Nov. 24—The City of Ironton has a lot of projects coming up in the next year including improvements on the riverfront park and roads, and getting condemned homes torn down.
"The whole point of all these projects is improving the quality of life here," said Mayor Sam Cramblit.
He said that one thing they have really done this year is the condemnation program through the city's Building and Zoning Office in an effort to get dilapidated housing razed.
"By the end of 2022, we will have around 15 properties that have been condemned and will be restored to lots that can be put back on the market and improve those neighborhoods," Cramblit said. "We are removing blighted properties that have been nuisances to our community since the housing bubble when lots of foreclosures happened."
He said the houses that have been taken down were hazardous and a nuisance to the community. Some were vermin infested, some were structurally unsafe and abandoned.
"Some of these places have owners that live several states away and were just letting the properties go," Cramblit said.
The owners were notified of that the properties needed to be repaired or torn down and given a chance to clean it up before the property was condemned. The owner had 30 days to get a building permit and start repairs before the city follows through with condemning the house.
He said some of that has been done through the Lawrence County Land Bank and paid for by a state grant.
He said the city recently established a City Improvement Corporation, which can act in a similar manner to a port authority for properties, to further the goal of cleaning up blighted properties.
"We look forward to keeping that program going and working with the county treasurer's office and the Land Bank and the CIC to continue getting rid of these houses," Cramblit said.
Another area where the city is working to improve the quality of life is upcoming road paving projects.
Getting roads paid for is complex. It is easier to get funding for projects that are in business areas than in residential areas.
"We have been able to complete the first paving project, which was a smaller project, primarily paid by grants through the Appalachian Regional Commission for Economic Development," he said. "There are a few businesses on Front Street and Pine Streets that showed improvements to those roads would retain employees, create jobs and keep businesses open. We have seen that pay off already, with one of those businesses expanding exponentially."
Cramblit said that the ARC grants are very helpful for the community and they try to get at least one a year for the city.
He said the goal is to have at least two and hopefully four paving projects, done in the next year.
"We know that through this process we will be able to pave around 100 city blocks," Cramblit said.
Another project that they are looking at is replacing old, faded or missing street signs.
"We are trying to figure out how many we need. It is going to be tedious because it is specific to each intersection," Cramblit said.
The project is just the replacement of street signs, not traffic signs such as stop or yield signs.
Another long-term project the city continues to work on is improving the riverfront. In recent years, the city has installed new concrete seating and put in a bike/walking path.
The improvements have been going on for the better part of a decade and Cramblit said they were looking for projects the city could accomplish on its own rather than waiting on grant money to come in because it can take a long time to receive those funds.
"The further you go up the government chain, the more red tape there is and the longer it takes," Cramblit said. "So when you can use your local dollars it speeds up the process and we want to see what we could do now."
While looking at other cities' projects, Cramblit noticed that Covington, Kentucky had a beer and food garden called Covington Yard. Rather than a permanent building, which is expensive and requires a lot of permits, Covington Yard uses containers that have been modified to be kitchens or a bar or a venue.
"If we did something similar, we could move them and it isn't permanent, but it is a solution to giving something for people to go," Cramblit said.
He said there is a lot of areas on the riverfront that need to be cleaned up to improve the view of the Oakley C. Collins Bridge.
Cramblit said another benefit of spending local money is that it shows grant agencies that the city is willing to spend money on itself.
"It is hard to go after grant money when a city has nothing in the project," he said. "You are asking the federal or state government to fully a project and they don't like to do that. They want to see the city is invested in it for the long term. So, being able to put this project on there shows we are committed."
The city also recently got a $73,000 grant from Ohio Department of Natural Resources to improve the riverfront.
"That will go towards a beach volleyball court and playground equipment," Cramblit said. "That is for everyone to enjoy a family-friendly atmosphere."
Cramblit said all this has been made possible because of the city has been working on a lot of efficiencies in the city and spending more to show citizens that the city doesn't just raise taxes and not give anything back because the city wasn't in a financial position to do much.
"People want to see their dollars going somewhere," Cramblit said. "We have done a lot of asset management planning through our all of our infrastructure, our buildings and our technology. We have spent more and we have saved more. We are in the best financial situation we have been in for a long time and we are putting it back into the community as fast as we can for the residents."
One thing that isn't highly visible is that the city has invested in lawnmowers to keep the grass on the floodwalls cut.
"Just a little bit of equipment can go a long way," Cramblit said.
Another purchase is equipment to grade the alleys, something the city hasn't had for a long while.
"As people reach out and say 'Hey, my alley need some gravel,' now we can fix it for a longer term," Cramblit said.
He said that a lot of the credit goes to have a city council that works well together.
"It is easy to work very hard when you have everybody invested in the best interest of the city," Cramblit said. "We are continuing to look at other things we need to be improving for the long term."