LANCASTER — In his state of the city address on Thursday, Lancaster Mayor David Scheffler said the city faces two major issues but is doing well overall.
The talk was hosted by the Lancaster-Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce at the First United Methodist Church Crossroads Ministry Center. Local business owners, city and county elected officials, and members of various fire and police departments were in attendance.
Scheffler described accomplishments in the city since the last address in 2020, as the 2021 address was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
One of the biggest issues Lancaster is working to address, Scheffler said, is the number of police and firefighters on staff. Ever since Lancaster voters passed a 0.45% income tax increase specifically for the Lancaster Fire and Police Department, full employment has been a clear goal of both departments.
“We have already hired 18 firefighters. Our target is 84, which will allow us to be full and manage a fourth medical unit, which was one of the promises of the income levy campaign,” said said Scheffler. “We still have a ways to go, but we’re getting closer. Hiring in the police department is a little more difficult.”
He said the national climate surrounding law enforcement has discouraged applicants from applying. Hiring new police officers is also a long process, which also depends on the candidates’ certification or training.
“Police officers hired in the early 1990s are also reaching retirement age. For various reasons, we have made 12 police officers leave, so we are at a current strength of 59 police officers. We lose a lot of experience, and when we get new officers, a lot of them are rookies, so they take the time to train, paired up with a more experienced officer,” Scheffler said. “We are working to encourage more candidates to come to Lancaster, but we have some limitations when it comes to hiring officers from other departments.”
“If you know someone who wants to be a police officer, send them to HR.”
The police department also received new cruisers, and the department headquarters underwent several repairs.
Scheffler added that the fire and police departments spent less than their planned budget in 2021, but that was tied to lower-than-expected staffing levels.
The second challenge facing the city is affordable housing. Despite all the economic development and new businesses moving into the area, Scheffler said these workers needed a place to live.
“We are in urgent need of housing, and we are not alone in this. Central Ohio is expected to grow over the next few years, and Lancaster needs to work on it. Most of the available housing in Lancaster has a low rate vacancy, filled almost as quickly as people move out,” he said. “The city and Fairfield County commissioners are cooperating to work on this issue.”
Scheffler noted that several developments, like the Flats on Memorial and East Point Apartments and Lofts, offer residents the option to “upstairs,” which would open up other apartments for those looking for more affordable housing.
Scheffler said the economic development department has been successful, attracting companies like Magna Seating and Google to the city. Work on Google’s site is underway, Scheffler said, and it should be operational by 2023.
“We’ve had a number of companies come to Lancaster, and some existing companies are increasing their workforce. Anchor Hocking has brought its second tank online, which has added 200 new jobs. The number of applications to work there has increased from about 10 a week to 25, with the majority of applicants coming from Lancaster,” he said. “Economic development involves a lot of work behind the scenes, and it can be very secretive. But we have a lot of good things going on, with more to come soon.”
Other highlights include the amount of paving and roadwork the city handled in 2021, largely thanks to the 3 mill levy; upgrades to the Lawrence Street sewage treatment plant; approval of the 0.10 income tax increase for the Parks and Recreation Department; a lead reduction program with the Department of Community Development funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development; and finally an $80,000 grant to study traffic on the east side of town, which Scheffler says could help reduce the number of semi-trucks driving on Main Street.
Barrett Lawlis is a reporter for the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, part of the USA Today Network. Submit story ideas or feedback to [email protected] or call 740-681-4342. Follow him on Twitter @BarrettLawlis