At Independence's Elmwood Park on a recent spring day, mowers and an edge trimmer buzz on a baseball field and lawn next to the pool's water slide. A mom and her baby power-stroller past. Teens play doubles on four tennis courts. The town's vast community campus, also home to City Hall, the police and fire stations, the library, middle school and high school, hums in anticipation of summer.
The Independence nearly all Clevelanders know — the expanding strip of restaurants, hotels, shopping centers and office towers at Rockside Road and I-77 — helps pay for the quieter, greener town center along Selig Drive about a mile south. Independence's charmed location as Cuyahoga County's freeway crossroads creates the key ingredient in the city's suburban success: low property taxes and high-quality city services.
"When I was moving here, everyone said, 'You've got to join the pool and the community center,' " recalls Bob Fields, who moved to Independence eight years ago. The price for a family to join both: $115 for 2012.
"I thought it was a monthly fee," Fields recalls. "I asked, 'Do you bill it all up front?' [The clerk] said, 'No, that's what it costs for a family per year.' "
That's no surprise to Tina Kerans, who recently returned with her husband after moving away eight years ago. "The city services in Independence are great," she says. "They don't just kind of do things. Everything is done here very nicely."
Governing Independence means preserving that balance of low cost and high quality. Mayor Greg Kurtz has shrunk the city's operating budget without layoffs or cuts in service in each of the past three years, a feat other mayors would envy.
In fact, the city is upgrading its recycling program, purchasing a second automated packer in hopes of automating recycling pickup, just as rubbish is automated now.
Kurtz may seek a levy in November to upgrade the community campus, some of which dates from the early '90s.
Rockside Road is "our lifeline," the mayor says, while the Selig Drive complex is "the center of our entire community."
Neighborhood Hot Spot
"It's affordable [for] Independence," says Coldwell Banker Hunter Realty's Silvana Dibiase of the neighborhood along Beechwood Drive. "On average, they're four-bedroom, 2 1/2 baths, some finished basements. The majority of the homes are on lots averaging a half-acre."
What You Get
Asking price: $254,000
Selling price: $239,750
Square feet: 2,222
No. of bedrooms: 3
No. of bathrooms: 2 1/2
Time on the market:
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