cut the money for paving in half, bringing the tax hike needed to balance the budget down to 1 mill and the second option was to do that and not fill a vacancy in the police ranks, which would bring the tax increase to .8 mills.

The majority of council held out for a no-tax-hike budget. So Monday night council on second reading approved a no-tax-hike budget by decreasing the budget’s bottom line. How to achieve that was left up to the city manager.

I went along and voted for it to keep the budget process on schedule. I voiced my concerns, but not as forcefully as I should have. (A long-time friend made the latter comment to me after the meeting and I’ve been reflecting on it ever since).

I know that every member of council is troubled and sincere in believing the position they have taken is best for the city.

I think there are worst things than a tax increase. Among them the further decline of the services and conditions of the city. I fear that will be the outcome if we insist on a no-tax-increase budget –we just dig a deeper hole. Certainly I hope someone finds a magic wand and brings about an easy way to cut costs the necessary additional $232,000, but that is not my expectation.

To me, the mandated no-tax-hike approach we are using is reactionary. We don’t know what the real consequences are since the cuts are not fully vetted, nor can they be over the next three weeks. There is no strategic planning to the process. The lack of strategic planning has long been a weakness of city government.

Any cuts that force a fundamental restructuring, and it is likely some would, are also unfair to the new city manager. We need to give him the opportunity to see how the city operates and make his own recommendations for the long-term. Four weeks on the job does not allow for that.

Councilman Neil McElwee has a good point about our real estate tax rate putting us at a competitive disadvantage, especially against the neighboring townships. Raising our taxes will only make that worse.

Still, if our core services and the conditions of the city continue to decline are we not also becoming less competitive?

I don’t know what I will or will not accept at next Monday’s council meeting either in terms of cuts or tax increase. Right now, I’m favoring a tax increase over further cuts. Right now, that is the minority opinion on council, but things change.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The 2010 Budget -- Take 1

I suspect everyone is acquainted with the budget/tax issue facing the city.

On first reading, the 2010 budget required a 1.5-mill increase in property taxes, which was approved on a 4-1 vote. That amounts to an increase of $72 a year for the owner of the average residential property in the city.

(The median residential property value in the city is $48,000. Each mill is one-tenth of a cent. To find how much a 1.5- mill real estate tax increase would come to on any specific property, multiply the assessed value by .0015.)

The 2010 budget-buster is an increase of about 34 percent, or roughly $250,000, in health insurance premiums. The city is also seeing a slight drop in revenues from both real estate taxes due to a decline is assessment value and from the Local Services Tax, the $52 charged everyone who works in the city.

The proposed 2010 budget as given initial approval does nothing more than marginally maintain the current level of city services and activities. The 1.5-increase in real estate taxes balanced it on first reading as is required by law.

Everyone on council found the budget and tax increase troubling. And I can tell you with certainty that no one on council relishes the prospect of a tax increase. First of all it affects each of us just as it does every other property owner and to a person we have a deep understanding of the financial difficulties faced by many of our citizens. Secondly, I’m reasonably sure no one on council looks forward to the anger and criticism that will be directed at them if there is a tax increase.

I suspect each of us has different thoughts and approaches to dealing with the budget challenge. We will need to find a consensus, or at least a majority will.

It is easy to say “cut costs,” but it is much harder laying out a reasoned and successful way to do that.

My best guess is we might have some success in doing a bit of paring here and there and with the help of the city’s workforce be able to reduce our expenditures a bit and the amount of any tax increase, but unless we significantly reduce services there is no option but a tax increase. Already many of the long-term needs of the city are not being met, with street paving high on that list.

People live in the city for the services and amenities we offer – certainly I do. But as Councilman Neil McElwee pointed out our real estate tax rates can make us less competitive in attracting new residents and businesses. It is the space between the rock and the hard place.

Furthermore, I think we owe it to our new city manager to provide him a “status quo” budget and operations so that he can fully evaluate how we are doing things and come up with his own long-term strategic recommendations. Moving rashly now to cut costs would now fully allow him that opportunity.

Although I’m personally committed to maintaining our services and amenities, that does not mean I’m opposed to finding ways to do that more efficiently and less expensively.

Unfortunately, our financial inability to undertake major capital investments makes it that much harder. If we had a lot of capital money, there are quite a few things that could be done to improve efficiencies and lower long-term operating costs.

Beneath all our local budget woes, which are identical to cities across the state, are structural issues that can only be addressed by the state legislature. I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Election

What a low-key election cycle this is and yet we have an important three-way race for the two available seats on Oil City Council.

I know and like all three of the candidates: Charles T. “Chad” Rosen; Venice Lewis and William P. “Bill” Moon.

I consider all three friends. Bill is my neighbor, and you couldn’t ask for a better neighbor. I’ve known Chad most of his life, coached him in high school and of course I serve with him on council where he is filling an unexpired term. I’ve often enjoyed Venice’s company. He personifies energetic.

Oil City couldn’t go wrong with any of them.

Still, I’m sure each has some very different views on issues facing the city and differences in approach. I’m not sure if anyone knows exactly what they might be.

It is unfortunate that there has not been a candidates forum and media profiles to help draw out the differences so that voters have more to go on.

Personally, I believe moderated candidate forums with appropriate media coverage are one of the best approaches.

Each of the candidates is working hard. Voters will have to do some work as well to ensure that the ballots they cast reflect their personal beliefs in the future of the city.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Welcome Our New City Manager

This morning (Tuesday, Oct. 13) council had the pleasant duty of announcing that Ryan Eggleston was our selection as new city manager. The appropriate motion was made and passed to officially appoint Ryan and the necessary paperwork signed.

Ryan is to start Nov. 9th. He is enthusiastic about coming to Oil City. In part, it was his enthusiasm that made him stand out among the candidates.

I know much of his background and the details of the search will be outlined in the local news media, but I did want to at least touch on them.

Ryan comes to Oil City from Greenville, where he has served as manager of the borough for the past four years where. Greenville, a financially stressed community, presented a number of challenges. By all accounts, Ryan met them head-on and admirably. He gained a reputation as a fiscally responsible, innovative and technologically savvy leader. Those are talents and skills we need here in Oil City.

Everyone on council put a great deal of time and effort into the search for a new manager. I’m personally so glad we chose to obtain the services of Peter Marshall to help us work through the process and find the very best candidate for Oil City.

In my mind, Peter’s assistance was invaluable.

As for the process of applying, applicants initially submitted their resumes to Peter, who screened them and then presented council with those he felt most qualified. From that pool and in consultation with Peter six candidates were selected for interviews by council and evaluation by city department heads.

Following the interviews, council invited Ryan and another candidate back for a second interview and a tour of the city accompanied by city administrators and council. The tour allowed us to get a much better feel for the candidates and them for us. We wanted to be sure whomever we selected would be a good fit for Oil City. Ryan fit.

Ryan is going to face a lot of challenges here. I think he is up to them all, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.

I hope everyone welcomes Ryan, his wife Julia and their 18-month-old son Connor with the same enthusiasm he is showing for Oil City.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On this wet Sunday morning it’s a good time for me to touch on a number of things that have been on my mind. I guess these are my Sunday morning random thoughts

REBUILD OIL CITY
First, there is an interesting new blog -- Rebuild Oil City (http://rebuildoilcity.blogspot.com/) – by Scott Smail. I urge everyone to click over, take a look and join in the conversation.

Blogs about local issues can be important tools for community involvement and innovation. Certainly that appears to be the spirit behind Scott’s blog. Scott and I have our share of disagreements, but no one can question his desire to better Oil City.

MAIN STREET
The Oil City Main Street Program continues to move forward.

Two months ago the Mission and Vision statements were completed and approved. They are posted at the bottom of this blog.

Another huge step will be taken this week with the filing of the Oil City Profile, a pre-application requirement of the state Department of Community and Economic Development. Dozens of people put hours into gathering the information necessary to submit the profile. John Phillips of the Oil Region Alliance had the task of pulling it all together and keeping everyone on track. I didn’t envy him, but he got it done.

In addition, the subcommittees are embarking on their individual planning journeys. Each is required to develop a one-year and five year plan outlining their goals and objectives and how they intend to reach them. It is an involved process that in the end will guide the rebirth of our downtown. The subcommittees expect to have their one-year plan in place by January.

THE STATE BUDGET
Disappointed and frustrated with our legislature is putting it mildly.
Under the pending budget deal the state is going to tax bingo and small games of chance that support so many of our area’s nonprofits and community organizations, including providing funding for the Venango County’s Humane Society’s spay and neuter program. The state is going to impose the 6 percent sales tax on performing arts shows – read Barrow Theater productions and the Oil City Arts Council’s musical performances in the Transit. But, the state is NOT going to tax cigars and smokeless tobacco. I sure don’t understand how small games of chance and performing arts represent more discretionary spending that the use of the tobacco products.

The budget deal calls for forcing the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to lease tens of thousands of acres of state forest lands for oil and gas development, notably Marcellus shale gas development. Leasing state lands is nothing new for DCNR, but it is done carefully and prudently. Forcing the lease of so much land to balance the state budget really limits the care that can be taken. The budget deal also ends the 55-year-old Oil and Gas Lease Fund where money from leased state land was placed and used to maintain our state parks and other environmental projects and instead dumps it into the General Fund.
Missing from the budget deal is any severance tax on Marcellus Shale or other oil and gas development, despite the fact severance taxes are in place in nearly every other oil and gas producing state.

I have yet to discern what the state budget means for many state programs important to the future of Oil City. The details are not yet out there, but the rumors do not sound good. It appears some of those programs are lost or severely reduced, and in many other cases, the costs for services are being pushed down to the county and local level. Let’s hope the rumors are wrong.

Times are tough and the legislature faced real problems, but I think we deserved better.

THE PROMISED OC MAIN STREET MISSION AND VISION
Oil City Main Street Mission and Vision

Mission:
The Oil City Main Street mission is to make Oil City’s downtown business district aesthetically pleasing and economically viable, providing a foundation for the healthy growth and success of current and future businesses for the benefit of current and future residents. Our downtown will become the regional destination for visitors to enjoy the arts, recreation and entertainment by leveraging our rich heritage and natural resources.

Vision:
OUR VISION is a community where we all work in concert to make Oil City a desirable place to work, live and visit. A Main Street community that has:
· A main street district with restored historic architecture and attractive streetscapes
· Scenic waterways, walking and bike trails that will provide river access and opportunities for recreation;
· A vibrant artist community that supports art and cultural in a visitor friendly venue;
· Downtown niche businesses that offer unique and enjoyable retail, restaurant and accommodation experiences;
· Professional services that support the wellbeing and vitality of our citizens and local economy;
· Quaint and affordable residential apartments and town homes in the upper stories of downtown buildings;
· Connections to the emerging technology that will enhance opportunities and allow our businesses to be responsive to changing markets and customer needs and
· Academic and research programs provided by Clarion University - Venango Campus, Dubois Business College, the Venango Technology Center and the Oil City School District that will augment the skill sets and knowledge needed to grow our local economy and connect us to world markets.
The ambiance of our downtown will shine, known for its rich history, vibrant arts and culture and spectacular natural assets of river and hills. The dynamic businesses located in our downtown will thrive in an environment that connects history, culture, emerging technology and human assets in our own unique way.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tax Scofflaws

I suspect most everyone read the article in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago and saw the lengthy list of properties up for tax sale, or at least heard about it.

I feel deeply for those homeowners who through no fault of their own find themselves in financial distress, behind in their taxes and facing loss of their property. Truly that is a tragedy.

However, I have a lot less sympathy for those homeowners who simply fail to be responsible and set priorities in their lives. We all know of people like that.

And I have absolutely no sympathy for those who make a business decision not to pay their taxes. They are stealing from all of us who do pay our taxes on time.

A hefty portion of the properties up for tax sale are rental properties, both housing units and business properties. A disproportionate share of those rental properties are owned by just a handful of individuals or other entities. You will find that in most cases a last minute payment will be made to prevent the tax sale.

The owners have been collecting rent, but they have not been paying the taxes that support the county, municipal and school district services and obligations drawn on by their properties and their tenants. The owners have made a business decision to use our money. I find that the equivalent of theft.

The rest of us including the vast majority of landlords who are responsible have to offset that loss or delay of income to the county, school district and city.

Those landlords who play that game have no shame. Being listed as a tax scofflaw in the newspaper doesn’t bother them in the least. I doubt much does.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Oil City Library

There is no doubt that the Oil City Library is a jewel of a community and regional asset.

Libraries say a lot about a community and communities and regions without good libraries are at a disadvantage educationally, recreationally and even in terms of economic development.

Recently the Oil City Library Commission requested that Cranberry Township support the library with a $4 per capita fee, the same per capita fee that is now contributed by the Borough of Rouseville and Cornplanter and President townships.

Currently, Cranberry picks up the $35 per household library card fee assessed residents of non-supporting communities for a library card when residents request the reimbursement. The amount of revenue generated for the library is minimal.

The $4 per capita contribution is only a fraction of what residents of Oil City pay to support the library.

And of course, everyone can come in and use all the library’s assets without a library card, other than checking out or ordering materials. People use it daily who do not have library cards (free to residents of the city and municipalities that contribute on a per capita basis).

The residents and elected officials in Rouseville, Cornplanter and President should be lauded for their per capita contributions to the library.

The truth is, such arrangements and ultimately a better way to distribute and cover the costs of the library and all our regional assets are necessary if we are to continue to have those assets.

As some point the residents of Oil City will be either unwilling or unable to shoulder a hugely disproportionate share to support the library and other regional assets. And they will be no different than the residents of any core community that hosts a regional asset and picks up most of the costs.

In the case of our libraries, perhaps a county library system is the answer. For other regional assets, such as our recreational facilities, perhaps a regional authority is a logical solution.

I do know that how we now support the library and other regional assets is not sustainable. If we don’t find a better way at some point those assets will be lost or significantly degraded and then everyone in the region will pay a very heavy price.

Monday, July 13, 2009

On posting, consultants, etc.

I know it has been a very long time since I’ve posted a new topic.

Frankly, I have been a bit weary. My hope with this blog was to encourage discussion that would enlighten residents as to my thinking and help me and others shape our individual opinions based on the exchange of thoughts and ideas. I certainly expected and accept criticism, but it does at times become tiring.

For anyone who actually follows this blog they know there has been a fair amount of on-going discussions in previous posts. So, although I have not put up a new post, there have been new comments on a number of subjects.

These have been difficult times for me on council and I’m sure the other members would say the same thing. We have a lot on our plate. The city is probably undertaking more projects simultaneously now than at any time in recent memory. The national economy is the most challenging in a generation and that works its way down to the local level. Losing a city manager was a real blow in my opinion and having to find another is a task I would not wish on anyone. We have to get it right.

And I do have, or try to have a life beyond the city, which has unfortunately included having to deal with my own employment situation.

So, on the issue of consultants, notably for hiring a consultant to help with the search of a new city manager that has been criticized by many I go back to my comment of: “We have to get it right.”

Our consultant, Peter Marshall of Municipal Resources of Pennsylvania has brought a level of expertise and efficiency to the process far beyond what I think any of us on council bring to the table. He has helped us develop a search process and platform that is most likely to get us the best candidate possible.

There is another benefit as well, using Marshall we have side-stepped the ever-present issues (or perhaps allegations is a better word) of local and internal politics and personalities driving the search and ultimately the hiring of a manager.

As for the other consultants currently leading studies (water ways, comprehensive plan, etc.), who would you ask to do the work, other than those with expertise and competency. I believe the waterways plan offers an incredible opportunity for the city to capitalize on the river and creek. The comprehensive plan is a state requirement and is a cooperative effort with Cornplanter and Rouseville.

I also saw a recent critic of the energy study being done by Johnson Control. I find it unusual that anyone would find something in the proposal to criticize. There is no cost to the city unless we fail to follow through with the energy study. Once completed, every proposal we implement will pay for itself, or Johnson Control picks up the bill. Not a bad deal at all.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead.
Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt. Col. John McCrae

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tom, we are going to miss you

To say I was shocked when Tom Rockovich let me know Monday that he was planning on retiring June 19th is an understatement.

I was also saddened and concerned.

Tom has been a community asset and his retirement will be a huge loss. I think he has done an unbelievable job keeping this city afloat through extraordinarily difficult times. And that is just one of his many managerial talents.

Most importantly, I’ve always found Tom to be good to his word. That’s a rare thing in today’s world.

I think we are going to have a difficult time finding someone anywhere near as capable as Tom, but I hope I’m wrong. I do know that it will be impossible to replace Tom as a person. The best we can hope for as someone with their own unique blend of strengths and talents.

Tom gave me the letter announcing his retirement late Monday morning when I happened to stop in at city hall. When he handed me the envelope he said I might want to open it.

I did. I read the letter and I’m not sure what I said. It wasn’t much. I think the word sorry came out.

Truly I was speechless. I didn’t say anything to anyone other than the Mayor who was also at city hall. I wasn’t sure if Tom had yet had the opportunity to inform every member of council. I stayed mum on Tuesday so that he would have the opportunity to break the news publicly.

I also was still struggling with how to respond and what to say. I’m still struggling. Sorry is about the best I can do.

Tom is going to Butler where he will manage an authority. They are getting a good man and a stellar manager.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Of asphalt

I’m not alone in my frustration and concern over potholes and the overall conditions of our streets. I hear about it constantly.

Usually the conversation begins with something along the lines of” “When are you going to do something about the streets,” or “Why aren’t you doing something about the streets.”

Sometimes the comments have been a bit more accusatory, as if I and other members council and the city staff simply want to see our roads deteriorate.

I always try to explain it comes down to money. That seldom makes anyone feel better. And there are always the few who come up with a response like “That’s right, just a politician you want more tax money to take care of what you should be taking care of.”

If only someone would tell me how we could pave our streets without additional money. What would they suggest we cut to make that possible?

A huge problem we face is that you just can’t pave streets, you have to bring the curb cuts at every intersection up to current wheelchair-ramp standards – even if there are existing curb cuts.

An example is Colbert Avenue. We set some money aside to pave Colbert this year, but it now appears that the need to re-do all the curb cuts could easily take every cent we set aside for the paving. We – or more correctly our Public Works Department – have not given up. The search is on for some innovative ways to address the problem.

The city has a large backlog of capital needs and street paving is high on that list. I wish I knew how to address it.

I’ve mentioned only half-jokingly to people that we should put a $104 line-item into the budget to buy a Powerball ticket for the city every Wednesday and Saturday.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The ORA take

There have been numerous comments to Inside Oil City regarding the Oil Region Alliance’s efforts to promote and market Oil City’s downtown and its regional economic development activity.

That led me to contact Randy Seitz, ORA president and chief executive officer. I asked Randy to take a few minutes and look at the comments and draft a brief reply outlining the ORA’s work and accomplishments from his perspective.

This is what Randy had to say:

John,

Thank you so much for bringing these comments to my attention. First, let me say how proud I am that our headquarters is in Oil City and it is our pleasure to focus some of our attention on downtown revitalization, particularly through the "mainstreet program" and the industrial park. But, the fact remains, that our focus is and must remain region-wide. We must continue to focus on building the economy of the entire region if we are going to be successful on the war against the economy. Job creation cures all ills!

Now to address the specific comments in the blog. I am confused. In the past year the ORA was the catalyst for:
- The Conair Expansion which retained over 150 jobs
- The expansion of FedEx which retained and created jobs
- Latrobe Steel Expansion which retained and created jobs
- We completed the build-out to the BIC 2nd Floor Space and created a marketable opportunity for Oil City
- Secured over $125,000 in grant money to train incumbent workers keeping our constituents employable
- Secured money for a revolving loan fund to help local entrepreneurs
- Attracted New Airline Carrier for the Venango Airport and the marketing to keep it going
- Recruited Vantage Health Care to the region and created new jobs
- And, assisted in the financing of the second Hawbaker expansion since they arrived in 2007.

Please keep in mind that most of this was accomplished at a time when our neighboring communities like Meadville and Erie announced job losses and companies leaving town. We are, as you know, in a recession and most companies are not expanding anywhere, but they are expanding here, and the ORA has been there to help every step of the way.

In addition, in the case of Conair, the ORA put in the funds to save these jobs, along with FICDA and the NWC. Our commitment was $100,000. This was done during a time when our budget is tight. But that is what we are here for. And lastly, during the same time period, as your blogger pointed out, we have done a tremendous job bringing in tourists that spend money in our region and stay in our hotels. This money keeps our retail here.

Please let me know if you need more information.

Thank you,
Randy Seitz

Friday, April 10, 2009

Of our downtown and April 22

There will be a Oil City Main Street Program on Wednesday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. in the Great Room of the Transit Building.

The purpose is to update everyone on where things stand with development of the Main Street Program, and more importantly obtain the public’s input on key issues of our strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats.

Already I’ve heard some comment along the lines of "haven’t we done this before." Well, yes and no. Efforts to make our downtown and our community successful and vibrant are not start/finish propositions. They must be ongoing.

In a sense, the current Main Street drive is a natural evolution of recent work done by Take Pride and earlier work by the former CDC and others. But it is also new and different.

Also new and different is our approach to official Main Street Program designation. We are going after that designation in a way that has never bone done before, skipping an entire step (really it is more like a staircase) to get right to where the money is for fa├žade programs, revolving loan funds and more. This is possible through a unique partnership with the Oil Region Alliance.

I have my own thoughts about how our downtown would best succeed and compete. Whether that is what eventually emerges from the Main Street Program is an unknown. What I do know is that my thoughts will be taken into consideration, as will yours – if you take the time to participate. It is your community. It is your future.

So, what are my thoughts on the downtown?

I think the arts can play a huge role, and we are already seeing that happen. I think we need to give thought to what kinds of businesses can fill a market niche. I would like to see our downtown be a vibrant entertainment/social center. I think our upper floors need to become quality office space. I could go on and on.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cleanin Up Feels Good

My son Noel and I spent Saturday morning with seven other people working our buns off.

It felt good.

We were participating in the PA CleanWays effort to clean up some roadside dumps along Deep Hollow and Aires Hill roads in Cranberry Township.

PA Cleanways is a nonprofit agency that attacks the problem of illegal dumping and littering across the state through cleanup of sites, education and adoption of problem areas. It works through local chapters. Venango County’s chapter recently reactivated thanks to Erik Johnson who took on the role of county chair.

Johnson of Franklin works in the Venango County Planning Commission and is the county’s solid waste and recycling coordinator. I met him for the first time earlier in the week at a planning meeting.

Another member of the work crew that I knew was Susan Hileman. The new folks I met were Ray Fry, Brandy and James Rhinebolt, a young couple from Oil City, Susan Carmichael from PA CleanWays home office in Greensburg and Paul a Cranberry Township employee whose last name I did not get.

It was quite amazing how much our small group was able to accomplish and is testament to what local citizens can do when they work together.

Of course, examples of that are common in Venango-land. We see it often, and it is one of our strengths.

Conversely, there is something of a weird dichotomy that seems to make it difficult for us to work together as effectively as we could on a municipal or government level. To me, that is one of our weaknesses. At least that’s my take.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

All things Ning -- New ways of staying informed

This might be an example of teaching an old dog new tricks, I being the old dog.

The Internet has opened up so many more possibilities for keeping the public informed and our citizenry involved. My hope is that this blog is one example of that, but there are many more ways and I’m just learning about them.

Many of you know that Oil City is embarking on a Main Street Program. Two members of the Steering Committee, Susan Williams and Trenton Moulin, decided we needed to find a way to have a Web presence where everyone could be kept informed and even participate if they so desired. Next thing I know, Susan and Trenton are Ning Masters, knowing all things Ning.

I had never heard of Ning before, but it is sort of along the lines of a social networking site (i.e. Facebook or MySpace) but far better suited for the intended purpose.

So, to keep up with the goings on of the Main Street Program go to: http://ocmainst.ning.com/

And no more that I learn of Ning, I find out that the South Side Association now has a Web site: http://southsideassociation.getmynwsite.com/

Such Web sites and networking sites are a valuable addition to keeping up with important events in our community. If you know of a community group with a Web site or networking presence, please post them up. I hope we can develop a lengthy list here and that people will visit them and become involved.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Housing, Neighborhoods and our future

In my last post I noted the Oil City Derrick’s article on the Venango County Housing study conducted by CZB.

Thanks to Joan Wheeler for clueing me in, here is a link where the full report can be found: http://czb.org/worksamples.html

I urge everyone concerned about our neighborhoods and our future as a community to read it. The study conducted by the consulting firm CZB contains some hard truths. I suspect many of us instinctively knew or at least had a suspicion of some of the things that CZB found and made crystal clear in its report, including that cheap, substandard housing leads to further decline.

Some of the suggested solutions to our housing problems are going to draw fire, notably the call for rental unit registration and inspection. On at least two prior occasions when that was brought up in Oil City it met with a firestorm of criticism from landlords and obviously failed to go anywhere.

The consultants also called for strict and aggressive building code and property maintenance enforcement. Again, this is not going to be popular with everyone, but in my mind is absolutely necessary if we are going to save our neighborhoods and our community.

The report also clearly indicates we have way more housing than we need, especially of the cheap and substandard kind. This is not good for Oil City, or the county as a whole. The report suggests that we move to demolish the worst of that. Council has long recognized the need to demolish our condemned and abandoned houses, but as with all things, is constrained financially.

Getting our housing market right is necessary to preserve our neighborhoods. Preserving neighborhoods is necessary for economic development.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

It's Your Turn

On Dec. 2 an anonymous commenter said:

“Could you possibly start a new post asking for ideas on how to attract or market O.C. to them? I'm thinking about a post just for that purpose. You could bring it up at a council meeting and tell folks with solid ideas to go to it. They would most likely be interney savvy!!”

So that is what this blog post is going to be all about.

I’d like to hear your ideas about marketing Oil City, attracting businesses and residents and overall improving our town.

And I mean real solid ideas with as many specifics as possible, not the “bring jobs” that we so often hear and that does nothing. We all want that, and so much more. What I want to hear as how we achieve all our hopes and dreams with as many details as possible.

For our downtown business district a similar “no-holds-barred” approach to thinking about crafting a new future is beginning with the Main Street Program. You can become directly involved in that as well, and I urge you to do so.

So, let’s hear what you come up with.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Must Read

The article in this morning's Derrick is a must read.

http://www.thederrick.com/Derrick/1.shtml

Please, take the time to read it.

I'll have more to say when I have the time
John

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

First Year

Well, I’ve completed my first year on Oil City Council.

There’s nothing like on-the-job training.

I spent a lot of years covering municipal government in my former life as a reporter. I thought I was well prepared with a good understanding of the workings, the possibilities, the limitations and the difficulties of local government.

I soon learned you never know what to expect and that it is a lot harder and far more time consuming than I ever imagined.

It is also often quite frustrating. At the same time in can be invigorating and incredibly fulfilling.

High on my list of frustrations, and one I think is shared by everyone on council, is knowing what you would like to do and what would be good for the city and not having the money to do it. This is a somewhat THE all-encompassing problem/frustration.

I will also admit to having become quite frustrated with the critics and naysayers who only offer criticism and no real solutions, or even solid suggestions.

It is not enough to tell me or any other member of council that we need to “bring jobs” to Oil City, or “grow the tax base.” Tell us how you think that can be done, and realistically. Believe me; all of us on council want to hear those ideas.

So what is the flip side, what invigorates me and makes it so fulfilling?

At the top of the list is seeing so many people work so hard to make Oil City a better place and seeing their successes. There are too many to list, but Venice Lewis is certainly one shining example.

Another is truly believing that we are making progress, perhaps only incremental at times, but good things are happening.

We are an interesting lot; varied backgrounds, varied beliefs and heaven knows great differences in personalities. The good Lord also knows we don’t always agree, and some of our disagreements have been pointed. But that has not prevented us from working cooperatively. I think that says a lot for the other people around the table from me.

I wonder how I and we are viewed from the outside. What is my freshman GPA?