Community

Wood County Park District makes pitch for renewal levy

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   It doesn’t seem likely the Wood County Park District would suffer from an identity crisis. Where else can county residents hike, bike and revel in nature 365 days a year in 20 different parks with 1,125 acres? Where else can adventure lovers go kayaking, rappelling and geo-caching? But as the county park district nears the May 8 election, there is some concern that Bowling Green voters will confuse the Wood County Park District levy with the city parks and recreation levy that was passed last November. “There is some confusion between the parks,” Wood County Park District Director Neil Munger said. “I’m hopeful that we get the word out.” That word includes the fact that the park district is trying for a levy renewal – meaning no extra millage. Board President Denny Parish stressed recently that the renewal will be same millage sought when the park district last passed its levy in 2008. “Which means no new taxes,” Parish said. For the last decade, the levy has generated about $2.8 million a year. That amount is expected to grow to $3 million a year because of new construction in the county. “It won’t cost individual homeowners more than they’ve been paying for the last 10 years.” If approved, the 1-mill levy will cost the owner of a $150,000 home a total of $39.54 per year. Munger said the district is committed to not raising the tax burden on local residents. “We aren’t asking for any additional money,” he said. The park district also wants local residents to know that when they make suggestions, the park district listens. New programming has been added – both educational and adventure activities, Munger said. “Everybody likes what we’ve been doing,” he said. “We’ll keep listening to the public to see what they want to see for their parks.” In 1986, the county park district consisted of two parks – Otsego near Grand Rapids and Harrison near…


School tax expert tries to clear BG bond issue confusion

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A school taxation expert hired to bring clarity about Bowling Green City Schools funding sources for the new school proposal tried to clear up the muddy issue Thursday evening. Citizens packed into the middle school cafeteria, and two police officers were on hand to make sure the meeting went smoothly. David Conley, president of Rockmill Financial, specifically tried to answer whether or not the school district could use income tax instead of property tax for its $72 million building project to consolidate the elementary schools plus add onto and renovate the high school. His simple answer was – “it’s complicated.” “In my opinion, what is on the ballot is the best option for the community,” Conley said. “A property tax is more affordable to most taxpayers than an income tax,” he said of the issue on the May 8 ballot. “Property tax spreads the cost to more taxpayers.” However, that answer was also complicated, since his statement holds true for the first 10-15 years, when tax statistics from the district show an income tax would then be better. Conley also added another “big ‘ole asterisk.” “The agricultural community is really getting hit with this,” he said. “But my conclusion is that the bond issue right now is the most equitable and fair for the community,” he said. District officials have said that income tax cannot be used for long-term building projects. More school districts are turning to income tax revenue for building projects, Conley said. However, even that is complicated. Districts can only use income tax for bond issues if they are eligible to get some state facilities funding. There is another option for using earned income tax – but that can’t be enacted by districts that have traditional income taxes in place, which Bowling Green has. Residents looking for black and white answers disregarded Conley’s complicated explanations. “We have been misled,” Bud Henschen said about the board’s decision to go for…


Food truck discussion takes sweet and sour twist

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The discussion over food truck rules in Bowling Green erupted into a verbal food fight Wednesday evening. But when it was over, rules allowing food trucks to operate in the city were ready to move on to City Council. On one side of the dispute was council member Bill Herald, who had spent countless hours covering every possible angle of the mobile food truck issue in a 180-page slide presentation. On the other side were council members Sandy Rowland and John Zanfardino, who wanted to move along the process, stop reviewing the slide presentation, and instead discuss a one-page food truck permit proposed by Rowland. “We talked about the size of this report,” Rowland said to Herald, referring to council members asking the committee to move along the process. “It’s taken far too long at this point.” While the committee has held eight meetings, they took place over a condensed space of less than two months, Herald said. He stressed that the one-page permit proposal “isn’t as rich with detail,” as his 180-page report. Herald asked his fellow council members to give him a half hour to get through his executive summary of 21 pages. “I think we’ve been thorough. We’ve been comprehensive,” Zanfardino said. “I don’t mean to be argumentative up here,” Zanfardino said, but added that he wanted Wednesday’s meeting to end with a plan that council as a whole could review. Rowland agreed, and pushed for a product that could go before City Council soon. But both agreed to let Herald start through his executive summary. As they studied the slides, Rowland and Zanfardino pointed out unnecessary specifics or redundancies. For example, there was no need to stipulate that the food sold has to be legal, or to identify the type of vehicles allowed. The locations where food trucks would be permitted was narrowed down to not allow the vehicles on Main Street, Wooster Street or any of the…


Elder-Beerman – anchor at BG mall – set for closure

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   It appears the steady anchor at the Woodland Mall will soon be closing. Bon-Ton is planning to close all its Elder-Beerman stores within the next 10 to 12 weeks. That will leave Bowling Green without a department store, and many employees without jobs. The manager of the Woodland Mall Elder-Beerman said this morning that the store employs between 40 and 50 workers. The news comes as a blow to Woodland Mall, with Elder-Beerman being an anchor at the Bowling Green mall since it opened in the mid-1980s. “This is kind of a shock for everyone,” mall manger Michelle Beaverson said. But the mall is a survivor, and Beaverson isn’t giving up on the anchor store yet. “It’s not over till it’s over,” Beaverson said this morning. There are several bidders in place, that still might save the store, she added. “I hope someone buys them up.” The Elder-Beerman has been a solid draw at the struggling mall. “Their annual sales have been amazing,” Beaverson said. Eric Frankel, of the managing company for Woodland Mall, said this morning that his company is weighing the news. “It’s definitely something we’re concerned about. It’s definitely something we are reviewing,” Frankel said. But he also isn’t ready to give up on the store. “It’s still too early to say what’s going to happen with the brand,” Frankel said, noting the possible resurrection of the Toys R Us stores. “A lot of things are up in the air,” he said. “Nothing’s final. It’s not over till the fat lady sings.” But Bowling Green Community Development Director Sue Clark sees it a little differently – like the fat lady is already singing liquidation. The loss of Elder-Beerman will be a hit to local residents, Clark said. “We don’t have many places that sell professional women’s clothes,” she said. “The demographics of this community match that store. I see it as a loss.” Clark also sees it as tough…


Not In Our Town celebrates five years of fighting hatred

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A series of hate-filled acts five years ago led to the birth of Not In Our Town Bowling Green. On Tuesday, the five-year anniversary of the organization was celebrated with cake, balloons and pledges of renewed commitment. Vicky Kulicke, a founder of NIOT BG, recalled the dark events that led to the organization’s formation. First, there were swastikas drawn on the driveway of a BGSU basketball coach. Then there was the arson at the Islamic Center in Perrysburg Township. And finally, there were a series of racist tweets that were made by BGSU students at a local bar about fellow African American students in the establishment. The community was looking for a solution when Kulicke suggested the formation of Not In Our Town. The organization had been created in 1995 in Billings, Montana, after someone threw a brick through a storefront window where a Menorah was on display. In that community, the newspaper printed pictures of a Menorah for citizens to post in their own windows to show support. Kulicke believed something like that could work here in Bowling Green. She was challenged by the president of the BGSU Black Student Union to make it happen. So Kulicke started knocking on doors and found overwhelming support – from the mayor, BGSU president, city police and campus police. But Kulicke still wasn’t sure how the overall campus and community would respond. A panel discussion was planned to launch the Not In Our Town concept – but no one knew if students and citizens would attend. “We wondered if people were even going to care about what we cared about,” she said. “There was a great fear of failure.” It turned out they did care – so much so that people packed a BGSU lecture hall to hear about the program. The efforts to “beat the drum for justice” were successful, Kulicke said. “When we launched it was rapid fire,” she said of that…


‘Dear Santa’ founders honored for spreading hope in BG

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The founders of the local Dear Santa program were recognized Monday evening for spreading hope year round. During Monday’s City Council meeting, the Bowling Green Human Relations Commission handed out its annual Honor Roll Award. The recipients this year were Jim and Dee Szalejko, founders of the Dear Santa program in Bowling Green. Through the program, approximately 40 families in need are adopted each holiday season. Cassie Woodbury described the efforts of the Szalejkos. “The Dear Santa program does more than just answer kids’ wishes at the holidays,” she said. For 10 years, the couple has worked to collect toiletries, groceries, cleaning supplies and gifts specialized for each family’s needs. The community and Bowling Green School District students and staff volunteer to make the holidays a little brighter. “They spend so much of their own time” to make the program a success, Woodbury said of the Szalejkos. And their efforts do far more than put gifts under the tree. “When times are tough, hope can be hard to come by,” Woodbury said. But the Dear Santa program manages to supply it every year, she said. In other business at the council meeting: Shad Kitchen was sworn in as lieutenant on the Bowling Green Fire Division. Bob Callecod, a former Wood County Park District commissioner, urged those present to support the park levy renewal on the May 8 ballot. Council welcomed Amanda Gamby as the city’s new sustainability coordinator. Planning Director Heather Sayler reported so far this year the planning office has given out 84 permits, compared to 72 last year. The city has received requests for 20 new homes, compared to 13 last year. Park and Recreation Director Kristin Otley said roof work has begun on the Simpson Garden Park Building, so the public may be asked to use another entrance to the building. Public Utilities Director Brian O’Connell talked about the recent study showing that the city water revenues were not…


Students stand up against guns and for decent housing

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Inspired by students across the nation, and empowered by their efforts in this community, six students took to the podium at Bowling Green City Council Monday evening. They were seeking two basic rights – decent affordable housing, and no gun violence in their schools. Aidan Hubbell-Staeble asked City Council to use its power to push the state legislature to pass legislation on guns – something that would provide real tangible solutions to stop gun violence in schools. “Enough is enough,” he said. One by one, the other students – Carlie Pritt, Zach Davis, Hannah Barnes, Connor Froelich and Alyson Baker – stood at the podium and read aloud the names of students killed by guns in schools, starting with those at Columbine. They ended with the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, then told City Council they would return at the next meeting to continue with the names of students killed since Newtown. “The students of Bowling Green High School and Bowling Green State University will continue to fight for this issue until we see change,” said Alyson Baker. Baker was one of the organizers of the local walkout in honor of the Parkland victims. More than 300 high school and middle school students joined the walkout. Council member Bruce Jeffers explained that the city is limited in any action it can take on firearms. “It’s pretty hard to sit and listen to all those people gone under those circumstances,” Jeffers said of the victims’ names read aloud. Council member Sandy Rowland praised the students for becoming part of the governmental process. She stressed that gun violence is not a political issue, but a life or death issue. “Thank you for coming out tonight and participating,” Rowland said to the students. Council member Daniel Gordon said the problem may be that local voices are not being heard at the state level. “They’re not quite listening to us,” he said. “I would…


BG Charter updates could shake up City Council

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The city charter isn’t exactly riveting reading – but some changes being discussed might grab the attention of city residents. No decisions have been made, and citizens will have a chance to vote on any proposed changes to the charter. But here are a few of the revisions under discussion: Make all council terms four years. Currently, the ward candidates serve two years and the at-large serve four. Change council races to non-partisan. Currently, candidates must declare a party such as Democratic, Republican, Green, Libertarian or Independent. Make all council seats at-large. Currently, one candidate is elected from each of the four wards, and three are elected to serve at-large. Change the filing date to August, as is done by most area communities. Possibly change the ward reapportionments, based on population but keeping neighborhoods intact. The citizen committee working on the Bowling Green City Charter review discussed nearly 20 possible changes to the charter during a public meeting last week. The group members are keenly aware that they must decide not only if the changes belong in the charter – but also if city voters are likely to support the proposals. “There will be a lot of things for the voters to be dealing with” on the November ballot, said Shannon Orr, co-chair of the charter review commission with Jeff Crawford. The commission doesn’t want to overburden voters, but the charter requires that any changes be approved during a general election. Some of the changes would affect the structure of City Council. One would make all the council seats at-large, instead of some of them representing wards. All the seats would have four-year terms. Mark Hollenbaugh was strongly opposed to this change, explaining that all three of the at-large seats on council right now are filled by residents of the Fourth Ward. “I’m afraid if we make all the council seats at-large, it could end up no one on the East Side…


Food truck talks continue to simmer in slow cooker

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The food truck discussions in Bowling Green may be cookin’ but they are still far from complete. During the seven meetings held so far on the topic, there’s been talk about peeling back the layers of an onion, putting meat on the bone, taking the issue off the back burner, and peppering the ordinance with certain language. Yet, the food truck issue remains simmering in a slow cooker. “It’s just the nature of Bowling Green to be cautious,” said City Council member Sandy Rowland, who is working with council members Bill Herald and John Zanfardino on the food truck regulations. But time is running out if the city wants food trucks to operate in the community this summer. “I think seven meetings is an awful long time,” Rowland said during last week’s food truck meeting. Rowland suggested that an ordinance be drafted by the city attorney and presented at next week’s City Council meeting. But Herald balked at that idea. “We’ve been meticulous, we’ve been balanced,” Herald said, urging his two fellow committee members to resist rushing to the finish line before the ordinance is ready. The varying work styles of committee members became even more apparent last week, with Herald referring to his 168-page report, and Rowland presenting a one and a half page draft permit for food truck vendors. “I’m hoping we can do something to attract them before 2019,” Zanfardino said, with some frustration. “I believe in the benefit they bring to the entire city.” But Zanfardino echoed Rowland’s description. “Bowling Green is very cautious and very slow to move,” he said. During last week’s meeting, like the six before, the council committee members listened to concerns from food truck vendors, brick and mortar restaurant owners, and citizens. Max Hayward questioned why the food truck proposal did not allow vendors to set up anywhere along Main or Wooster streets in the downtown area. He called that an “unnecessarily restrictive…


BG water rates staggered to make easier to swallow

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green’s water rates are not bringing in enough to keep the water expenses afloat. A rate study by Courtney & Associates has found that revenues need to be hiked by 32 percent by 2022. If approved, those rate increases will be spread out over five years, with a 6 percent bump each year. While the 32 percent hike may sound big, even with the proposed rate increases, Bowling Green’s water rates will be much lower than those in some other communities in the region. The average homeowner currently pays a monthly water bill of $11.46. With the five-year increase, that bill will be $16 a month. That compares to monthly bills more than $50 in Perrysburg, Napoleon and Fremont. Though the total water revenue will need to be boosted by 32 percent over five years, the levels will be different for each category. Residential will be increased 44 percent over that period; commercial and industrial will go up 29 percent; wholesale will increase 28 percent; and hydrant costs will go up 143 percent. John Courtney, who presented the water rate study, said Bowling Green has been able to keep its water rates low because city officials decided years ago to use money from income tax revenues to help fund the city water system. “Your rates are still the lowest on the list,” Courtney told the Board of Public Utilities last week. “That’s awesome,” replied Mike Frost, president of the Board of Public Utilities. But the income tax fund made up 40 percent of the water rate expenses 10 years ago. That shrunk to 33 percent five years ago, and is now about 23 percent. “Your costs are going up,” Courtney said. The city has seen some growth in wholesale water sales to communities outside Bowling Green, but very little growth in water demands in the city. “Your sales have been fairly stable over the last several years,” Courtney said. The city…


873 pinwheels show extent of child abuse and neglect

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The spinning pinwheels planted in the ground by giggling children tell a very different story than it appears at first glance. “Without alarming the kids, we let them know this is something to help other children who need help,” said Susie Dunn, who brought out children from Dunn’s Kiddie Kare to plant the pinwheels in the ground. The 873 pinwheels represent the number of child abuse and neglect investigations conducted last year by Wood County Children’s Services. This year the blue and silver pinwheels bear testament along Ohio 25 where motorists will easily see them, in the front yard of Thayer Ford/Nissan, 18039 Dixie Highway, Bowling Green. The annual display of pinwheels is part of Child Abuse Awareness Month in April. The display serves as a reminder that not all children have carefree and loving lives. “We continue to run record levels of investigations,” said Dave Wigent, director of the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services. Last year’s numbers dropped slightly from the 894 cases in 2016, but the severity of the cases continue to worsen. The pinwheels are a visual reminder that the public needs to notify authorities about child abuse and neglect. “We depend on the community to report child abuse,” Wigent said. In addition to the countywide pinwheel field, individual displays are once again being planted in communities to show the number of cases in each school district. “It’s everywhere in Wood County,” said Sandi Carsey, administrator of Wood County Protective Services. Area schools will have displays on their campuses, with the number of pinwheels indicating the number of families in the district assisted by Wood County Children’s Services. The breakdown per district is: Bowling Green – 198; Eastwood – 45; Elmwood – 46; Lake – 55; North Baltimore – 75; Northwood – 72; Otsego – 54; Perrysburg – 146; and Rossford – 90. The pinwheels will be on display throughout the month of April. Some of…


Dogs put to the test before deemed safe for adoption

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   All 120 pounds of Winston with his wagging tail showed up in the Wood County Commissioners’ hearing room on Tuesday. The mastiff mix – who was adopted from the Wood County Dog Shelter – was used to help exhibit the testing that dogs go through before they are deemed safe to be adopted out from the shelter. “If we have dogs with unsafe behaviors, we are not going to place them,” Wood County Dog Warden Andrew Snyder said to the county commissioners. “We are making decisions based on the best interest of the public and best interest of the dogs.” Snyder talked about Safety Assessment for Evaluating Re-homing tests intended to judge dog behavior. “This assessment was designed to identify behavior modification before adoption,” he said. However, the dog shelter does not have the adequate time or staff to perform the detailed two-person videotaped evaluations, he said. “It’s really not a function we are equipped to carry out,” Snyder told the commissioners. So the Wood County Dog Shelter is using its own version of the behavior evaluations. According to Snyder, dog shelters in Lucas and Hancock counties also do modified versions, while dog shelters in Seneca, Sandusky, Henry and Ottawa counties have no formal evaluations. But a canine advocate group called Wood County Canine Alliance believes some dogs at the local shelter are unfairly labeled as dangerous and doomed to euthanasia. Snyder defended the evaluations as a public service. With the help of Winston and his owner, deputy dog warden Nora Davis, Snyder showed the county commissioners how dogs are assessed. Observation of the dog’s body language can tell a lot, he said. Is the dog barking in a happy or aggressive manner, cowering in the back of a kennel, pacing, acting dominant or submissive, avoiding eye contact? Are the ears back, hair raised, tail wagging? “Dogs are very, very good at reading people,” Snyder said. “As we’re assessing them, they are…


First responders honored for giving opiate addicts second, third and more chances

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Those being honored Monday in the war against opiate abuse weren’t front and center. As usual, they were gathered far from the podium. “The first responders are all in the back of the room,” Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Dobson said. “Frankly that’s where they would prefer to be. They would much rather be out doing their jobs.” Those are the jobs they were being honored for on Monday – saving people from opiate overdoses. “They step into circumstances that we can’t imagine,” Dobson said. “They stand between us and danger in a very real sense on a daily basis.” EMS and law enforcement are being recognized across Ohio this week for saving people who overdose on opiates. In the Wood County Courthouse Atrium, the first responders were thanked by the second and third responders in the opiate crisis. To show appreciation in Wood County, that meant lunches will be delivered to fire and police stations throughout the week by Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “This is basically to say ‘thank you.’ We know it’s difficult work,” said Milan Karna, with the Wood County Prevention Coalition. A video was played, showing people who had been saved by first responders using narcan to revive them after overdoses. The faces thanked the first responders for not giving up on them – even if they had to respond to the same person for multiple overdoses. Tom Clemons, WCADAMHS director, used Dobson’s terminology of this war on opiates creating “refugees” in need of care. “It takes all of us working together on this,” Clemons said. On the front lines of this war are EMS, law enforcement, children’s services, and hospitals. “It is a widely recognized fact that a lot of first responders are putting themselves at risk,” with fentanyl being very dangerous to those treating overdose victims. But the use of narcan is giving opiate…


Bike sharrows fall short after peddled to last 7 years

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Some of the bicycle graphics on Bowling Green streets look more like unicycles after just one winter of wear and tear. Last year, in an effort to make streets more bicycle friendly, the city took the step of having sharrow graphics placed on Conneaut Avenue and Fairview Avenue. The symbols serve as a reminder that under the Ohio Revised Code, a bicycle on the roadway has the same rights as a vehicle. City officials decided to go with the more expensive sharrow option of thermo-plastic graphics which cost about $300 a piece. Painted sharrows would have been much less expensive, at $30 to $40 each, but would not last as long, the city was advised. So the city was counting on the sharrows lasting longer than paint on the pavement, said Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett. “It would if it weren’t for the snowplows,” Fawcett said last week. Director of Public Works Brian Craft said he contacted the manufacturer about replacing or repairing the sharrows. “It is our expectation that they will work with their subcontractor to get them corrected, and at no cost to the city,” Craft said. The Shelly Paving Co. had subcontracted the pavement markings to Zimmerman Paint Co. There were 69 sharrows applied to Fairview and Conneaut avenues last year. At $300 a piece, that added up to $20,700. Most of the sharrows have peeled off areas. “About 75 percent are in varying degrees of being peeled up,” Craft said. It was suggested to Craft that the sharrows would not have been scalped off the pavement if the city’s snowplows weren’t run so close to the roadway. But Craft informed the company that the snowplow blades have to run along the pavement in order to clear snow from the streets. The manufacturer estimated the sharrows would last about seven years, “under normal traffic.” Snowplow traffic is normal in Bowling Green, Craft said. “Anytime you put something down on…


Disability labels set limits that can hold people back

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Labels can be so limiting – especially if they are placed on people early in their lives. “Labels belong on jelly jars They don’t belong on people,” said Emily Dunipace, of Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities, also known as Wood Lane. But yet, people with developmental difficulties are often given diagnoses that focus on the disabilities – ignoring the abilities. A panel of experts on the issue gathered recently for a community conversation on how humans often jump to conclusions on the limitations of people with disabilities. Susan Hagemeyer, a Bowling Green State University student, knows all about low expectations imposed on people who are different. She was born with a rare bone disease, is small in stature, and uses a wheelchair or crutches. “I was that kid who didn’t have a chance to make it to my first birthday,” Hagemeyer said. Her physicians said she would never walk, and her step-dad said she would never make it to college “My mom never gave up hope,” Hagemeyer said. Despite the labels and low expectations, Hagemeyer is a third-year student at BGSU. “I never thought I’d be where I am right now,” she said. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.” Hagemeyer and others on the panel said people need to be supportive, not judgmental. “I am a normal human being,” she said. “I don’t need to be fixed.” Mark Foster, who uses some services from the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities, knows exactly what Hagemeyer is talking about. But Foster expressed some sympathy for physicians who diagnose developmental disabilities. “Doctors only know how to tell you the bad, because they don’t know what the good is,” he said. Physicians are trained to solve problems. “That’s all they know.” Parents put their faith in doctors, and believe in the prognoses they assign to children with disabilities, Foster said. In the early 1990s, when Foster became an adult, his parents dismissed the idea…