BARBERTON — Barberton Mayor William B. Judge talked a lot about the city’s positives during his State of the City address Tuesday at Barberton High School.
But it was clear by his continual references to the loss of Babcock & Wilcox that the longtime employer dealt an enduring black eye to the city when it decided to move to Akron.
And it’s a financial sore that will take years to heal.
“2018 was a year filled with great excitement, but also great disappointment with the loss of B&W,” the mayor told a crowd of about 100 who turned out for the annual address.
Because of B&W's departure, he said, the city will continue to face difficult financial decisions.
“Next year’s budget will be the most challenging to date,” he said.
B&W is scheduled to move out of the city in the next couple of months, the mayor said. Its departure leaves a $1.3 million gap in the city’s annual income tax revenues, according to one estimate.
But Judge said the city would bounce back and promised to reorganize the city’s operations to deal with revenue issues.
He told his audience that the city’s residents are known for their resolve and work ethic, and his administration is focused on drawing new employers to Barberton.
“The loss of B&W was devastating to our community, but … will not define our community,” he said.
The mayor cited companies like Peaceful Fruits, which set up shop in Barberton last year, and BWX Technologies Inc. — a spinoff of Babcock & Wilcox — as examples of the city’s ability to attract new businesses.
Other employers such as Summa Health and Akron Children’s Hospital have bolstered their operations.
“There are many positive things going on in our community,” Judge said.
The entry of Amazon into the former Rolling Acres Mall site will also be a boost to Barberton, Judge believes.
“We have been working diligently to ensure there are opportunities at the facility for Barberton residents,” he told his audience.
The Amazon fulfillment center is expected to employ about 1,500 people at the Akron site, about a half-mile from Barberton's northern edge.
The mayor also said he’s determined to make downtown a “destination place,” decried the effect of rumors spread through social media and spoke about efforts to minimize flooding with catch basin and retention pond expansion.
Plans are in motion for a long-term solution to the flooding problem, Judge said, referring to a recent meeting with the governor and state and city leaders on the issue. The mayor said 70 percent of the city is located in a flood zone.
He said he is assembling a "purple-ribbon" committee to examine city operations with an eye toward improving them.
“I’m putting together a reorganization plan that will move the city forward,” he said.
The mayor was introduced by Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro, who discussed the county's attractiveness to relocating businesses and Barberton's unique attributes.
In a question-and-answer session after his address, Judge said the city was able to avoid layoffs earlier this year but didn’t hire seasonal workers to help with maintenance issues.
“If grass cutting is the biggest issue we have, we’re doing pretty good,” he said.
He also dismissed speculation that the city was using a low-grade asphalt to do road repairs.
“This is a totally false rumor,” he told an audience member, explaining the city’s quality-control process.
In a brief interview after his address, Judge returned again to the loss of B&W.
“We can’t ever seem to get ahead. We get all these companies to come in and then we have B&W [leave],” he said. “[It’s] making us take a tough and hard look at how we operate.”
Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconjournal.