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Dayton business up and crime down, mayor says

Whaley touts results, announces customer service initiative.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley used her second State of the City address on Wednesday to make the argument that 2014 was a year of results.

Last year in Dayton, she said, the housing market was hot, crime and unemployment declined and voters approved a permanent income tax levy.

About 39 businesses expanded or moved downtown, new investment committed to the Tech Town area and an action plan was crafted to improve educational outcomes for young people, she said.

After looking backward, Whaley moved the story forward with the announcement of “Dayton — At Your Service.”

The multi-year initiative seeks to improve the city’s customer service and service delivery by implementing new policies and measurable standards.

“Dayton — At Your Service is more than a customer service initiative,” Whaley said. “It’s about meeting the needs of our citizens.”

A year ago, Whaley said the city’s priorities included passing a levy to make the final part of the income tax permanent and creating a plan to improve educational attainment.

During Wednesday’s speech, Whaley noted that voters approved the tax levy in May and her City of Learners Committee gathered feedback from hundreds of community members to identify educational barriers.

Earlier this year, the mayor released a plan developed by the committee to remove those barriers.

Whaley said crime dropped by 3 percent last year, continuing a longer-term trend.

The police department increasingly has used data analysis and technology to combat crime, and the city has installed surveillance cameras downtown at strategic locations to deter criminals and capture video evidence of illegal activities and possible suspects.

Crime solving and prevention relies on citizen engagement, and police officers have been visiting the schools to form positive relationships with students and educators, officials said.

“The declines are real and the declines are significant, especially in the last four years,” said Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl. “What we do and how we focus our resources is important in reducing and preventing crime.”

Contrary to popular belief, crime reduction is not directly tied to economic conditions, he said.

But curbing illegal activities is possible through effective policing strategies and addressing and mitigating risk factors for unlawful behavior, including household instability and a lack of a support system, Biehl said.

Law-breaking is down, but ground-breakings have been robust, Whaley said.

Construction began last year on Water Street District, a $45 million project featuring an office building, 215 apartments and parking garage.

Warped Wing Brewing Co., the Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition and Catapult Creative were among 39 businesses that opened, moved or expanded downtown, Whaley said.

Those business activities created 461 jobs and resulted in the occupancy of 237,748 square feet of space, according to the Downtown Dayton Partnership’s year-end report.

The city of Dayton’s unemployment rate slipped to 5.3 percent in December, the lowest since at least 1983, according to preliminary labor data.

“We’ve started to see some cautious optimism in a lot of different business sectors, whether it’s creative services and architectural or consumer related or our restaurants,” said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

Gudorf said 2014 was a “very good year” for downtown: businesses were busier and there was an uptick in new jobs and site-seeking activities. She said more work remains, but city and downtown leaders are up to the challenge.

Whaley said it is important the city build on the positive momentum by becoming more accessible, responsive and accountable to its citizens.

“After a long period of decline, Dayton is moving forward,” she said.

On Wednesday, Whaley formally announced the creation of Dayton — At Your Service. City commissioners for months have talked publicly about focusing on customer service this year.

Whaley said improving customer service and service delivery will rebuild the city’s image.

She said staff will meet regularly to figure out standards and performance measures for every department. She said the city will gather feedback from the community to better understand areas in need of improvement and customer expectations.

“We want every citizen’s contact with the city to be a good experience,” she said.

Establishing a culture of excellent customer service will take time, because staff will need training so they are well informed, competent and courteous and can help citizens get answers or access services, said Shelley Dickstein, assistant city manager.

Dickstein said the city has put aside an initial $25,000 to pay for consulting fees and other costs associated with reviewing best practices, defining standards, creating a vision and surveying customers.

The city will need to develop standards and new user-friendly tools, such as employees must return calls within a certain time frame or making permit approval available online, she said.

“Those are some of the systems, policies and procedures we also have to put in line, because if we don’t, it’ll be a flash in the pan initiative and it won’t be sustained,” Dickstein said. “What we really want is a sustained culture around delivering excellent customer service.”

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