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Improving Quality of Life in Ohio's Small Towns

It seems like every week there is a new report about the quality of life in Ohio’s small cities; unfortunately, the news never seems to get better. A couple of weeks ago, we discussed how the Center for Community Solutions through their research determined that life in Ohio’s smaller cities is almost as poor (and in some cases worse) than life in Ohio’s larger cities. Now there is the report from Greater Ohio that is echoing the same conclusions.

Greater Ohio is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that is looking to preserve Ohio’s open space, create revitalized communities and strengthen regional cooperation. They are some of the biggest champions of small and mid-size communities throughout the entire state.

Last year, the group came out with their groundbreaking report, “From Akron to Zanesville: How are Ohio’s Small and Mid-Size Legacy Cities Faring?” The report looked at a series of small cities from all corners of the state (places like Massillon, Sandusky, Xenia and Zanesville and compared them to those bigger cities, such as Akron, Dayton and Toledo. All in all, 23 Ohio cities were put under the statistical microscope looking at data from 2000 to 2014.

This latest report took a look at those same communities and wanted to see if the patterns that were seen from 2000 to 2014 were continuing; the conclusion is that they were and the differences were getting starker. One of the most interesting parts of the report was showing that from 2000 to 2015, median household income dropped 23 percent in those 15 years, which was nearly double the rate of the entire state, where median household income dropped by 12 percent.

Closer to home, the numbers are still stark. According to data from the American Community Survey, the median household income in the city of Troy dropped 6.1 percent from 2010 to 2015. The same data set showed that median household income was slightly better in the city of Piqua, where the rate only dropped 5.5 percent.

Where Greater Ohio’s report is a bit different from the Center for Community Solution’s report is that that they outline four state-level initiatives that they believe will help increase the quality of life in Ohio’s smaller communities.

The first recommendation is to create more state-based opportunities through environmental remediation programs. One such program, the Clean Ohio Program, can help provide that opportunity. From 2002 to 2013 the Clean Ohio Brownfield Revitalization Fund and the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund provided funding to the state’s communities to clean up contaminated properties to bring them to reuse.

It was a successful program, but many times, smaller communities saw themselves on the outside looking in when asking for these dollars. Larger communities had the manpower, the expertise and most importantly, the third party investors, to help make these remediation projects a success. Smaller cities couldn’t compete many times and were left with the abandoned and contaminated properties that still needed attention. Locally, the city of Piqua did very well in securing these dollars, but Piqua’s success was more often the exception than the rule, with the dollars for projects being secured for much larger cities.

Another recommendation that the report put forward was to support local communities in developing infrastructure and transportation networks. Greater Ohio has called on the state to ensure our communities have access to financing mechanisms to modernize sewer and water infrastructure and to regionalize smaller water and wastewater systems to achieve economies of scale.

Greater Ohio has also called on the state to provide more funding to local transit systems to connect employees to their jobs. Right now in Dayton, we are seeing the impacts of how a local transit system is impacting a community. Employees are under strains to get their jobs due to the Dayton RTA strike. Regardless of how you feel about the issue, there is no doubt that Dayton’s economy will suffer if the strike lingers on.

And even in Miami County, transit is an issue. Given the largely suburban and rural geography of the county, running a transit system is extremely expensive and literally could not be done without the outside help of state and federal resources (especially for capital expenditures).