Cost of U.S. 35 landscaping criticized

Most of the $722,480 bill was funded by federal stimulus money.

XENIA — The city’s new Gateway Project is attracting attention, including criticism from some taxpayers for its high cost.

The project is an improved front door for Xenia along U.S. 35 on the city’s west side; it was first envisioned in a master plan adopted by the city in 2008.

It includes a stone monument that reads “Welcome to Xenia, Established 1803” and new landscaping along U.S. 35 beginning at the city limits.

Xenia City Manager Jim Percival said the cost of the project was $722,480 with all but $29,000 coming from federal funding.

“What we were trying to do is create an atmosphere of welcoming into our community with this project,” Percival said.

Chet Howard, a Xenia resident, views the signage and trees as misspent money.

Howard has been out of work since being laid off from DHL in Wilmington two years ago.

“Kinda makes you angry,” he said. “You see all of the people that are without work and struggling, and they turn around and do things like that.”

Former Xenia City Planning Commission member Josh Long faults the federal government for putting restrictions on funding; he said it could only be spent on transportation enhancements, not actual street repairs and resurfacing.

“You can turn off that street and realize the money is misspent, that there are other priorities,” Long said.

City Councilman Dale Louderback said he would have voted against the project, except the vast majority of the money came from the federal government.

Most of the federal funding, $577,183, came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the federal stimulus program.

Louderback said he likes the look of the trees and new signage but questions funding guidelines that limited use of the money for landscaping.

“No disrespect to anybody, but I would visualize stimulus money for infrastructure, our streets,” Louderback said.

Even the quality of the landscaping work has been questioned.

Mark Webber of Dayton, a certified arborist and horticulturist, reviewed the project and said there are trees planted too closely together and in some cases too close to overhead utility lines. He also found trees planted too deeply, with root balls still tightly wrapped in rope and burlap.

“I really wonder what this is going to look like in another 10 years once all of this grows together,” Webber said.

Some of the plants and trees are showing signs of stress, turning from green to brown.

A spokesman for the contractor who installed the plants and trees, Evans Landscaping of Cincinnati, declined comment and referred questions to the city manager.

The city said they have a two-year maintenance and replacement agreement with the company in case any plants die.

“They have to come back and replace anything that within those first two years dies or does not take hold. They are going to replace it for us at no cost to the city,” Percival said.

Councilman Louderback said the city will be able to continue the maintenance work once the contract expires. As a result of budget cuts, the city has 12 employees on layoff, including several members of the maintenance staff.

“I’m hoping that we can maintain this project with the workers we have right now,” Louderback said.

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