Two issues shared top billing in Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley’s first State of the City speech — an immediate need to pass an income tax renewal and a long-term focus on improving the education of Dayton’s children.
“At the top of our agenda is Dayton’s future fiscal health,” Whaley said Wednesday. “The passage of the city’s income tax renewal on the May primary ballot is Job One. … The future vitality of Dayton and our ability to deliver quality public services to our citizens is at stake.”
Whaley said the income tax is crucial to the city’s continuing investments – hiring new police officers and firefighters, replacing water and sewer infrastructure and repairing roads.
The ballot issue would keep the city’s income tax rate at 2.25 percent, as it has been since 1984, and it would make the final 0.5 percent of the tax permanent. As with all municipal income taxes in Ohio, people who work in the city pay the tax, regardless of where they live. But only city residents are eligible to vote on the tax.
Whaley touted a run of ongoing business investment in Dayton, from Water Street and White Allen Honda to the Children’s Hospital expansion, GE Aviation and the new racino. She said she has already begun meeting with businesses in an effort at improving the city’s business climate. But she added that education is the key to long-term economic success.
“There is one overriding issue that impacts all of our economic development strategies,” Whaley said. “The need to better prepare our children for the role they will play in Dayton’s future ties everything else we do together.”
Last month, Whaley introduced her City of Learners initiative, and Wednesday she announced the 51 members of that committee. The group includes leaders of Dayton Public Schools and several local colleges, plus church, corporate and social service officials. Whaley said the group also needs to push parents to be invested and get their kids ready to learn.
Lori Ward, superintendent of Dayton Public Schools, said while there are individual roles for school and city officials, there is a spirit of collaboration among the group.
“Bottom line, it’s how can the city help in the collaboration of making sure we have the skilled workforce?” Ward said. “The school system can’t do it by itself. We need several partners — human services for at-risk families, businesses to mentor and provide internships, and that’s the leverage of the city, bringing all those voices together.”
Whaley said the city and Montgomery County soon will announce plans to work together on four projects in 2014. Whaley and County Commissioner Dan Foley wouldn’t name the four issues Wednesday, but Foley said at least one of the projects will be a challenging, “disruptive” effort.
Whaley begins her term as mayor trying to win over a city that has a bit of a self-image problem, according to Deputy City Manager Stanley Earley, who says too few people recognize that the glass is half-full.
Crime is higher than in the suburbs, but the rate has dropped in recent years. Housing blight remains a large problem, but the city set a record for demolition last year. Many businesses have left downtown, but Water Street, Goodwill and Student Suites have started new projects there.
Asked about the state of the city, Kevin Jones, one of Dayton’s Priority Board chairmen, said the city is “in disarray,” but argued that Whaley’s focus on education means Dayton is now headed in the right direction.
“I’m hoping that she’s going to come to the table with some out of the box stuff and hold people accountable,” Jones said. “If we don’t do a better job of educating kids, we can forget about recruiting businesses here.”