Community

BGSU to scale back MLK Day of Service because of winter session

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Bowling Green State University’s switch to a winter session will take a toll on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. At the December Faculty Senate meeting, Paul Valdez, associate director for the BGSU Center for Community and Civic Engagement, said that because most students will not be on campus during winter session, it will not be possible to have the Day of Service in the same way. In the past decades, about 800 students would volunteer to work on dozens of community projects throughout Northwest Ohio. Because it is uncertain how many students would be on campus in this inaugural session, the university had to scale back the number of projects offered, he said. Still the university wants to continue to provide people the chance to serve, he said. So the Office of Community and Civic Engagement will help with the organization and volunteer recruitment for the MLK Jr. Day of Service  “Can”vass Food Drive. The Brown Bag Food Project organized the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service food drive. That effort is coordinated by the Brown Bag Food Project and is run out of Grounds for Thought in downtown Bowling Green, on Jan. 19 and 20, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Some volunteers go out into the community, knocking on doors and soliciting donations of food. Others will be at Grounds for Thought sorting out those donations. The food collection is distributed to food pantries throughout the area. Valdez said about 150 volunteers were needed, but there is a chance to expand that number. He said that if there is an outpouring of interest in volunteering, further service day projects may be offered in the future. Interim Provost John Fischer said that the response to winter session has been good. About 1,500 students have enrolled in some type of academic activity, Fischer said. That includes filling up all the slots for trips abroad being offered. Other students are going to conferences with faculty. While others are taking classes. Fischer said that this summer, the university will asking for requests from faculty who want to lead trips during the 2021 winter session. BGSU created the winter session to aligned its calendar with other institutions, including the University of Toledo. Students have the option of taking courses during that period. The session gives them a chance to catch up or get ahead by taking a course, traveling, doing research projects, or earning money by working during the period. Winter session will run from Jan. 2 to Jan. 23 this year.


BG’s front door on East Wooster Street needs serious facelift

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Bowling Green’s front door is not exactly creating a great first impression for those entering the city. Knowing this, the city and BGSU hired Development Strategies to examine the 1.8 miles of East Wooster from Interstate 75 to the downtown. The firm has spent six months interviewing officials and residents, examining housing data, looking at construction costs, studying the zoning code, and more. On Tuesday evening, Matt Wetli and Anne Stevenson from Development Strategies presented their findings to City Council’s Committee of the Whole. Changes along the East Wooster corridor have the potential to increase jobs, bring more visitors, improve the housing stock, attract more development to the city, and convince more people to live and shop right here in Bowling Green. But the front door needs a facelift. “It’s the way most people come to know Bowling Green,” Wetli said. “First impressions are really important. This corridor is so important.” One of the goals would be to meet the needs of the city residents and the university – an issue Wetli is accustomed to handling “We tend to work in a lot of university communities,” and realize that the health of the city and university are intertwined, he said. The planners divided the 1.8 miles into four sections, with some potential focuses for each – though not all will be affordable for developers right now: Midtown, which are the blocks closest to downtown. Ideally that area would be good for student and young professional apartment buildings, creative office space, street level retail, boutique hotels, and gas station reuse projects.Eds and Meds, which are the blocks next to the university and the Falcon Health Center. That area would work well for other health care services, senior housing, and townhouses.Walkable hospitality district, which includes the blocks with hotels and restaurants. That area would attract more developers and more visitors with stricter zoning building specifications, Wetli said.The interchange area, which will be improved with the proposed roundabouts, and will look better with “gateway” signage. The entire corridor can’t be transformed at once, so “we need to be judicious,” Wetli said. And the community will need to shift from being reactive to proactive. “Things aren’t just going to magically happen,” he said “It’s going to take work.” Wetli talked about the transformation of the Kent State community. “It’s really inspiring what they’ve been able to pull off,” he said. “It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen with a single developer. But, wow, what results they’ve gotten.” Bowling Green could potentially pull off the same type of transformation, Wetli said. Wetli posed the possibility of Bowling Green becoming a smaller version of Ann Arbor – for Northwest Ohio. People from the Toledo area often drive up to Ann Arbor for arts and dining opportunities. Why not Bowling Green? “You all are…


BG, county need to present ‘welcoming’ face to attract workers

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News A few years ago it was the lack of jobs in this region that was troubling. Now it’s the lack of people to fill the jobs being created here. So Bowling Green officials are looking to team up with Wood County to attract immigrants and millennials to the region.  Last week, the two entities discussed how to compete to attract those workers. “Employment issues are still top of the line,” said Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission. “It’s an issue we’ve all heard a million times.” “The labor pool has shrunk a lot in Northwest Ohio,” and the population is aging, Gottschalk said during a meeting of the economic development commission on Wednesday. “We just need more bodies,” he said. Sue Clark, Bowling Green’s economic development director, hears the same concerns. Jobs Ohio recently released statistics showing 9,200 jobs available within a 20-mile radius of Bowling Green. “Where will the people come from to fill these jobs,” she said. Clark has listened to the worries of small “mom and pop” shops and of large manufacturers. “We all know this is a very serious issue.” The headlines look great – about new companies moving into or expanding in the region. But the reality is that some of those new jobs siphon people away from existing businesses – which may lead to their closings or moving from the region. “If they simply steal employees from our existing companies,” without those workers being replaced by others, “none of us want that,” Clark said. So on Wednesday, Bowling Green officials shared their plan with county officials, in hopes that the entities could team up to attract workers to the region. Bowling Green Mayor Dick Edwards introduced the Welcome BG Task Force concept of attracting, supporting and maintaining a workforce – both skilled and unskilled. “We want to reach out and assist legal immigrants,” Edwards said. “America desperately needs more workers,” he said. Other cities have had success with such “welcoming” programs, like Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland and Dayton, the mayor said. “The immigrant community has been such a huge driver for new small businesses and filling manufacturing spots” in those cities, said Margaret Montague, head of the Welcome BG Task Force. The U.S. Census showed Wood County’s population grew 3.65 percent from 2000 to 2010.  The number of youth and working age residents dropped by 3.8 percent. The number of those 65 and older grew 15.4 percent. “We’re growing grayer every year,” Clark said. So why not work together to attract young people, immigrants, and international students from BGSU to live in this region? Why not, they discussed, make the area known as “welcoming.” Montague talked about the goals. “We want to be growing and nurturing our citizenry,” she said. “What we’re really after here is the continued…


State funding options for schools can be slippery issue

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News A glimmer of hope has gotten dimmer for one state funding option for Bowling Green City Schools. During a presentation last month, one of the state funding options for school facilities looked promising … until a task force member asked more questions. The Bowling Green district is at least a decade down on the list for funding from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. So when Steve Roka, senior planning manager with the OFCC, met with the district’s finance task force and presented the option of funding through the state’s Exceptional Needs Program, it sounded worth pursuing. However, when Roka answered follow-up questions through email from task force members, the chance for funding anytime soon looked more remote. Roka said during the meeting that ENP funding typically covers only the very worst buildings in the state – such as those with dangerous electric systems. The funding can only be used for new buildings, not renovations. David Conley, the district’s consultant through Rockmill Financial, referred to the ENP as a “beauty contest,” with the ugliest building in the state winning. Roka presented the ENP option as a way Bowling Green could accelerate possible state funding. And many felt that at least one building in the Bowling Green district might be in poor enough shape to be worthy of those funds. “It sounded like we could apply for and get funding in that program,” Conley said. “It sounded good to me, too.” But when task force members asked further questions about the Exceptional Needs Program, the chances of that funding seemed to disappear. One task force member asked about the pending applications, the deadline for submission, and the timeline for a project. Roka responded that there are currently no ENP applications pending review. Roka added that the OFCC is not seeking new applications for the ENP. “Because of the number of districts eligible for funding through our primary program – the Classroom Facilities Assistance Program – ENP applications are not being received by OFCC for the current planning cycle. No determination has been made as to when OFCC will reopen the application process for the ENP program,” Roka wrote. The Exceptional Needs Program funding may have been a stretch anyway for Bowling Green School District. To qualify, a school facility must be in horrendous condition. “The building has to be putting students in harm’s way,” Conley said earlier this week. Not to mention – the funding just isn’t there, he added. “The state doesn’t have money for any specialty programs, unless it’s already in the pipeline,” Conley said. “They are not even accepting applications.” That could change, of course, if the state legislature provides more funding. But even if that occurred, the line for funds would be long. “There’s a whole list of other school districts who would like that,” Conley…


BG thanks rugby team for putting city in national spotlight

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The BGSU rugby team fought its way to the top – triumphing over St. Joseph University over the weekend for the national championship and putting Bowling Green in the national spotlight. Mayor Dick Edwards noted the last time a Falcon athletic team won a national championship was in 1984 when the hockey team won after four overtimes. Edwards recognized Roger Mazzarella, director of the BGSU Rugby Club, for keeping the program alive. “What you’ve done with this club …” the mayor said during the City Council meeting on Monday. “It’s taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears.” The rugby club has had to scrape for funding and “fight for your space over there,” Edwards said, recognizing Mazzarella and his son, Tony, who coaches the team. Tony Mazzarella said the championship was the end to an “amazing season” for the team. “We didn’t have our best overall season this year,” Roger Mazzarella said. But the senior-laden team was determined. “The guys were so committed this year.” His dad commented on the St. Joseph team, saying “They weren’t very Jesuit on the field there yesterday.” Council President Mike Aspacher complimented the team’s success. “You certainly made Bowling Green proud,” he said. Also at the meeting, City Attorney Mike Marsh praised the city’s police and fire services. About six months ago, the furnace at his sister’s home blew up, creating a large fire. The firefighters performed heroically, and police stood with his sister in her front yard, in the rain, for five hours. On Sunday, his sister moved back into her home. “I think sometimes we take them for granted,” Marsh said of the accredited police and fire divisions. Also at Monday’s meeting, Edwards read a proclamation declaring December as “general aviation appreciation month.” “I have enormous respect for what you all do there,” for the city, county and BGSU, Edwards said to Wood County Regional Airport manager Mark Black. The airport has been in Bowling Green since the 1940s, helping with economic development and training young pilots at BGSU. Black voiced his appreciation to the city for its support, and said that when pilots land at the airport, he points out local restaurants and businesses for them to visit. Black talked about the expansion of the BGSU Flight Center, which is responding to the national pilot shortage. In other business at Monday’s meeting: City Council held a moment of silence to show respect for George H.W. Bush’s commitment to public service. Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce Director Mary Hinkelman thanked city departments for their work with the city’s Holiday Parade. Edwards reported that city officials will be meeting this week with economic development commissions from the county and the city about Bowling Green’s welcoming initiative. The initiative is intended to grow the local economy and the employment base….


Christians only can pray at BG National Day of Prayer

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Across the country, the National Day of Prayer invites people of all faiths to pray for the nation. But not in Bowling Green. Here, only Christians can pray. About a month ago, the Wood County Commissioners sent a letter to Kristel Asmus, who has organized the annual National Day of Prayer on the steps of the county courthouse for 20 years. The letter expressed the commissioners’ concerns about area residents who feel the local prayer observance fails to include all faiths. On Tuesday, the commissioners met with Asmus to discuss their wishes that the event be more inclusive and less divisive. But Asmus was unwilling budge. Others are welcome to attend, but not participate in prayer. “Just so you know, I’m not changing,” she told the commissioners. That puts the local National Day of Prayer event at odds with most others around the nation – and at odds with the original intention for the day. The annual observance, held on the first Thursday of May from noon to 1 p.m., was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry Truman. The National Day of Prayer invited people of all faiths to pray for the nation. However, a privately-funded “task force” was created later to “mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America’s leaders and its families.” The task force’s logic was that since America was “birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible,” then only Christian prayers were welcome. In Bowling Green, the event continued as usual until a leader of the local Mormon church became head of the Bowling Green Ministerial Association. Asmus, who coordinates the annual gathering, said he was not allowed to pray at the event. “We believe in the total Bible,” she told the commissioners. “The Mormon belief is not Christian.” Asmus, who represents Dayspring Assembly of God in the ministerial association, said she sought confirmation from the National Day of Prayer Task Force. She presented the commissioners with the reply from the group, concurring with her decision. The letter stated that Mormons could not participate in leadership teams or participate publicly in the prayer event. “They do not believe what we believe,” she said. “I could not invite them to participate.” “That started this whole thing,” Asmus said to the county commissioners. Some churches, she said, want all faiths to be included. But she continues to refuse. “I cannot invite a Muslim to pray to Allah. I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” she said. The purpose of the day is for Christians to pray for the nation and its leaders. “The Mormons can come to be part of the audience,” she added. “But to come to the podium and pray, I want them to believe in God.”…


BG budget flat – so nothing flashy planned for 2019

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Ideally, budget forecasts should not look like abstract art. But despite a couple funds showing diverging lines, Bowling Green’s city budget is pretty solid – almost boring. And boring is good. “I think this is a really solid budget,” City Council President Mike Aspacher said last week at a city finance meeting. “There’s not a lot of glamorous ideas,” but it does maintain core services and plans ahead for future projects, he said. Mayor Dick Edwards agreed the 2019 budget wasn’t flashy, but could be described as a “continuation type budget.” City Council and department heads gathered last week for a presentation on next year’s budget by Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter. “The revenue for 2019 in the general fund is flat,” Tretter said. The end of some grant funding was balanced out by an increase seen from the new garbage/recycling fee, income tax revenue being up a bit, a workers compensation refund, and interest income which “continues to come in very well.” The proposed revenue for the city’s general fund in 2019 is $16.4 million. The projected expenses are greater, at $16.6 million. The general fund balance expected in 2019 is $3.1 million – lower than the city’s targeted fund balance of $4.1 million. But Tretter assured council members that the city will not need to make cuts in core services. “We will be able to continue maintaining the core services of the community,” she said. City officials also plan to provide funding for some expenses suggested in the new Community Action Plan, for items like a zoning ordinance review, and microgrants to the community. And the city continues to put aside some money in each annual budget for 2021, when the city will have 27 rather than 26 pay periods. Tretter said the city is not creating any new employee positions for next year. However, she mentioned that the city expects several retirements next year – especially in the police and fire divisions. The city hired several fire and police employees in the 1990s after the passage of a couple safety levies. Some of those employees are now reaching retirement age. The positions will be replaced, she said. Tretter also talked about various city funds. The street construction and maintenance fund is “particularly challenging to us.” The graph showed a “big red spike” last year for a paving program, followed by flat revenue and a decreased balance. The parks and recreation fund is being affected by plans to demolish older buildings in City Park and replace them with one new structure. So in addition to borrowing money for the new building, the city currently can’t make money off of renting or programming in the old buildings. “We are cautious, but we do see light at the end of the tunnel,” Tretter said, noting that once the…


BG Council urged to adopt plastic bag fee while it still can

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The City of Bowling Green may consider enacting a plastic shopping bag fee before the state takes away the city’s right to adopt such a fee. Joe DeMare, co-chair of the Wood County Green Party, approached City Council Monday evening, urging the body to act quickly to impose a fee on items such as styrofoam containers and plastic bags. The Ohio House recently passed a bill, that is now under consideration in the Senate, that would prohibit municipalities from imposing a fee on such items, DeMare said. “Around the country, small fees of a few cents per bag have been effective both at raising revenue and reducing the amount of plastic pollution,” DeMare said. “Studies have shown that being charged as little as a nickel per bag is enough to remind people to bring their own, reusable bags to the store.” But the state legislation could prevent that from happening, he said. So DeMare suggested that Bowling Green council members enact a fee before the state acts to prohibit them. According to DeMare, this bill is the latest in a series of anti-environmental bills being passed by the state legislature. Among them is an “unreasonable setback law” which outlawed many wind farms in Ohio, he said. The setback law would not have allowed Bowling Green’s wind turbines, which are currently producing electricity at half the market rate, DeMare said. “Bowling Green showed great foresight when it installed those turbines,” he said. “We are asking the council to show foresight again.” DeMare suggested the city establish a plastic bag fee quickly, before the state law goes into effect. “We might be able to argue in court that it could be grandfathered in, since it was in place before the law went into effect, just as we have not been forced to take down our turbines,” he said. “At the very least, it could give our community standing in a court challenge against a law which violates the principle of home rule, hurts the environment and blocks us from a potential source of revenue,” DeMare said. Council member Bruce Jeffers said some groceries are planning to stop using plastic bags in a few years. “I understand one of the local retailers is going to be phasing out plastic bags,” Jeffers said. But that wasn’t soon enough for council member John Zanfardino, who met with DeMare after the meeting to discuss the issue. “My hope is to introduce something at the next meeting,” Zanfardino said. Zanfardino’s concerns were two-fold – one was the state’s disregard for the environment and the other was the erosion of local government. Mayor Dick Edwards also expressed those concerns. Bowling Green has “embraced sustainability,” with using power from wind turbines, hydro-electric and its solar field. “I hate to think, quite frankly, without some of these…


Gardner talks funding, water, guns and abortion at town hall

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Since the lame duck session of state government usually brings some hasty legislative decisions, State Senator Randy Gardner spent Saturday morning conferring with his constituents. Always a history teacher at heart, Gardner tried to put the present in perspective by explaining past decisions. For two hours, he answered questions at his town hall meeting, then spent another hour talking with citizens individually. Though they didn’t always like his answers, the citizens at Saturday’s town hall meeting appreciated the willingness of the senator to hold a public gathering. “The next three weeks will be a really challenging time with big decisions,” said Gardner, a Republican from Bowling Green who has rotated between the state representative and senate seats since 1984. Adding to the unpredictability of the lame duck session will be the number of amendments tacked onto bills at the last moment. “Amendments will change the outcome of bills,” Gardner said. And it’s not unusual for amendments to present competing interests in the same bill, he added. Gardner has two of his own issues pending in the lame duck session. The Sierah Joughin bill creates a statewide database for law enforcement listing convicted violent offenders living in their jurisdictions. The bill is in response to the death of a 20-year-old woman from Fulton County, who was killed by a convicted violent felon. “I’m pretty optimistic,” this will pass, Gardner said. This bill has its critics, he said. Some feel the database could impede the rehabilitation of convicts. To better understand that criticism, Gardner said he met with Eddie Slade, who spent 31 years in prison for murder and burglary. “I have extra respect now for people who struggle to turn the lives around,” he said. But Sierah’s Law is in the best interest of communities, he said. Gardner’s other pending bill would “finally” see movement to get funding for the preservation of a healthy Lake Erie and help the agricultural community at the same time. Following are some of the other topics Gardner was asked about during the town hall. Hot button issues – guns, abortion and petitioning Marilyn Bowlus, of Pemberville, asked Gardner about pending house bills on “Stand Your Ground” gun laws and abortion rights. “It seems like Ohio is going backward,” Bowlus said. States that make it easier for people to justify firing a gun at someone often see higher levels of gun violence, she said. “It seems like we should be trying to lessen gun violence,” Bowlus said. Gardner said Ohio’s current laws on using a gun for defense are stricter than some other states. He also said that despite public perception, violent crimes with guns have dropped since 1993, though they have seen an uptick in the last four to five years. At that point…


Making sure everyone counts in U.S. Census in 2020

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County residents need to know the U.S. Census counts. It counts when determining how many congressional members Ohio gets, how much the region gets in federal highway funds, and which businesses want to invest here. The League of Women Voters in Bowling Green hosted a program last week focusing on the importance of the U.S. Census count which rolls around every 10 years – the next one in 2020. A demographer and a census official talked about the value of collecting accurate statistics. The count doesn’t come without controversy. This time around, the addition of a question about U.S. citizenship is still being debated. Despite some claiming that only citizens should make the official tally, the founders were clear, according to Dr. Wendy Manning, president of the Population Association of America, and a sociology professor at BGSU. “It’s meant to count all the people who live here,” Manning said. The U.S. Constitution required the population count every decade – with 2020 being the 24th count. The first census in 1790 had six questions, was conducted by U.S. marshals going door-to-door over an 18-month period. Counted were free white males age 16 and older; white males under age 16; free white females; those who paid taxes; and the number of slaves. That first census found nearly 4 million living in the U.S. The 2020 census – which will be primarily conducted online – is expected to find about 334 million people. Those who don’t respond online or through the mail will still get an in-person visit from a Census Bureau representative. The questions have varied over the years – in number and subject matter, Manning said. Like the original census, the 2020 census will have relatively few questions at six or seven, depending on the outcome of the citizenship question debate. Following are some of the questions that formerly appeared on census surveys: Number of insane or blind residents in the home in 1840. Number of paupers or convicts in the household in 1850. Number of English speaking residents in 1890. Number of Hispanic residents in the home in 1980. Number of unmarried partners in 1990. Number of multiracial partners in 2000. The number of Native Americans living on reservations were not counted until 1990. “Over time lots of people have been left out of the census,” Manning said. The number of questions peaked to 34 in 1920, Manning said. “It became quite a burden,” she said of filling out census questionnaires. So the number of questions was cut, and the Census Bureau turned to an annual American Community Survey given to fewer people for more detailed and more up-to-date information. Those surveys collect data for the Centers for Disease Control, the Justice Department, and unemployment statistics. The 2020 census will have a question on the number…


County dental center to fill gap in local medical services

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Many Wood County families cannot afford dental insurance, or cannot find dental offices willing to accept Medicaid patients. So for many, dental care is put off until the pain is unbearable. But soon, local residents will have a place to turn to for help at the new dental center at the Wood County Community Health Center. The center, with its sliding fee scale, will not turn away anyone due to lack of insurance or funds. “Nobody will have to go without dental services because of an inability to pay,” said Alex Aspacher, community outreach coordinator at the health department. “There’s a large need for those in the Medicaid community.” The dental center will target women, children and the uninsured, but anyone will be accepted. “As soon as you’re ready for your first checkup, till you don’t have a need for us anymore,” said Kami Wildman, outreach and enrollment specialist at the Wood County Health Department. The dental clinic has five exam chairs, a lab, and will offer services such as X-rays, minor surgeries and preventative care. The addition of the dental services makes the community health center a comprehensive “patient-centered medical home,” Wildman said. The center provides a primary care physician, dental, pharmacy and behavioral health all in one building, Aspacher said. The dental facility provides a patient service that has been identified as an important missing piece for decades. “Dental has been a consistent need in the county going back some time,” Wildman said. “It’s easy to put it off until you have pain.” And like many other health issues, poor dental care can lead to or worsen other health problems. More and more correlations are being identified between poor dental health and diabetes and heart issues. “It’s possible if we help people with oral health, that other benefits will follow,” Aspacher said. By reaching children at a younger age, local public health officials hope to help promote healthy dental habits early on. The opening date for the facility is still unknown. The dental center has hired its program coordinator and an hygienist. Still to be hired is a dentist, two assistants and two support staff. An open house at the dental center is planned for Dec. 6, from 4 to 7 p.m. “We’re really thinking once people get in here to see it, they will be impressed,” Aspacher said. Community health assessments have repeatedly shown unmet dental needs as a top health problem for local residents. The health department was able to secure $825,000 from the federal government for the dental facility that extends off the east end of the health department at 1840 E. Gypsy Lane Road, Bowling Green. More than a decade ago, local officials who cared about public health and about children met at the county health department to discuss the lack…


Hot news – BG gas aggregation program locks in low prices

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Next year, several Bowling Green residents can bump their heat up a couple degrees, dump the triple layers of clothing – and not feel guilty about it. On Monday, the Board of Public Utilities accepted the lowest natural gas rate since 2012 for city residents and small commercial businesses using Columbia Gas. The price that is now locked in for city customers is 18 percent lower than the current price. “Eighteen percent – that’s pretty good,” said Brian O’Connell, the city’s public utilities director. “That’s the lowest price we’ve ever had” in the aggregation program. And instead of the usual six month contract, this price is locked in for 24 months, O’Connell told the board. Typically, the longer term fixed price options are more expensive, he said, so this long-term price is a bonus. “We’ll be set for the next two years,” he said. The lowest bid came from a gas supplier called Volunteer. The price per ccf (100 cubic feet) will be $0.3855 compared to $0.470 for this year. The highest cost seen so far through the program was $0.633 in July of 2014. Columbia Gas customers in the city will automatically be included in the aggregation program, unless they opt out of the program. Customers will still have the ability to switch to another supplier at any time with no cancellation fee. Large customers, like industrial users, are not eligible for the program. Most residential and small commercial gas customers participate in the program. Why not, O’Connell asked. “We’re just offering another option for customers,” he said. The 18 percent reduction only covers the actual volume of the natural gas being purchased – not for the infrastructure costs to Columbia Gas. Bowling Green started its natural gas aggregation program in 2004 to offer savings for local Columbia Gas customers. O’Connell explained that because of the way gas pricing works lately, he typically has to tell the gas supplier to lock in a fixed price the same day the price is quoted to the city. “For the aggregation program to work, I have to be able to respond quickly,” he stated.


No such thing as free parking … somebody’s got to pay

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   One by one, the business owners and city officials took turns trying a different type of parking kiosk that promised to be easy to use, faster for patrons, and less likely to cause frustration for shoppers. The sample kiosk, presented recently by International Parking Solutions, was promoted as taking less than 10 seconds to use. But as with most technology, human error and uncertainty sometimes stretched out the time. Bowling Green Police Chief Tony Hetrick, whose staff patrols the city parking lots, said the kiosks used in the lot behind Panera were “not well received.” The city and a parking task force is considering several downtown parking options – including the replacement of the current kiosks with new easier models. “You want to make it as convenient as you can,” said Michael Wilson of IPS. The new sample kiosk proved to be easier – since it allows users to pay in a variety of ways with a variety of paths to get there. Unlike the existing kiosks, this one does not send the motorist back to square one if a step is missed. “If this takes you longer than 10 seconds, it’s too long,” Wilson said. But there are some problems with the IPS kiosk. It will accept credit cards or coins – but programming it to accept dollar bills costs an extra $1,500 per kiosk. Motorists who frequent the lots can go online and register their credit card to streamline the process more. Like the current kiosks in use, the IPS model also notifies motorists on their phones of their parking time nearing expiration. The motorists can then ask for more time. “The revenue side of parking is critical to cities,” Wilson said. It’s often that money that is used to maintain city parking lots and sidewalks, he said. The average minimum parking cost in cities is $1 an hour. Anything less than $1 is not work the credit card processing, Wilson said. Costs in larger communities are much higher, like $2.75 an hour in Madison, Wisconsin, and $6.50 an hour in San Francisco, he added. Kim Thomas, owner of the H&R Block building on South Main Street, said the parking issue is more complicated than it appears. “Of course, free parking sounds wonderful,” she said. But the fact that several downtown apartment renters use city parking lots for their vehicles means that some time limits still need to be enforced so parking spots rotate for shoppers and diners. “Whatever we do, we want it enforced,” Thomas said. Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said while free parking sounds good, the time limits must be enforced. The downtown will not seem so “friendly” when motorists get $15 tickets for overstaying their time in parking spots, he said. But some store owners feel their businesses are hurt by…


Wood County library may pinch pennies – but not on books

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Though far from scientific, the popularity of the Wood County District Public Library can be measured in its worn carpet and the long wait-list for Michelle Obama’s new book. And the support for the library can be seen in the library’s ability to buy new carpet and stock up on 10 more copies of Obama’s book, “Becoming.” Wood County District Public Library Director Michael Penrod has more traditional methods for measuring the health of the library. And lately, the vital signs are looking very healthy. For example, the library: Paid off its loan early for the renovations at its Walbridge branch. Created a new capital projects fund to ensure that unexpected repairs would not short the funding for new materials for library patrons. Spends more than most libraries on new materials. Charts continued high numbers of books and other materials being borrowed by patrons. The rule of thumb is that when the economy is good, people buy their own books rather than borrow them from libraries, Penrod said. But Wood County District Public Library has seen no drop-off in usage. “In 2012, we hit a record level in terms of items borrowed by the community. We’ve been able to continue that,” Penrod said. “During the great recession, we were busier than ever.” The library has been able to stave off threats of obsolescence. The internet and e-books have not rendered the facility antiquated. “We can compete against Amazon,” Penrod said with a grin. For example, last week when Penrod was notified by staff that there were 16 holds on Obama’s new book, he decided to not make patrons wait. “We went ahead and bought 10 more,” he said. While the library has to buy e-books, it is able to lease hard copies of books. So there have been times that the library has leased 40 to 50 copies of best sellers, then returned them when they are no longer in great demand. Nationwide, libraries spend an average of 11.5 percent of their budgets on new material. “Bowling Green deserves better than that,” Penrod said. So the Wood County library spends close to 16.5 percent. “We’re very proud we’re spending a lot of money on new material,” he said. “I say ‘thank you’ to the state. I say ‘thank you’ to our voters. I say ‘thank you’ to Schedel,” where the library holds an annual fundraiser. Penrod looks for ways to save money elsewhere in the library, such as converting over to LED lighting. He admits to being cheap in some areas – but never when it comes to books. “If I can find extra dollars, I want to buy more books,” he said. The numbers tell the story of a well-used library. In 2017, borrowing of traditional books, e-books and audiobooks was strong, hitting a total of…


Park district peddling mountain biking in 2019 budget

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The Wood County Park District may invest some money to attract kids of that awkward age to use their county parks. The park district already has programs that appeal to young children and adults. But the difficulty is getting older kids and young adults to view the parks as a place to spend time. So the draft budget for the Wood County Park District has a tentative $200,000 set aside for an off-road mountain biking training area and a trail off the Slippery Elm Trail. Earlier this fall, the park board voiced support for a proposal to create pump tracks in Rudolph and a mountain bike trail in the savanna area along the trail. Park naturalist Craig Spicer presented a proposal for both concepts. He explained the mountain biking park and trail would help the district attract teens and young adults. A survey conducted earlier this year showed only 6 percent of the county park users were college student age. All parks suffer from the same difficulty luring teens and young adults, Spicer said. “They are one of the most finicky audiences,” he said. According to Spicer, off-road and sport biking are growing in popularity. “This is a good opportunity to ride that wave,” he said. The creation of an off-road biking park in Rudolph, and a trail in the woods north of the community would also be an investment in a county park in the southern part of Wood County. Currently just five of the county’s 20 parks are south of U.S. 6. The proposed park would be located in the one-acre area already owned by the park district along the Slippery Elm Trail, just south of Mermill Road. The park board had already agreed to have unused farm silos removed from the property. A proposal created by Pump Trax USA shows a park with a “strider” track for little kids, a beginner track, an intermediate and advanced track, and a skills trail for mountain biking. The area would have parking for 30 cars, a bike fix-it station, and a covered shelter house. Maintenance of the park would be similar to the neighboring Slippery Elm Trail, since the bike park courses would be constructed of cement or asphalt. Don DiBartolomeo, of the Right Direction Youth Development Program, told the board he would offer programming for free at the bike park. DiBartolomeo is in the ninth year of running the non-profit youth support program Right Direction, and organizes programming at the skate park in Bowling Green City Park. “Having something like this skills track is huge,” DiBartolomeo told the board. Toledo Metroparks has talked about such an off-road biking program, but has yet to establish one, he said. “This would put you on the map. Nobody’s done it yet,” DiBartolomeo said. Those working on their off-road skills could…