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State of the City: Even with COVID, 2020 was a good year for Newport, City Manager Fromme says

Not even the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic could halt the job growth, investment and progress in The City of Newport over the last year.

Newport added new jobs and businesses, improved infrastructure and attracted new commercial, residential and hospitality developments and investment, City Manager Tom Fromme said Monday in his annual State of the City address to the Newport City Commission.

“The past year has been difficult and challenging, but we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel,” Fromme told the Commissioners. “It is years like this where we discover how resilient our community can be during stressful times. Now is the time to reignite our optimism and look both back and forward to our accomplishments and goals.”

Fromme reported that the city’s General Fund Cash Balance increased by nearly $900,000 to more than $4.3 million. In the last six years, the city’s net payroll tax revenues have grown by $1.4 million.

Over the last year, Newport gained 72 new companies and 263 net new employees. Job growth is critical, Fromme said, since payroll taxes are the city’s primary source of revenue, accounting for approximately 32 percent of the budget.

“From a financial point of view, 2020 was a good year for the city even in the midst of the COVID pandemic, which caused many local businesses to close throughout a significant portion of the year,” he said.

Other highlights of the last year include:

• Issuing $11.7 million in bonds for vital infrastructure projects that the city will leverage with federal and state grant dollars to improve the Monmouth Street/U.S. 27 corridor – including the underpass railroad bridge section – as well as Festival Park along the Ohio River.

• Under new ownership, Newport on the Levee launched a $100 million renovation.

• Corporex Cos. has completed construction of the $40 million music venue and will begin construction of a hotel and office building in the near future.

• Due to effective financial management, Newport’s bond rating has improved to A+ by Standard & Poor, a credit rating agency.

• The Academy on 4th Residential development opened to new residents moving into the city.

• Work continued on the Skypoint Luxury Condos being developed on the site of the former Baptist Convalescent Home.

• Initial work began on the Citi-Rama residential development along 13th Street.

City-wide street and sidewalk repaving programs and Monmouth Street streetscape improvements began and will continue through 2021.

• Planning began for a mixed-use hotel and office development on the site adjacent to the World Peace Bell.

• The Route 9 improvement project is nearing completion of its final phase, opening a new growth corridor for the city.

Like other communities, Newport is facing challenges, including continuing to provide quality services in the face of rising state pension costs of $1.2 million a year.

“Perhaps the most difficult challenge for Newport and for surrounding cities is addressing the delivery of public services to our residents,” Fromme said. “We continue to operate with a very small, efficient staff and make every effort to provide a high-quality of service in a cost-effective manner.”

Tom Fromme

Fromme pointed out that Newport has reduced the city’s payroll by nearly 30 employees in recent years and now has approximately 114 full-time workers with more than 80 in public safety.

Newport’s goals for 2021 include:

• Continued investment in infrastructure, including improvements to the public safety radio system that first responders rely on.

• Further redevelopment of residential and commercial properties.

• Improve quality of life issues, such as parks and recreation.

• Maintain a safe and walkable community.

• Growing revenues, improving the city’s credit rating and effectively managing expenses.

“Newport has enjoyed one success after another over the last 15 years even through one of the worst recessions in American history and through the COVID-19 outbreak,” Fromme said. “Much was accomplished in 2020, and 2021 continues to look very promising.”

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