Government

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…

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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.


Tax revenue promised from Rover pipeline falls short

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   From the very start, local township trustees suspected the promise of millions of dollars from Rover pipeline into their township coffers was too good to be true. Pipe dreams. More than three years ago, officials from Rover pipeline met with county and township officials to explain the windfall they would be receiving from the double pipeline being constructed across the southern five townships of Wood County – Bloom, Henry, Jackson, Milton and Perry. All of the townships were promised at least $1 million a year. Two of them – Bloom and Henry townships – were promised as much as $3 million a year. The real numbers have now been reported by the Wood County Auditor’s Office. Rather than $3 million a year, Henry Township will get $143,245 this next year. That amount is expected to double next year when the second Rover pipeline goes into operation. That means about $286,000 for the township – a far cry from the original estimate from pipeline officials. In 2015, when the initial promise was made by Energy Transfer which constructed the Rover pipeline, then Wood County Auditor Michael Sibbersen questioned the estimates. Current Wood County Auditor Matthew Oestreich shared those concerns about inaccurate estimates being given to township officials. “I was skeptical for sure. Absolutely,” Oestreich said on Monday. “They were throwing around some rather large numbers,” Oestreich said. “I don’t think they understood Ohio taxation at all.” In 2015, Sibbersen said his office had to work with limited information, since the company would not provide the estimated value it used for the pipeline in its own estimates of total tax revenues. Also in 2015, Jackson Township Trustee Brendyn George demanded answers and said residents believed the townships are in for a windfall – over $1 million for his township, according to Energy Transfer. Henry Township Trustee John Stewart said Monday that his township also didn’t put much faith in those initial numbers. “At that point, they didn’t understand,” Stewart said of the pipeline officials. Townships operate on small budgets, and most trustees know better than to bank on big promises. “We don’t depend on that,” Stewart said. “Whatever we get is a plus. It will be invested in the roads,” he said. “I’m just happy we’re getting something for it.” Stewart said Rover pipeline officials repaired most of the Henry Township roads torn up…


Revolving loan fund helps local businesses in a pinch

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   For 31 years, Bowling Green has been helping businesses in a pinch for financing. The Revolving Loan Fund recently surpassed the $5 million mark in total loans made since the fund’s inception in 1987. The fund was established as a means of offering “gap finance assistance” for those businesses desiring to start up or expand. In exchange for the loan, the businesses must not only pay back the funding, but they must also create employment for people at lower income levels within Bowling Green’s corporation limits. “It’s very helpful to a lot of businesses,” said Sue Clark, director of Bowling Green Economic Development. Traditional bank loans aren’t always fast enough for the needs of local businesses. “We’re the place people can come to get working capital,” Clark said. “We’re much faster.” “And we’re willing to take a second position,” behind existing debt – which many banks will not do, she said. In the fund’s first year, three loans were issued totaling $44,481. Within the fund’s first decade, loans were issued to several businesses still operating today, like Aardvark Screen Printing & Embroidery, Pagliai’s Pizza, SamB’s and the Bowling Green Country Club Pro Shop. Since its inception, the fund has provided a total of $5,047,314 in loans to 168 local businesses. “We just happened to see there was a need,” Clark said. “There are times that we get more demands than we have money for,” she said. Those applicants are then asked to wait for the next round of funding. And some requests for funding are rejected. “We don’t turn a lot away,” Clark said. “But if I see right away that they have no experience and no collateral,” then they may not make the cut. The revolving loan fund five-member board is sensitive to the fact that it is using taxpayer money and makes conservative decisions. “We are very cautious. They really are diligent – that this person will pay us back,” Clark said. During the most recent Community Development Block Grant funding year, a total of $349,000 in loans was made to 11 local businesses. Over the years, the lowest loan amount has been $5,000; with $150,000 being the highest to date. Some of the more recent loans have been granted for the Sleek Academy, J.P. Dough, Dairy Queen and Ziggy’s. Some loans help businesses expand, fix broken machinery, or hire…


Mike Aspacher announces plans to run for mayor of BG

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As Democrat Mike Aspacher announced his desire to become Bowling Green’s next mayor Tuesday evening, he was joined by some unlikely supporters – Republicans. But in an era where party divisions have become cavernous, this is the hallmark of Bowling Green City Council – and of Aspacher, its president. “I believe that our city government functions well, and that it does so because we don’t let politics divide us,” he said. “Here, we set our differences aside and focus instead on what can bring us together.” And Aspacher – a true “townie” – would like to be at the helm as that work continues. “I owe a lot to the Bowling Green community. This is where I grew up, where I went to school, where I got married, and where I raised my family,” he said in front of a packed room in the nature center at Wintergarden Park. Aspacher, a retired project manager for Dunbar Mechanical, began his public service in the 1990s when he was approached by the bipartisan power team of Dick Newlove and Mike Marsh to run for a seat on the board of education. “They gave me a subtle push toward public service,” Aspacher said. “I had no clue what I was getting into.” He served on the school board for eight years. Then was approached again to run for City Council, where he has now served for nine years. With the fire crackling in the background in the lodge, Aspacher told his supporters why he’s not done yet. “I believe cities should be measured primarily by the quality of life that they provide for the people who live there. By this measure, Bowling Green is a great city and we owe our gratitude to those who have laid the foundation for our community,” he said. “I’ve never been more optimistic about Bowling Green’s future than I am today. I know where this city has been, and I have a vision of what it can become,” he said. “I’m convinced that we can work together to develop creative ideas that will help our community grow and improve.” Aspacher listed the qualities he believes are needed for a strong community: – Responsive and transparent local government – Sound financial management – Well-trained public safety force – Effective and efficient public works department – Efficient and forward looking public…


Bus safety – dealing with defiant & distracted motorists

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Local bus drivers fear their routes are just accidents waiting to happen. One driver, whose route travels U.S. 20, decided to keep track one year of the vehicles that illegally passed her bus when it was stopped for students. “I quit counting at 77,” she said. Bowling Green school bus drivers have reported 44 motorists illegally passing so far this year. Perrysburg has reported 38. “It’s just a blatant disregard for the law,” one bus driver said. State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, met on Friday with local school superintendents, school transportation directors and bus drivers at Bowling Green High School. Gardner had heard concerns about drivers illegally passing stopped buses, and decided to talk to the people who deal with it daily. “We ought to talk to the people on the roads,” he said. Attending the meeting were representatives of Bowling Green, Eastwood, Elmwood, Otsego, Lake, Perrysburg, Rossford and Anthony Wayne school districts. They discussed changes that might make drivers more likely to comply with the law – stiffer penalties, cameras catching them in the act, or more education. School buses are a safe mode of transportation, according to the National Highway Safety Board, Gardner said. School buses log about 5.7 billion miles a year, and are 50 to 70 times safer than other forms of transportation, he said. “It’s the safest way to transfer your children to school and home again,” Gardner said. However, defiant and distracted drivers sharing the road are posing risks for buses. “Obviously, it’s a nationwide problem. Everybody here knows it,” said Toby Snow, transportation director for Bowling Green City Schools. Bus drivers talked about motorists that speed up to pass buses preparing to stop. “They don’t want to wait, so they increase their speed and run your yellow lights,” one driver said. Another driver said it’s almost a daily problem – and she’s too busy watching the road and children to identify the offending vehicles. “I don’t have time to look at that license plate.” The offenders range in age from 16 to 96. They pass stopped buses on sunny days and snowy days. “Motorists are just not following the law,” Bowling Green Superintendent Francis Scruci said. Gardner, the administrators and the drivers discussed ways to reduce the incidents – whether through equipping the buses with more cameras and lights, passing legislation that would increase…


BG to view more ‘user-friendly’ parking kiosks for downtown

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As part of the continuing debate over how to pay for downtown parking, a more “user-friendly” kiosk will be demonstrated for downtown and city officials next week. Mayor Dick Edwards expressed some reservations about the new kiosk at Monday’s City Council meeting, but said he is looking forward to seeing a model that is easier for motorists to use. A committee of downtown property owners and business owners has been meeting to study the options of how to pay for parking. The committee is charged with looking at whether the city should continue to charge for parking, or if the property and business owners want to work on a shared cost approach. The cost of parking meters will double in the downtown area if a solution isn’t found. The problem is that the city isn’t making enough from its downtown parking meters to pay for repaving the lots and enforcing parking rules. But the fear is that doubling parking costs will discourage customers from patronizing downtown businesses. The city’s downtown lots – with their 600-plus parking spaces – are struggling due to flat revenue, increasing costs and aging infrastructure. Under a shared cost program, the downtown property owners would be assessed based on their front footage and the benefits to their parcels. The average property owner would pay $220 a year for 20 years. The lowest amount charged would be $30 a year. The highest – to the owner of multiple properties – would be $2,000 a year. Those assessments would generate about $20,000 a year. The concept of the downtown property owners picking up the tab for parking expenses was not supported by the landowners during a meeting earlier this year. However, the business owners have stated they would be willing to share in the expenses if it meant customers wouldn’t have to pay for parking. The benefits of getting rid of parking meters would be multi-faceted. It would be a marketing opportunity for downtown businesses, it would eliminate the need for meter or kiosk replacements, and it would mean the city would no longer have to pay property taxes on the parking lots since they would not be generating revenue. That alone will be an annual savings of about $35,000. The parking committee includes the following downtown property and business owners: Dick Newlove; Greg Halamay, owner of Finders Records; Kim…