Government

After 10 years, Portage River cleanup to start soon

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The wait is nearly over for citizens who petitioned 10 years ago for a big portion of the Portage River to be cleaned out. On Thursday, the petitioners got two bits of good news. First, the county commissioners from Wood, Hancock and Seneca counties accepted a bid for the project. And second, that bid was $284,273 lower than expected. So after a decade of waiting, the Portage River project will likely get started in January. Four bids were received, with the lowest bid of $374,641 from H&H Land Clearing of Middlefield, Ohio, being accepted by the county commissioners. The highest bid came in at $547,782. Hancock County Commissioner Brian Robertson vouched for the H&H company, which has done work on the Blanchard River. The firm did a “fantastic job” and was “on task and on time,” Robertson said. The Portage River project is the biggest river cleanup undertaken in Wood County in terms of area, according to Wood County Engineer John Musteric. It follows 46 miles of the south and east branches of the Portage River, covering 111 square miles of watershed in Wood, Hancock and Seneca counties, affecting about 8,200 parcels…


State legislators listen to some local concerns

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   State Sen. Randy Gardner and State Rep. Theresa Gavarone on Thursday talked about legislation aimed at school funding, violent criminals, drug trafficking, communication disabilities, and abandoned wells. All are efforts to make life better for Ohioans. But some local citizens wanted to know when the next cut in state funding was going to hit. Why was the state taking a share of municipal business income taxes? When can local governments expect state funding to be decreased again? And why are legislators focusing on issues that affect a small number of individuals when they ought to be tackling the big issues of education, health care, jobs and the economy? Gardner and Gavarone met with members of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce on Thursday to present a legislative update. “Some of our best suggestions come from meetings like this,” Gardner said. First, the state legislators talked about some of their successes this past year: School funding on a smaller scale Senate Bill 8 allows school districts to get up to $1 million in state funding for items such as technology expenses, roof repairs, school safety or adding a classroom. The legislature is designed…


BG doesn’t want state to pocket local income tax

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   After losing chunks of state funding over the last decade, Bowling Green officials don’t plan to sit still as more local funding is siphoned away. Municipalities across Ohio are suing the state over an income tax collection change that city officials call unconstitutional. The change would allow businesses to file income tax returns with the state rather than with the city where the businesses are located. The Ohio Department of Taxation would process the returns and distribute the money back to local governments – but only after pocketing a 1 percent fee for the service. “We can do it in-house for under that amount,” Bowling Green Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said. The change is set to take effect Jan. 1. State officials have said the change will save businesses time and money by streamlining the process of collecting more than $600 million in municipal income taxes paid by Ohio businesses each year. The change is also being promoted as a way to make the state more friendly to businesses that have locations in more than one Ohio community. But municipal officials have said giving up the processing of tax returns will…


McOmber served as trusted guide on BG City Council

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As the lone Republican on Bowling Green City Council, Bob McOmber could have easily been a pariah, with his comments getting the cold shoulder from his Democratic counterparts. But those attending City Council meetings quickly learn that when McOmber speaks, the heads on council turn his way. Whether talking about budgets or garbage bins, his words are measured and methodical. As he retires at the end of the month after 12 years on City Council, he leaves a legacy steeped in compromise, with no tolerance for political grandstanding or sitting on the fence. When the city faced a $625,000 deficit in its 2017 general fund, McOmber led the way out of the budget hole. Council had several options to plug the hole, including the trash collection fee which was ultimately selected as the best option. “I feel good about how that was handled,” McOmber said. “I purposely wanted it to be a group decision – a consensus among all of us. It could have been a very acrimonious decision. But it was a solid decision – rationally based.” When the city was working to pass two anti-discrimination ordinances in the 2010 election,…


BG eyes $10M in bonds for roundabouts & park building

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green City Council set the stage Monday for issuing nearly $10 million in bonds – to help build roundabouts on the east side of the city and to build a new park building on the west side of the city. Council declared emergencies on both bond issues, to move them along a little faster. Both will have final readings and a vote at the next meeting on Dec. 28 at 5 p.m. Both projects have been in the pipeline for years. The $6.2 million in bonds is intended to improve the Interstate 75 and East Wooster Street area by constructing roundabouts. The project will add two roundabouts designed for semi-trucks at both I-75 interchanges on East Wooster Street. The bridge driving surface will be replaced, with a bike-pedestrian trail being added from Alumni Drive to Dunbridge Road along north side of Wooster Street. The plan calls for a landscaped gateway to be created to Bowling Green and Bowling Green State University. The goal is made the entrance to the city more attractive, create a smoother traffic flow and reduce accidents at the interchanges. Though utility work will begin in 2018, the…


Landlord and renter responsibilities examined in BG

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   In a college town with nearly 7,000 rental units, there’s an awful lot of headbutting between landlords and renters and homeowning neighbors. When problems occur with home maintenance, is it the landlords’ responsibility to prove that their housing meets safety standards? Or is the onus on the renters to notify authorities if their housing is substandard? For years, Bowling Green officials have debated this question. Other Ohio college towns – like Kent, Oxford and Athens – have mandatory rental inspection and licensing programs. Bowling Green has preferred to make sure there are services in place that respond to rental problems as they arise. Following are various viewpoints in Bowling Green, including those from Mayor Dick Edwards, BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey and landlord Bob Maurer. Those who respond to complaints – the health district, fire division, building inspection and planning office – also share their perspectives. People closest to the students, like BGSU legal services and some East Side residents, also weigh in. And officials from rental inspection programs in Athens, Kent and Oxford talk about their experiences. EYE-OPENING TOUR Early this fall, some BGSU students asked their professor Neocles Leontis to…


EPA plan to deal with contaminants left at BG plant

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The Ohio EPA has come up with a plan for dealing with contamination of an industrial site in Bowling Green. Later this month, the public will be asked to weigh in on the proposal. A plan to address contamination at the Cooper Standard Automotive property in Bowling Green will be the subject of an Ohio EPA public meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 6 p.m., at Ohio EPA’s Northwest District Office, 347 N. Dunbridge Road, Bowling Green. An EPA investigation of the site at 1175 N. Main St. showed that “the contamination poses unacceptable current and future human health and environmental risks based on direct contact with contaminated surface and subsurface soil, inhalation of contaminated soil and/or ground water via vapor intrusion, and direct contact with contaminated ground water.” The contamination is believed to have occurred before Cooper Standard Automotive or Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. operated the site. However, the current owner is responsible for cleaning up the contaminant even if it did not create the problem, according to Dina Pierce, of the Ohio EPA. Cooper Standard Automotive purchased the 25-acre site from Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. in 2004. The…


BG digs out from deficit to a balanced budget in 2018

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green’s budget for 2018 doesn’t dazzle – but it also doesn’t drag down the city with a projected deficit. “It’s a budget that gets our head above the water,” said Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter as she introduced the 2018 budget to City Council and city employees Wednesday evening. “And that’s OK.” Last year at this time, Tretter broke the news to council members that the city was entering 2017 with a projected deficit of $625,000. So a balanced budget for 2018 was pretty dazzling to council. “When we stood here a year ago – that’s not where we were,” Tretter said. Council member Bob McOmber, who has served as finance committee chairman for the past eight years, said he would much rather see a “mundane” balanced budget. “It certainly looks better than the deficit we were facing last year.” The city budget, McOmber said, consists of many moving parts. “There are a lot of inter-related parts in the budget.” So getting it to balance is a feat. One reason for the additional projected revenue is a 3 percent increase expected in city income tax revenue. Modest increases are also projected in…


Rover Pipeline ‘goodwill’ checks follow bad spill record

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Officials from Rover Pipeline – the company with 19 Ohio EPA violations so far and $2.3 million in fines and damages – presented some checks Tuesday to help first responders. The $10,000 checks, “offered in goodwill by the company,” are going to the emergency management agencies in each of the 18 counties in Ohio being traversed by Rover pipeline. Wood County is one of those on the route. The funds are to be used to purchase new equipment or offer additional training . “We hope these funds will go toward emergency first responders,” Bill Barth, senior specialist for emergency response with Rover, said as he passed on the giant checks. “We look forward to working with you.” Wood County EMA Director Brad Gilbert is grateful for the funds, but he would just as soon not have to work on a pipeline incident. He may use the check from Rover to help put a state MARCs radio system in the sheriff’s dispatch center. The $10,000 donation will pay just a portion of the total $40,000 expense. “The pressure’s on them to do the right thing during construction and operations,” Gilbert said of the…


Solar field ‘sanctuary’ to attract butterflies, bees, birds

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green officials learned Monday evening how its solar field could be turned into a “solar sanctuary” for butterflies, bees and birds. The board of public utilities heard how the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service hopes to develop a wildlife and pollinator habitat around the 165-acre solar field near the corner of Newton and Carter roads, northeast of Bowling Green. “You are producing good clean energy, and you’re helping wildlife at the same time,” said Marci Lininger, of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service “This is a really cool project for us,” Lininger said. One goal of the wildlife habitat area is to bring back pollinators to the region. “Pollinators are in decline right now,” she said. Adult Monarch butterflies have seen a 50 percent drop in the last 10 years due to disappearing milkweed plants  – which are the only plants used by Monarchs for laying eggs. Some wildflower habitats target specific species. The one at Bowling Green’s solar site will be aimed at attracting several species of bees, birds and butterflies. The plan calls for three seasons of blooming plants. The 12-acre wild habitat area is intended to benefit various…


Wood County likes its status on low sales tax island

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County is on an island of low sales tax in this region – and officials have no intention of moving from its haven for penny-pinching shoppers. The county is surrounded by neighboring counties with higher sales tax rates, except for Hancock County, which is the same as Wood County. Some officials suspect that at least some shoppers are lured into Wood County because of the lower sales tax. “It’s probably not the first thought in their mind,” but on bigger purchases it could encourage shoppers to cross county lines, Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. The sales tax on a $1,000 refrigerator in Lucas County would be $72.5, compared to $67.5 in Wood County. “We’re like an island,” Kalmar said. “Everybody around us has a higher sales tax,” except Hancock County. In the recent general election, Hancock County voters had the chance to raise their sales tax there by 0.25 percent. The increase was soundly rejected, so that county will remain at the same low rate as Wood. Meanwhile most surrounding counties are 7.25 percent, including Lucas, Fulton, Henry, Sandusky and Seneca. The state takes the first 5.75 percent in sales…


BG to conduct overdue review of City Charter

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   It’s won’t be a glamorous job, but somebody’s got to review the nuts and bolts of the Bowling Green City Charter. Mayor Dick Edwards reported to City Council Monday evening that he would like the city government to tackle a City Charter review in 2018. The last time the charter was reviewed was 2001. “Too many years have passed by,” Edwards said, noting the job should be completed every 10 years or so. The mayor said he will work on coming up with a timeline and potential people to work on the process. He already has in mind a couple Bowling Green State University faculty members, who have expertise in the area of city government. Above all, the City Charter review must be “citizen driven” and have sizeable participation by city residents, Edwards said. Council president Mike Aspacher said he is looking forward to a charter review. “I certainly am glad this is going to be a priority for us in 2018,” Aspacher said. In other business, City Council approved the rezoning of three parcels at the southwest corner of Manville and Clough streets, from planned institutional zoning to single-family residential. The…


Citizens ask Latta to stop deportation of ‘dreamers’

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Two months ago, Beatriz Maya sat in U.S. Rep. Bob Latta’s office waiting for answers on where the congressman stands on deporting “dreamers.” She is still waiting. Maya, executive director of La Conexion, was back in Latta’s Bowling Green office on Monday, this time asking to show the congressman the economic and human side of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.) She and eight others delivered a letter encouraging Latta to talk to local employers who can’t find enough workers to fill jobs, and to families who are at risk of being torn apart. “If he hears their personal stories, we are confident that he will get a different story than what he is hearing in Washington,” she said. Maya wants Latta to meet the local young man who grew up in Wood County, learned carpentry at Penta Career Center, and now works for Rudolph-Libbe. He has no criminal record, yet he is at risk of being deported. “There is nothing you can find in him that would warrant deportation,” she said. Earlier this fall, President Donald Trump announced he would end the DACA program in six months if Congress doesn’t find…


County discusses new highway garage, jail booking area

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Every fall, the Wood County Commissioners listen to funding requests from county offices. And every year, the commissioners weed through the requests and reject the ones they feel aren’t necessary or can wait. This year, they have discussed yanking a couple biggies – $8.3 million to expand the county jail booking area, and $2.5 million for a new county highway garage and office space. It’s not that the commissioners don’t see the value in those projects – they just don’t see room for the nearly $11 million in the county’s 2018 budget. But in both cases, the commissioners are planning ahead for the possible building projects. The county engineer’s highway garage, located at the corner of East Poe Road and Thurstin Avenue, is at least 60 years old. “Things are showing their age out there,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. “We’re at the point where we’re going to have to do some work there – or move.” Over the decades, the open space around the highway garage, which sits on the edge of Bowling Green State University, has been gobbled up for other uses. So there is no land left at…


DeWine serves up campaign for governor at Campus Pollyeyes

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As Mike DeWine worked the tables at Campus Pollyeyes, he had one question. “What’s the best thing to eat here?” He got one response from his fellow Republicans waiting to greet the gubernatorial candidate. “The breadsticks.” DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, is shifting into high gear for the governor’s race to be decided next fall. Tuesday morning he started with breakfast in Mayfield Heights, followed by pie in Amherst, then showed up for pizza in Bowling Green. Early campaigning can probably be forgiven, since there are already three other Republicans in the governor’s race, including Secretary of State Jon Husted, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, and Rep. Jim Renacci. Even before DeWine’s arrival at Pollyeyes, some of those present had already picked him as their top choice. “I like the fact that he has a plan on the opioid epidemic, and he’s ready to go,” David Jenkins said as he dug into a calzone. Jenkins, who is treasurer of the BGSU College Republicans, is part of the voting population that needs to get excited about the next election, said George Nicholson, whose son runs Campus Pollyeyes. “I think it’s wonderful he’s coming here,” Nicholson…