Although precise forecasts about the New Year are made at one's peril, here's a few themes that appear to be emerging.
1) Local government fund cuts felt in Portage: At the state level, although Ohio operates with a balanced budget, one of the ways it has achieved this is by cutting the local government fund and state aid to education. Local governments, local libraries and school districts in Portage County are struggling to operate in the black and provide adequate levels of service. Kent has already tried to recoup some of these losses with a boost in the income tax that failed last November. Ravenna, citing its rapidly shrinking rainy day fund, says it cannot continue without substantial reductions in benefits and possibly layoffs. Kent Schools have placed an 8.9-mill levy on the May ballot. Waterloo has a levy up for a special February vote. All are symptomatic of what befalls not only Portage County, but much of the nation.
2) A Kent issue, the Kent Police Department: Clearly inadequate, Kent would be better off constructing an entirely new one. Persuading the voters to take on new taxes to do so is going to be difficult. Our suggestion would be to try a sunset clause on a new tax proposal that would specify the cost of the proposed police department along with language that the new tax would expire as soon as the new facility would be paid off. Another option would be a partial sunset clause that would cause the amount of the tax to go down after the department is built and paid for with the remaining funds earmarked for capital improvements in perpetuity.
3) A Portage County jail issue: Our growing female inmate population. Sheriff David Doak has said the county needs to expand the Justice Center, which houses inmates convicted of misdemeanors and adults awaiting trial mainly because of a growing female inmate population. How to fund such an expansion is an issue the commissioners will soon face.
4) Strengthening the area industrial base: The county and municipal governments are making headway in this. Using tax incentives and its great highway access, Streetsboro has become the undisputed industrial hub of Portage County. Mayor Glenn Broska has said his focus will be retention, hoping to keep those industries that over the last 20 years have located in Streetsboro. Ravenna is studying the possibilities of a medical science corridor that would run north-south from NeoMed to Robinson Memorial Hospital. It is also seeking to create an enterprise lane on Cleveland Road going from the downtown to S.R. 14. Kent is promoting development in the old Ametek facility on Lake Street and in the Mogadore Road area where RB&W once loomed large. Brimfield is benefitting from its Joint Economic Development Districts, particularly the one it shares with Tallmadge where Newell Rubbermaid is opening its new 800,000 square foot distribution center.
5) Kent State rebuild and NEOMED: Perhaps the surest good news for 2013 is the start of a massive program to rejuvenates the main campus of Kent State through a bond funded program that will focus on improving or adding to KSU's science facilities, building an entirely new School of Architecture building, replacing or improving the School of Art building and adding an academic center for the School of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology. The New Year will also see the completion and opening of an 80,0000 sq. ft. Research and Graduate Eduction building on the NEOMED campus where 90 new permanent jobs in research and graduate education are to be stationed. This is the first of several steps to expand NEOMED's Rootstown campus, the second being student residential village, currently under construction.
6) Fracking: Drilling is likely to pick up in Portage County, a portion of which appears to be rich in Utica Shale gas and oil. Carrying on fracking in a manner that is safe for the community at large is going to be key to this enterprise that otherwise promises wealth and jobs for those areas where it will occur.