It was very discouraging to read the recent Daily Times front page article titled, “Johnson asks questions on Third Street Issue.” Especially the part where First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson was critical of the City Planning Commission’s lack of questioning of Shawnee State University representatives, who made a presentation before the commission to discuss the partial closure of Third Street.
With all the other issues that face our elected city officials, why is it that they continuously throw roadblocks in the path of progress for the two largest employers in the city of Portsmouth and the gems of our community? I am speaking about Southern Ohio Medical Center and Shawnee State University.
SOMC employs 2,304 health care professionals and pays $2.4 million dollars annually in income tax to the city of Portsmouth. SOMC has world class physicians, state-of-the-art medical facilities and provides cutting edge medical technology and care to tri-state residents.
Shawnee State University is the youngest state university and also the fastest growing in the state university system. SSU employs 887 professionals in our city and supports more than 3,700 jobs in the area. SSU employees pay close to $400,000 in city income tax. The total economic impact to our community by SSU is $93 million annually.
The university has an enrollment of more than 4,600 students, with 998 of those students living in university housing facilities. These students cross Third Street numerous times each day either attending a class, lecture, labs, social and athletic events and eating their meals at the University Center. Their safety is the utmost concern to (University President) Dr. (Rita) Morris and the SSU Board of Trustees. The students at SSU are a big piece of the Portsmouth economy, spending money on a daily basis for food, entertainment and gasoline.
Dr. Morris and the Board of Trustees are continuously striving to provide the best educational environment for students who come from many states and numerous international countries to receive an excellent educational experience. Local developers Neal and Vicky Hatcher have invested millions of dollars in the future of Shawnee State and the city of Portsmouth by partnering with SSU to provide excellent campus housing facilities for students.
As a life-long resident of the city of Portsmouth, I would like to ask the following, hard-line questions to Councilman Kevin Johnson, his colleagues on city council and to Mayor (David) Malone:
1 — Why are our city leaders the most unsuitable property owners in our community? The city of Portsmouth owns the following parcels of property and each of them are deplorable, unsafe and in disgraceful condition: 728 Second Street (Municipal Building), 720 Sixth Street (The old Babcock Building), 807 Washington Street (The Adelphia Building), 2010 Charles Street (The old Naval Reserve Center), 515 Chillicothe Street (The Martings Building) and 735 Fifth Street (Martings Annex).
2 — Why do our city leaders not have a five-year and 10-year plan of economic and retail development projects that will provide a better quality of life for the citizens of Portsmouth?
3 — Why do our city leaders not have plans to upgrade our infrastructure of water lines and streets which are both in deplorable condition?
4 — Why doesn’t our city have a Parks and Recreation Commission to utilize our beautiful parks and to provide properly supervised activities for our youth and families?
5 — Why do our city leaders allow the entrance approaches to our fine city to look like dump sites? The entrance into Portsmouth from New Boston on Gallia Street is trash filled, filthy, covered with fallen trees and embarrassing.
6 — Why do our city leaders allow disabled and abandoned vehicles, camping trailers, boats, hitch trailers and snow removal equipment to sit on city streets for months when city ordinances prohibit these violations?
7 — Why do our city leaders continue to violate our City Charter? Section 87 and 89 of the Charter have precise language concerning the amount of Police Officers and Firefighters that each department shall have. This is to ensure that our citizens are properly protected. Both departments have been below staffing levels for several years. The citizens of Portsmouth in both 1987 and in 2011 voted an additional tax to ensure this staffing level was provided. But our leaders fail to do what is right to protect our citizens. How can we expect officers to enforce Question 6 if there are not enough officers on the streets? Where is the tax money from the safety levy going?
These are the questions that the citizens of Portsmouth are very much concerned about that our leaders need to address.
In closing, I would ask Councilman Johnson and his colleagues to please stop being obstructionists and do everything you can possibly do to promote the gems of our community. Shawnee State University and Southern Ohio Medical Center.
Robert W. Pratt