One of the longest running tenures in local government continued this past week when Portsmouth City Auditor Trent Williams was sworn in for a fifth term. He also took the time to reflect on what he has seen in the day to day operation of the city over recent years.
Williams said the city has improved a lot over the past several years. He talked about the fact that the city went into Fiscal Caution in 2011 and Fiscal Watch in 2013, but said the city administration has been working through the process with City Manager Derek K. Allen to get the city back into good financial condition and to try to avoid Fiscal Emergency and any further major fiscal problems.
“It has been difficult to improve,” Williams told the Daily Times in an exclusive interview. “We’ve been fortunate the citizens of Portsmouth have approved two income tax increases over the past five years, but the first one in 2012 was offset tremendously by the loss of other governmental revenue, most of which was the local government funding and then estate tax and personal property tax.
He cited the hiring of a city manager as a move in the right direction and said Allen has been able to come in and put a plan together to stabilize the city financially and to ultimately make the city look better and actually be a better place.
“I believe we are heading in the right direction financially and I think we will see the results from that over the coming years,” Williams said. “In some years we’ve had too much bickering and fighting within city government that did not make a favorable impression on the city as a whole and I think that has improved as well in recent years.”
Williams said he has seen positive improvements in the downtown area over the past few years and hopes to see it continue to grow. As examples, Williams mentioned new schools, the growth of Shawnee State University, hospitals, small local shops, restaurants, and loft style apartments.
“I would like to see more retail shops and industry but that will take time,” Williams said. “The city, in getting its act together financially and making improvements will help, but again that does take time and a lot of planning and effort that I also see happening. There’s also been more communication and cooperation between the city, (Scioto) County, Southern Ohio Port Authority, etc. It will take everyone involved working together in the same direction to see continued growth and development in our community.”
Williams was asked what he enjoyed most about being City Auditor.
“I have enjoyed being able to contribute to the city in many positive ways such as building relationships with a lot of really good people in the Portsmouth area through being the Auditor and working in city and county government that I may not have if not for working here.”
He also cited modernizing the Finance office through new computer systems and software. He said the city has gone through two major changes in their systems over the past 8 to 10 years. Most recently, just over the last year, have implemented digital approval systems and that they are now moving toward paperless purchasing. As a result, he said the city is not moving as much paper and is faster and more efficient.
“I have a great staff of dedicated, hard workers that I’m very proud of. My staff and I work hard every day to make a positive influence in our City,” Williams said. “We have refinanced some of the City’s debt. This is now the second time we have refinanced the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund debt. The first time was in 2001, we cut off 8 years and saved over $800,000 in principal and interest payments. This time we cut off another 2 years and will save an additional $330,000. This is the City’s only existing general obligation debt and will be completely retired in 2025 instead of 2035.”
Williams was referencing the city’s decision to issue bonds in the amount of $1.25 million to pay off those debts
“I’ve always been proud to live in Portsmouth and of what it has to offer,” Williams said. “I am very proud to have served the citizens of Portsmouth and grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve another term as your City Auditor. I want to thank the citizens of Portsmouth. I appreciate their trust and support. I wish everyone a happy and prosperous new year.”
City Auditor Trent Williams taking the oath of office on Wednesday afternoon as he is sworn in to a fifth term as Portsmouth City Auditor by Juvenile/Probate Court Judge Alan Lemons while Court Administrator Dawn Keller holds the Bible.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.