By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The city of Bowling Green has its work cut out for 2019.
Some challenges are familiar – street construction, neighborhood revitalization and downtown parking.
But some challenges presented at Saturday’s strategic planning meeting weren’t on last year’s priority list – sidewalks, side streets and supporting the school district.
City Council met for its annual strategic planning session to review the city’s priorities for 2019, and to allow council members to suggest their own goals for the community.
“We can see where we’ve been in 2018, and set the stage for activities and goals in 2019,” Council President Mike Aspacher said.
Mayor Dick Edwards cautioned that construction downtown and on the roundabouts at Interstate 75 will make this year a little bumpy.
“We know it’s going to be an unusually demanding year on many fronts,” Edwards said. “There are things that will put us all to the test.”
But the mayor pointed out that unlike some “cities to the north,” Bowling Green officials work well together for the betterment of the community.
“I thought we had a very good year last year,” Edwards said. “I think it speaks well for our city government. We work well together.”
Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter started out the strategic planning process by reviewing progress made on last year’s priorities. The city began implementing suggestions in the Community Action Plan, work on the East Wooster corridor continued, the city’s charter was updated, and legislation was passed to create a historic preservation commission.
Tretter then listed the goals for 2019:
- Implement of the historic preservation commission.
- Continue East Wooster corridor efforts in cooperation with BGSU.
- Continue neighborhood revitalization efforts.
- Update the zoning code.
- Improve radio coverage for safety operations.
- Construct new building in City Park.
- Complete construction of Wooster Green.
- Scan permanent planning and zoning records.
- Determine borrowing need, timing and method for various projects.
- Upgrade police division recruitment and hiring practices to national trends.
- Begin and complete downtown utility and paving project.
- Complete East Wooster/I-75 roundabout project.
- Increase electric sales to lower customer costs.
- Explore ways to lower electric transmission costs.
- Implement new billing software and utility customer interface portal.
- Remove and replace old shelters at Carter Park.
“We have a lot of construction going on in this town,” Tretter said. “We will be enduring some challenges while it’s ongoing.”
Aspacher talked about the importance of continuing work on the East Wooster corridor, where many people get their first glimpse of the community as they are looking for a place to go to college or a place to establish a home.
“We can’t ignore as people are looking at Bowling Green – that environment impacts them,” Tretter said in agreement.
Aspacher praised the “significant steps” already made along East Wooster by the city and university.
Following is a list of some of the priorities listed by council members for 2019.
Aspacher said he has heard from constituents about the condition of the city’s side streets.
“I know this is on the radar of the administration,” he said.
But while the city is focusing on the massive road projects downtown and on East Wooster, the smaller streets are suffering.
“We’re falling a little bit behind in street maintenance repairs in the neighborhoods,” Aspacher said.
Since the city can’t count on the state for help with streets, Aspacher asked the city administration to look for more money for street repairs.
“My feeling is we need to take ownership of this on a local level,” he said.
Council member Bill Herald suggested that the city’s sidewalk commission be revived. Not only are sidewalks a safety issue, but the condition of the walkways reflect on the perception of the neighborhood.
Aspacher reported the city is working on restarting the sidewalk commission.
Public Works Director Brian Craft said the city has been using a 50/50 program for sidewalk repairs, which splits the cost between the homeowner and the city. The program has proven popular with residents, he said.
Council member Greg Robinette brought up the need for a sidewalk to be extended to the community center.
“We’ve got a wonderful community center and it’s only accessible by automobile,” he said.
Support city school district
Robinette addressed the “elephant in the room,” by talking about the weight put on school district’s when people decide whether or not to move to a community.
“I think as City Council, we have an opportunity to help,” he said.
Robinette suggested that if council can reach a consensus, then the members can identify ways to make it clear the city supports the school district’s efforts to move ahead on plans to improve its buildings.
“I think the school system is too important to sit on the sidelines and watch this happen,” he said.
Council member Sandy Rowland thanked Robinette for making the suggestion.
“The city is only going to be as strong as our schools,” she said.
Council member Bruce Jeffers, however, voiced some reservations. While he values public schools and has never voted against a school levy, he expressed concerns about city council taking a stand on the issue.
Citizen service and responsiveness
Herald suggested that the city look at ways to improve communication with residents. He pointed out that the recent leaf collection timeline in the city was not communicated as well as it could have been with citizens.
“It’s important to continually look at citizen service. There’s always room for improvement,” Herald said.
Craft explained the difficulties of collecting leaves – especially if the leaves drop late in the fall – and the city is getting ready for handling snow at the same time.
Herald said his concern is more about communication than the actual leaf collection. Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said the city is working on improvements to its notices about recycling and other issues.
Robinette suggested that a map of priority street paving lists be put on the city’s website so the public is aware of plans.
Rowland talked about the importance of the city working with downtown businesses to make it easier for them to get started and then easier to stay in the downtown area.
She praised the city administration for supporting the efforts of downtown business owners to start up the Firefly Nights program last year.
Rowland also mentioned the current effort to create a “brand” for Bowling Green, that will promote the community.
“We are not a sleepy little town at all,” she said.
As a Realtor, Rowland said she is extra sensitive to neighborhood livability issues.
“We need to be inviting, to have people see Bowling Green as a town they want to live in,” she said.
Other council members also had this among their priorities for the year. John Zanfardino said he would be interested in seeing changes to the property maintenance code, and requested an update to the lawsuit against the city over efforts to limit the number of people living in rental units.
Mark Hollenbaugh suggested the city continue discussions about rental unit licensing and inspections. He also talked about the need for the city to pass legislation requiring all properties to conform to zoning over a certain period of time.
“We can pass legislation, so 30 years down the road we no longer have problems with non-conforming uses,” he said.
Aspacher said the city’s attorney has expressed concerns about the enforceability of mandatory rental inspections.
“We recognize this is something important to a lot of people,” Aspacher said. But the answer may lie in beefing up ordinances for housing conditions.
Hollenbaugh expressed concerns not only about the appearance of the rentals, but also the safety for residents.
Fawcett said the key may also be in outreach to renters – making them aware of their ability to ask for their units to be inspected and fixed. Fire Chief Bill Moorman confirmed that any resident can call the fire department and request an inspection.
“People have the ability to get the help they need,” Jeffers said. “Today if you’re in a place you don’t feel safe – do something about it.”
But Rowland continued to express concerns about that message getting to BGSU students who rent houses or apartments.
“The students are afraid of their landlords,” she said. “They’re afraid they’re going to be kicked out.”
East Wooster corridor
Robinette talked about implementation of the city’s Community Action Plan.
“I’m very optimistic this year about identifying overlap in the CAP and East Wooster plans,” he said.
The city may be able to determine which CAP goals can be implemented first.
“We’re not going to be able to get everything done at once,” but can move in the right direction, he said.
Jeffers talked about the city’s need to continue its “Welcoming BG” initiative, which helps make immigrant workers feel welcome in the community.
He also noted the state of the Woodland Mall, and suggested the city may want to take a look at TIFF financing to help the site.
Jeffers also reminded council of the need for a new city building. “We need to keep that on the back burner,” he said.