By Seth Littrell
Register News Writer
In his annual state of the city address, Berea Mayor Steve Connelly asked audience members to rate life in Berea on a scale of one to five, five being the best.
A majority of the voters rated their town as a five, but Connelly was not so assured.
“I would give Berea a four,” he said. “I think that, at a minimum, we can still improve.”
The mayor went on to list good things about the city, saying it was financially sound and offers many opportunities. Berea is limited only by the imaginations and audacity of its people, he said.
“Even though the past five years have been hard on many citizens, collectively, Berea has made the best of a bad time,” Connelly said. “It continues right to the top.”
However, Berea still faces many challenges. The city’s police department made 343 drug-related arrests in 2013. Of particular interest was the appearance of heroin in the community, Connelly said. In 2012 the BPD didn’t have any heroin-related cases, but it had nine in the last four months of 2013. Six more arrests involving the drug were made in January.
Methamphetamine arrests dropped by 8 percent in 2013, the mayor said. But part of that figure may involve cooks using smaller containers to transport the substance and avoid police detection.
To combat the new challenges, the BPD has created a street-crimes unit and added an additional officer for drug enforcement. It also is using social media to keep the public better informed, Connelly said.
The police were not the only department adapting to new city needs, however.
During the past year:
• The public works department implemented a vehicle-maintenance program to service all city vehicles.
• The finance department created a new system to track business licenses.
• The codes enforcement office increased its jurisdiction over building inspections expected to lead to faster project approvals.
• The city’s human resources department created a whistleblower policy for city employees.
• Finally, the city expanded its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation and domestic partners.
To support tourism, Connelly said the city will support Bereans for Economic Development, the group seeking a referendum on alcohol sales in the historically dry town. When asked by Berea College professor Peter Hackbert how much revenue alcohol sales could generate for city government, Connelly said he estimates between $700,000 and $800,000 annually, which would go to the police department.
Hackbert voiced concern about how alcohol sales would change the city’s character. Connelly said he supported a discussion on the subject, but the first step in the process would be to establish whether there will be a vote.
“If a vote is approved, then there would be meetings with the Frankfort people to answer detailed questions about would there be bars, would there not be bars or what size and location,” he said. “There will also be an opportunity for the city to amend its zoning ordinances in terms of signs although I’m told our ordinance would not need much change.”
When at the beginning of the meeting Connelly asked audience members to rate how much of a benefit an alcohol referendum would be on the one-to-five scale, the votes were split between ones and fives.
Connelly attributed city government’s efficiency to the work of its employees as well as “the vision of its city council.”
In the future, Connelly said he would like to see the city focus on completing projects such as the Indian Fort shared-use path, developing an additional raw water source and upgrading the Louis Street power substation’s output.
The city this year will commission a preliminary design for a public safety building near City Hall that would house the police and fire departments, he said.
Seth Littrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6623.