Government

Shared salute sought at new BG City Park building

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   No battle lines were drawn, but there are some strong feelings about veterans retaining top billing in the new structure replacing City Park’s Veterans Memorial Building. City Council member Greg Robinette – a veteran himself – reported to council Monday evening that he had spoken with Dave Ridenour of American Legion Post 45 about the history of the existing building. The local legion had leased the building from the city for its post headquarters from 1929 to 1979, Ridenour said. Even after the headquarters moved, the city decided to continue honoring local veterans by keeping the name Veterans Memorial Building. While city officials would like to continue that tradition, they would also like to reduce the debt on the new building by looking for private sponsorship of the new structure. “I fully understand,” that desire to look for naming rights, Robinette said. The building name could be a compromise between a major donor and local veterans. “I think we can make that work.” But council member Bruce Jeffers expressed some concern that the respect for local veterans not be clouded by recognition of a private donor. He also talked about the value of a veterans display inside the new building. “It seems we might want to distinguish between those who have served in combat zones,” Jeffers said. Council member Sandy Rowland said she supports the continued recognition of local veterans in the name of the building. However, she mentioned the effort the city is making to get a return on its investment of $3.75 million in bonds for the new building. The building is expected to be used by community members for events such as weddings, memorials and other public gatherings. “I think we have to be careful in the way we outfit the interior,” Rowland said. For example, a display of weapons of war may make the building less appealing to those wanting to rent it for occasions like weddings. “I hope we don’t plan on putting a cannon in there,” Rowland said. Also at Monday’s meeting, Mayor Dick Edwards recognized Earlene Kilpatrick, who is retiring from her position as executive director of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce. “You’ve had a wonderful working relationship with the city,” Edwards said to Kilpatrick. During her years as director, the city saw many groundbreakings, the mayor said. “You haven’t allowed the ceremonial scissors to rest.” Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter also thanked Kilpatrick for working so closely with the city. “It really has been a pleasure to work with you,” Tretter said. “You’ve been a tremendous asset.” Kilpatrick in turn thanked city leaders for their support. “You really care. That’s what’s so special,” she said. “Keep up the great work. It’s been my pleasure to be a part of that.” Also at the meeting, council approved the purchase of 1.57 acres at 315 and 325 N. Grove St. for $500,000. The property sits just to the east of the city’s water and sewer division at 324 N. Maple St. The property, which was formerly the site of BG Block and Lumber, will secure a long-term home for the water and sewer division, and possibly provide room for future growth. The water and sewer division could use three of the buildings on the property, totaling…


State Issue 1 drug law proposal faces strong opposition

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Drug offenders in Ohio currently encounter the carrot and the stick. If they participate in treatment and comply with the courts’ orders, they can often avoid jail time. State Issue 1 would only offer the carrot – and take away the stick. That just won’t work, according to local judges, the county prosecutor, sheriffs and state legislators. On Thursday, some of that local opposition to Issue 1 gathered in the Wood County Courthouse atrium. On the surface, Issue 1 may look harmless. It downgrades the vast majority of drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. And it promises to move money saved by not incarcerating drug offenders into drug treatment programs. Proponents of the issue, which will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, are massively outspending opposition, according to State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green. As of a month ago, Issue 1 had raised $4.1 million, with much of that being money from outside Ohio, he said. Meanwhile, there was no organized opposition to the issue. Issue 1 – which would change the state constitution – was not getting much attention until recently, Gardner said. So Gardner and State Rep. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, asked local law enforcement and court officials to join them Thursday to express their concerns. “Our courts are on the front lines for this,” Gavarone said. As officials took their turn at the podium, they were unanimous in their opposition to Issue 1. Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Dobson talked about the newly created ARC program, which is currently working with 70 opiate addicts in the county. The program is having such success because it is able to offer addicts intervention in lieu of jail time. If jail time was not an option, it is unlikely that many of those addicts would go through the difficult treatment process. “Almost all of those efforts will be negated by State Issue 1,” Dobson said. Issue 1 would remove drug offenses from the criminal justice process, to be treated solely by the behavioral health process. It’s a mistake to not include both processes for drug addicts, he said. Dobson has heard from many addicts who seek treatment only because a judge has told them it’s either treatment or jail. Gardner said he has heard the same stories from addicts who don’t seek treatment until they hit rock bottom – which is the threat of jail time. “Jail saved my life,” Gardner said one man in his district recently told him. Whether intentional or not, Issue 1 would also create an open door for drug dealers in Ohio, Dobson said. “It encourages drug traffickers to focus on our citizens,” he said. Though the opposition was slow to realize the impact of Issue 1, it is now speaking loudly with a united voice. Wood County Common Pleas Judge Alan Mayberry said he has never seen a statewide issue that has united the Ohio Chief Justice, sheriff’s association, county prosecutors and common pleas judges in outspoken opposition. “This needs to be defeated,” Mayberry said. Under Issue 1, someone could be picked up with 19 grams or less of fentanyl – enough to kill 10,000 people – and could only be charged with a misdemeanor and be put on probation, the judge said. “That’s unconscionable,” Mayberry…


County jail expansion plan locked in at $17.6 million

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   For years, Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn has been saying the county jail needs some changes and a possible expansion. The price tag for that work at the Wood County Justice Center is $17.6 million. But once it’s done, Wasylyshyn promised he won’t be back with any more jail requests for the county commissioners. “We think this will get us many, many years,” the sheriff said Thursday as plans for the jail expansion were presented to county commissioners Doris Herringshaw, Ted Bowlus and Craig LaHote. The project can be divided into two separate proposals. One is the expansion and reconfiguration of the intake and medical areas of the jail. That would cost an estimated $8.6 million. The second part of the plan adds on an expansion of inmate cells plus renovation of the security pods. That would raise the overall price tag to $17.6 million. The jail currently has 220 beds. The expansion would add another 78 beds. The commissioners asked for more time to review the expansion plans. Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said the commissioners support the plans for revamping the booking and medical areas of the jail, and have already appropriated funds for the architectural and engineering of that part of the project. But the actual addition of inmate beds is not so certain. “The question is do they want to take one step more,” Kalmar said. The jail averages 165 to 180 inmates a day. However, all inmates can’t be housed in any cell. For example, high security inmates can’t be placed in minimum security housing. Females can only be housed in female units. Relatives cannot be in the same area, nor can inmates being held for the same crime. So while the jail has 220 beds now, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can house 220 inmates. Justice Center Captain Rebecca McMonigal compared it to a Rubik’s cube. Wasylyshyn said the addition of more beds would benefit the county. The county has operated a jail since 1820, and that’s not likely to change. “We’re always going to be in the jail business,” he said. Even if the county does not need all the beds, it can rent the extra to area counties facing overcrowding in their jails, the sheriff said. This year, the jail will take in close to $350,000 from other counties housing prisoners here. Some come from as far as four hours away, he said. The expansion plans call for more security housing and more female beds. Currently, the jail has just 32 female beds. There are currently 36 female inmates in the jail – so four are using cots. “We do what we have to do,” Wasylyshyn said after the commissioners’ meeting. “Every county needs more female beds,” said Garry McAnally, of Wachtel & McAnally. “If we build female beds, they will come,” Wasylyshyn said of inmates from other counties. But the more critical need is the revamping of the inmate booking and medical areas – which the commissioners appear to agree need changes. The intake area, which was designed and built in 1989, is too small for the current inmate numbers. When the number of inmates being processed is too great, the prisoners are put together in cells. “Our biggest concern is just having…


Mayor tries to resurrect historic preservation efforts

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green is revisiting history – trying to resurrect efforts to create a Historic Preservation Commission. Mayor Dick Edwards reintroduced plans for a commission which would “preserve, promote, encourage and support the maintenance, use and reuse of historic buildings in the city.” In other words, it would help property owners who want to preserve historic structures. The proposal for such a commission was first brought up in 2009, then became part of earnest discussions in 2013. Efforts died in 2015 after some citizens interpreted the city’s preservation efforts as government telling them what to do with their properties. At that time, Edwards tried to explain that the commission was to help – not give orders. “It’s not threatening, it’s not dictating to people, it’s not putting the heavy hand of government on neighborhoods,” he said. “It was misconstrued and misinterpreted by some individuals.” Nevertheless, suspicions about the motivation for the historic preservation commission killed the effort. But at Tuesday’s city council meeting, the mayor reintroduced the concept. “There was some misunderstanding about what it is,” Edwards said of the commission. And he would like to try again. “This is so successful in so many other communities,” he said. More than 70 cities and political bodies in Ohio are working with the state to address historic preservation. Cities like Toledo, Akron and Tiffin are taking advantage of preservation tax credits to rebuild central city business districts and enhance property values in historic neighborhoods, Edwards said. “I’d like to think that the program can help sustain the life of neighborhoods and make it a more attractive place to live.” One of the first steps will be to create a five-member historic preservation commission. The group, appointed by the mayor, will include one member from each of the four wards and one from the downtown business district. Edwards said he is looking for recommendations. The purpose of the commission is to foster civic beauty, stabilize and increase property values, strengthen the local economy, maintain and enhance the distinctive character, safeguard the city’s heritage, and facilitate reinvestment and revitalization through historic preservation. The commission would have the authority to assist with historic preservation efforts through building inventories, public education, tourism and establishing community partnerships. The formation of such a commission has been supported by several city planning documents including the housing section and the future land use section of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, and most recently by the Community Action Plan. Edward’s efforts to resurrect the issue were commended Tuesday evening. City Council member Daniel Gordon voiced his support to revive the historic preservation effort. “We were disappointed,” when initial efforts failed, he said of himself and council member John Zanfardino. Council President Mike Aspacher also offered his backing. “I would certainly lend my support to that idea,” he said. Council member Sandy Rowland suggested that City Attorney Mike Marsh and Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter start working on legislation to create the commission. “The harder issue is establishing districts where it will apply,” Zanfardino said. “Or it will be a commission with no application.” The mayor said Court Street – the historic area by the Wood County Courthouse – could be an ideal place to start. “I think we have some opportunities on Court Street,” he…


Downtown businesses asked to pick up tab for parking

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green leaders have two months to solve downtown parking issues until their time expires. When the time is up, the cost of parking meters will double in the downtown area if a solution isn’t found. On Tuesday evening, Bowling Green City Council Committee of the Whole listened to a proposal for sharing the costs of parking downtown. This proposal – unlike the initial idea to double meter costs to 50 cents an hour – suggests that all parking meters and kiosks be pulled out, and downtown property and business owners be assessed for parking costs. 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. So the options suggested last month included increasing the parking revenue, sharing the costs of maintaining the parking lots, or getting rid of some of the expenses. Other Ohio college communities such as Kent and Oxford charge up to $1 an hour for parking. Toledo charges at least 50 cents per hour. However, no parking meters are used in Perrysburg, Defiance, Waterville, Findlay or Maumee. Tuesday on City Council’s agenda was the third reading of an ordinance increasing the parking rates. Council agreed to table that ordinance to give a task force time to discuss other options. Council President Mike Aspacher suggested that the task force include downtown property owners and business owners. “It’s a critically important component in the success of our community,” Aspacher said. Council member Greg Robinette stressed the need for the group to work quickly, since the parking kiosks in the lot behind Panera need to be updated by December if the city continues to use the kiosks there. “I’d like to force us to move the process along,” Robinette said, suggesting that the task force be limited to two months. “Time is ticking,” said council member John Zanfardino. The city also needs to repave downtown parking lots 1, 3 and 4. That is estimated to cost $400,000. 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 attending the last council meeting stated they would be willing to share in the expenses if it meant customers wouldn’t have to pay for parking. Aspacher and council members Bruce Jeffers and Sandy Rowland stressed the need for business owners to be included in the conversations – not just the property owners. “We need to make sure they are both on the same page,” Aspacher said. While parking would be free to motorists under this proposal,…


Drug & alcohol abuse prevention trumps politics in D.C.

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Preventing drug and alcohol abuse is not a political issue. Milan Karna saw that firsthand this week as he attended a roundtable discussion hosted by President Donald Trump at the White House. Karna, coordinator of the Wood County Prevention Coalition, was asked to attend the 20-year anniversary of the Office of the National Drug Control Policy’s Drug-Free Communities Support Program grant awards in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Karna was one of six grant recipients present from the 731 programs in the nation. The programs – which work to prevent drug and alcohol abuse by youth – were awarded $90.9 million. The Wood County Prevention Coalition’s piece of the pie was $125,000. This is the fifth year for the local coalition to receive federal funding. “The coalition is neutral,” Karna said. “It’s public service for the betterment of the entire community.” Karna was gratified that the current administration appeared to understand the value of the prevention programs. “I understand people have different feelings about different political figures,” Karna said. Both Ohio senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman have been long-time supporters of funding the programs – but the support of the administration was unproven. “It was encouraging to hear this administration has agreed to allow this program to continue,” Karna said. During the roundtable discussion, youths from some of the prevention coalitions spoke of the reasons behind their commitment to the cause. President Donald Trump shared his personal story of his brother’s alcohol addiction. “He seemed very sincere,” Karna said. “I could sense that he was personally affected.” Karna has his own personal story that spurs his efforts to prevent drug and alcohol abuse. Karna’s father had issues with alcohol and tobacco. He was able to quit drinking – but had a much tougher time with smoking – even after undergoing a quintuple bypass. “He was asking my brother and me for cigarettes,” shortly after the surgery, Karna said. His father, who grew up in Yugoslavia, started smoking at age 5. He died in 2012 at age 72. “I think that’s something that drives me,” Karna said. It’s a motivator for many. “I think this is an issue a lot of people care about. There is a lot of grief and energy to do something,” Karna said. That may be why the issue has the ability to cross political lines. “Prevention is something we should all be able to rally around,” Karna said. “Prevention is often talked about, but when push comes to shove, it’s not always supported. We believe our youth are the most valuable asset. Prevention should be supported.” The Wood County Prevention Coalition will use the federal grant funding to continue its efforts such as: Working on environmental strategies with law enforcement Surveying local youth to get useful data on substance abuse. Providing training for professionals. Screening to help identify substance abuse. Those prevention steps have focused on lowering use of prescription drugs, marijuana, tobacco and alcohol by local youths. The success has been shown in annual surveys given to teens in the county. Annual alcohol and marijuana use among local high school seniors has decreased by approximately 26 percent and 16 percent respectively since initial federal funding to the Wood County Prevention Coalition. “Prevention is a powerful tool to…


Wood County may wade into storm water program

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Draining the Great Black Swamp came at great expense. Keeping it drained has also proven to be quite costly. Wood County Engineer John Musteric believes the bills for handling storm water can be divided more fairly in the county. So he has asked the county commissioners to approve a $50,000 study to examine the feasibility of setting up a storm water district in Wood County. “We’ve been after the commissioners to investigate this,” Musteric said. “I believe it’s a more fair way.” The feasibility study would show how much the county is spending to keep storm water at bay through ditch maintenance, removing debris in rivers, storm sewer repairs, catch basin repairs and manholes. “I think it’s going to be an eye-opener,” Musteric said. Depending on the findings, the study could result in the creation of a storm water district in the unincorporated areas of the county that would charge fees to landowners to support. “It has been proven in court that county commissioners can do this,” Musteric said. Many other areas in Ohio already have storm water districts in place, with monthly fees ranging from $3.47 in Toledo, and $4.06 in Lucas County to $3.50 in Elmore, and $8 in Oak Harbor. The assessments to landowners are based on the amount of “impervious property” on the parcel. In other words, how much space is covered with rooftops or pavement that doesn’t allow water to soak into the ground. Local farmers, Musteric said, will only be charged the minimum rate, since even if they have large areas of impervious property, it is balanced out with even larger areas of open ground. “I think the farmers will embrace it,” the county engineer said. The county auditor’s office would handle the assessments, Musteric said. The fees would likely be billed on property taxes as special assessments. By setting up a district funded by landowner fees, the county will be able to set money aside for storm water expenses. Currently, ditch improvements that aren’t under a maintenance plan along county roads are paid for with county road and bridge funding. So by creating a system of funding for storm water issues, the engineer’s office can use more of its road and bridge funding for the work it was intended for, Musteric said. The storm water district would not have to cover the entire county. It may be that only those landowners in the northern portion of Wood County will be assessed, since the storm water issues are greater where more development has occurred. The commissioners are considering Musteric’s request. The feasibility study is expected to last six to nine months. If the results show the value of a storm water district, the next step will be to develop a program, then create a billing system. A committee of residents and township trustees would then be set up to select storm water projects that need to be completed. The program would be administered by the county engineer’s office.


Gas pains – BG tells Columbia Gas to not leave streets a mess

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green officials want Columbia Gas to clean up their mess when they are done ripping up downtown streets to replace natural gas lines. City council president Mike Aspacher expressed concern at last week’s council meeting that the street paving where Columbia Gas was done digging appeared to be substandard. “We’ve already told them to tear it out and do it again,” said Brian Craft, director of public works for the city. Though the city plans a street resurfacing job in downtown next year, that work won’t extend over the entire area dug up by Columbia Gas. The section of North Main Street located north of the Wood County Senior Center is not part of the city’s project. So, Craft told the utility company to do it again. “We’ve been on them,” he said. Aspacher said Columbia Gas is required to match the pavement so it is the same or better than it was before they tore up the streets. But that hasn’t always been the case in the past. Aspacher said Columbia Gas has previously replaced streets with substandard work after past jobs in the city. “It’s had a negative impact,” he said. Craft said once Main Street is repaved next year, it should all be smooth. A better type of asphalt will be used than during the Heritage 2000 project, when it was last paved. However, until then, the downtown streets will be a little rough, he added. In other business at last week’s meeting, council member Sandy Rowland noted how smoothly traffic seemed to move in the city over the previous weekend – despite the additional congestion from the National Tractor Pulling Championships, downtown construction by Columbia Gas, and the monthly Firefly Nights event downtown. “In spite of everything going on this weekend, traffic moved well in Bowling Green,” Rowland said. Craft noted the city gets to do it all again this weekend – with move-in at Bowling Green State University and annual soccer challenge event. In other business: Parks and Recreation Director Kristin Otley reported that as the summer comes to an end, the city pool will be open the next two weekends, from 1 to 7 p.m. each day. Craft said Manville Avenue, which had been torn up most of the summer, should be finished soon after Labor Day. Council learned a public hearing about Firefly Night’s liquor permit request will be held Sept. 4 at 6:45 p.m.    


GOP state auditor candidate Keith Faber wants government to work better for Bob & Betty Buckeye

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News A few phrases roll quickly off the tongue of State Rep. Keith Faber, a candidate for state auditor. The Celina resident sees one of the state auditor’s duties as catching those “lying, stealing, and cheating.” And when talking about how government should run the operative phrases are “better faster cheaper” and “efficient, effective, and transparent.” “The auditor’s office is not a partisan office,” he said. “You wear the uniform of the umpire. My background shows I don’t show favor. … You elect an auditor to represent Bob and Betty Buckeye and to make sure government works for them, not itself.” That background includes 17 years in the State Legislature, first in the House, then Senate where he served as president from 2013 to 2016, and now is back in the House representing the 84th district. Faber is running against Democrat Zack Space. He includes ECOT, the private charter school now being sued by the state, in the category of those who have misused state money. He defends how his Republican predecessor Dave Yost, now a candidate for attorney general and the Republican controlled legislature, handled the controversy. Some have charged they let the problem fester too long. Faber said he has also supported effort to draw both state legislative and later congressional districts in a non-partisan way. The auditor will sit on the commissions that draw those districts. He backs the goal of keeping political subdivisions together with “a heavy emphasis keeping things compact.” He said “that should allow people to be represented by people who share their values.” Having a hand in shaping these new districts, though, is not why he’s seeking the state auditor’s office, he said. The auditor’s office, he said, is about on one hand providing “service and support to Ohio’s local governments.” One issue he’s focused on is the cost of audits. Sometimes for small commissions or townships, what’s charged by the state for audits is a disproportionately large share of their budgets, sometimes as much as half. “I’d like to empower the office to make them less expensive and ask the legislature to help subsidize them.” Then there’s the compliance side. If someone is caught “lying, stealing, and cheating, there’s a place for them – in jail.” However, Faber added, he would take a more lenient tact if someone makes a mistake through lack of knowledge or experience and didn’t intend to break law. “If someone needs trained, we have to make sure we have the resources in place to train them so we don’t have those kinds of problems.” Faber also wants to increase the number of performance audits the office conducts on state agencies. Yost has done two a year. In that time, Faber said, there’s been savings of $26 for $1 spent on the process, about $250 million. But given there’s about two dozen state agencies and many other boards and commissions, that rate is not enough to keep up. “I’ll ask the legislature to ramp up the number of state agencies that get audited,” he said. He’d like every agency audited every four to six years. The savings, he believes, will more than cover the costs. He believes these audits could provide the incentive for government entities to use the same tools, such as…


Solar engineer shines light on climate change solutions

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Growing up as a Boy Scout, Bob Clark-Phelps believed in the camping mantra, “Leave no trace.” As an engineer with First Solar, Clark-Phelps knows it is no longer possible for humans to leave the earth unscarred for future generations. But he’s not yet given up on leaving behind the best planet possible. Clark-Phelps, who had been with First Solar for six years, spoke about climate change on Thursday to the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club. A large majority of Americans believe that climate change is occurring and should be met with policies, he said. However, the people able to make those policies don’t seem to have the stomach to do so. And debates on the topic are increasingly polarized. “All we’re missing is the political will to get it done,” he said. “It’s not going to go away on its own.” Clark-Phelps referred to a Yale Climate Study, which gauged the public’s views on global warming. More than two-thirds of those studied said climate change is happening, with 54 percent saying it is caused by humans. Meanwhile, 97 percent of publishing climate scientists agree that global warming is occurring. “There’s almost unanimity,” he said. But less than half of the people surveyed know that the vast majority of scientists back the climate change theory. That may be because journalists are trained to present all sides of controversial issues. So in an attempt to present balanced reporting, it may appear that both sides of the climate change issue are well supported by scientists. But that simply isn’t true, Clark-Phelps said. Even with climate deniers getting news time, nearly three-quarters of Americans studied agreed that the U.S. should regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. “Why is there continuing division and policy paralysis,” Clark-Phelps asked. The evidence can be seen and felt all around the world, he said. The increasing number of forest fires out west are worsened by higher temperatures, less snow, drought conditions – all of which lengthen the fire season. “Climate change is a massive risk multiplier,” Clark-Phelps said. Some researchers predict forest fires in the western U.S. will increase by six times by the year 2050. In Florida, pumping water back into the ocean is becoming commonplace as the state loses its coastline. “Florida is a place where it floods on sunny days now,” he said. In Alaska, the glaciers are disappearing and the roads are crumbling as the permafrost melts beneath them. In Ohio, climate change takes the form of excess rain from heavy downpours and higher temperatures – which add up to harmful algal blooms. According to Clark-Phelps, the Cincinnati area has experienced seven 100-year floods in the last 14 years. While the warmth and rain are creating a longer growing season now in Ohio, in the long run the trends will suppress crop yields, he said. Clark-Phelps, who just returned from a work trip to Germany, said that nation is seeing a 20 percent drop in grain production this year – blamed on climate changes. Still a Boy Scout at heart, Clark-Phelps is an optimist. He is part of an organization called the Citizens’ Climate Lobby that is working with diverse groups of people to come up with some answers. “We are creating the political will for climate solutions,”…


BG at a crossroads with downtown parking

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green is searching for just the ticket to solve its parking problems downtown. The city isn’t making enough from its downtown parking meters to pay for repaving the lots. Initially, a proposal was made to double the parking rates from 25 cents to 50 cents an hour. But on Monday evening, City Council’s Finance Committee discussed options ranging from offering all free parking, to charging more for tickets, to charging citizens a special assessment. Some downtown business owners and one citizen shopper weighed in on the issue. The discussion will continue Sept. 4, at 6 p.m., in the City Council chambers. “Probably everybody needs a little time to discuss this report,” said Bruce Jeffers, head of the finance committee. “I think we all understand there’s no parking that is free. It has to be paid by somebody,” Jeffers said. Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter explained the options Monday evening to the council committee members Jeffers, Mike Aspacher and Greg Robinette. The city’s downtown parking lots are struggling due to flat revenue, increasing costs and aging infrastructure. So the options are increasing the parking revenue, sharing the costs of maintaining the parking lots, or getting rid of some of the expenses. Other Ohio college communities such as Kent and Oxford charge up to $1 an hour for parking. Toledo charges at least 50 cents per hour. However, no parking meters are used in Perrysburg, Defiance, Waterville, Findlay or Maumee. Tretter presented the following ideas under each option. Increase parking revenue: Moving all the parking violation fees into the parking fund rather than sharing them with the city’s general fund. That move, however, would negate council’s efforts from last year to make up the general fund deficit with a garbage fee. Add parking meters and charge a premium rate for on-street parking on Main and Wooster. Increase the current parking rate as high as $1 per hour. Share the costs: Allocate the cost of maintenance to the downtown property owners. Share the costs with all city property owners through a special assessment. Reduce the costs: Remove meters and enforcement, resulting in all free parking. This still leaves maintenance costs. Go back to all meters. Use meters for parking at premium rates on the street, with free parking behind the stores, which would reduce enforcement needs. Out-source parking operations to a private entity. Sell property for development and/or parking operations. “We really feel we’re at a crossroads here,” Tretter said. Two years ago, the city attempted to move toward the newer trend of parking kiosks. While some like the change, others have difficulty using the kiosks and avoid that parking lot. “We’ve gotten pretty mixed reviews,” Tretter said. “We feel really torn.” Aspacher asked about the cost sharing among downtown property owners. Tretter said the closer a property is to a parking lot, the more money would be charged. The average annual assessments ranged from $27 to $2,000 for owners of several properties in the downtown. Aspacher also said he was intrigued by the possibility of all free parking in the downtown. Some business owners shared that interest. However, some expressed concerns that they had never been approached about the options being considered. Kati Thompson, owner of Eden Fashion Boutique, suggested there is a disconnect…


Bowling Green takes ‘green’ part of name seriously

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Amanda Gamby’s new job may fall short of being glamorous. It’s had her tagging garbage bins, going through recycling, and riding bike for the first time in eight years. But as Bowling Green’s first ever sustainability coordinator, Gamby doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. She is a true believer in the city’s environmental sustainability – whether that involves energy production, recycling, bicycling or clean water. Gamby, who spoke Thursday to the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club, said the city has already made some serious strides toward sustainability. “We’re really already doing some pretty cool things,” Gamby said. “We’re just not telling about it very well.” So that is part of her job. Gamby, who previously served as the Wood County environmental educator, has expertise in public outreach and education for very young children to senior citizens, and everyone in between. And she wants them all to know that 42 percent of Bowling Green’s electricity comes from renewable sources. “That’s a pretty big chunk of the pie,” Gamby said. The city was the first in Ohio to use a wind farm to generate municipal electricity, starting in 2003. “The joke is that it’s a wind garden because it’s only four,” she said. But even though it’s just four turbines, some doubted the city’s wisdom and investment in the $8.8 million project. “Many people thought Daryl Stockburger was crazy,” Gamby said, of the city’s utilities director at the time who pushed for the wind turbines. But the turbines have been generating power ever since. The turbines are as tall as a 30-story building and generate up to 7.2 megawatts of power — enough to supply electricity for approximately 2,500 residential customers. Debt on the wind turbine project was paid in full in 2015, which was several years earlier than planned, Gamby said. And now, the city is home to the largest solar field in Ohio. The 165-acre solar field consists of more than 85,000 panels and is capable of producing 20-megawatts of alternating current electricity.  In an average year, it is expected to produce an equivalent amount of energy needed to power approximately 3,000 homes.  It will also avoid approximately 25,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year since the energy is generated from a non-fossil fuel resource. The city is also talking about building a community solar field on East Gypsy Lane Road, where city residents and businesses can buy into solar power. “We’re really leaders. Our small community is setting the stage for others,” Gamby said. Bowling Green city officials have been adamant that the wind farm and solar field be open to tours so that others can learn from the alternative energy sites. Tours are allowed under and inside the turbines, and through the rows of solar panels. “That’s pretty unheard of in the industry,” Gamby said. The city is working to improve some of its other environmentally friendly programs, like encouraging more “rain gardens” and educating people to not put pollutants into storm sewers since stormwater is not treated by the water pollution control plant. Bowling Green continues to try to educate residents about its curbside recycling program, in order to keep contamination out of the recycling bins. But the city – with its frequently changing population at BGSU –…


BG may buy old BG Block & Lumber site for $500,000

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   With its water and sewer division building bursting at the seams, Bowling Green officials may spend $500,000 to purchase neighboring property. The Bowling Green Board of Public Utilities heard a proposal Monday evening from Public Utilities Director Brian O’Connell to purchase 1.57 acres at 315 and 325 N. Grove St. The property sits just to the east of the city’s water and sewer division at 324 N. Maple St. “This would save us from having to look for more space outside our area,” O’Connell told the board. “It’s a good long-term decision for water and sewer.” For some time, the water and sewer division has been in need of additional building space and parking. The city had budgeted $130,000 for concrete drive and parking improvements at the site to accommodate current staff. However, there was no ability to expand the building. Recently, a neighboring property owner, Alan Stoots, approached the city about buying his property – which was formerly the site of BG Block and Lumber. There are several buildings on the property, with some being rented to tenants for storage, commercial and residential uses. According to Stoots, the rental income is about $47,000 annually. Stoots was asking $520,000 for the property. The city hired a real estate appraiser, who said the value of the property was $450,000. After several discussions with Stoots, the city agreed to a purchase price of $500,000, O’Connell said. While that amount is 11 percent above the appraised value, O’Connell said the property is more valuable to the city because of the water and sewer division location and need for space. “We’re kind of at the seams right now,” O’Connell said. “This will get us some additional building space that we could use from day one.” The site would secure a long-term home for the water and sewer division, and possibly provide room for future growth, he said. The water and sewer division could use three of the buildings on the property, totaling about 10,000 square feet, for cold storage of materials, hydrants, valves, topsoil and sand. The city’s electric division currently has transformers and other equipment sitting outside on the North Maple Street property. “Anytime you have equipment outside, it’s additional wear and tear,” O’Connell said. The city plans to continue renting out the buildings currently being leased, which will potentially generate $47,000 a year. The public utilities office has $750,000 in its budget for property acquisition, but City Council’s approval will be needed to buy the acreage. In other business, the board of public utilities: Heard the electric division will be changing poles on Ohio 25 in front of Home Depot. Learned that Manville Avenue will be paved after Labor Day. Approved advertising for bids for building repairs for the water pollution control plant’s solids handling and maintenance building. The repairs are expected to cost around $130,000. Learned the EPA recently visited the water treatment plant and certified it chemically for the next three years.


Think driving downtown will be clear after gas line work? Think again

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green motorists and businesses counting the days till the Columbia Gas work is done downtown should brace themselves for a rude awakening. The gas line replacement work that has shut down lanes and parking in the downtown much of this summer is just the first round of work along Main Street. “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” said Bowling Green Public Works Director Brian Craft. It’s not the city’s intention to make driving and parking difficult in the downtown area – officials are just trying to get necessary work done in a timely fashion. The good news is the downtown streetscape should be good for years once all the work is done. The bad news is the downtown is going to be torn up for another year or so to finish the job. “It’s just a circle of time,” Craft said. And the gas lines, water lines and roadwork all reached the end of their lifespans at the same time. The Columbia Gas work is scheduled to be done in October. But then water and sewer line work is scheduled throughout the winter, followed by repaving and rebricking Main Street next spring and summer. It could be worse, according to Craft. Initially Columbia Gas was planning to do its downtown work in 2019 – which could have meant that Bowling Green would have to repave the downtown streetscape again soon after completing the work. “It isn’t a perfect situation,” Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said a couple weeks ago. “But we don’t have a choice in the matter.” All the work is necessary – and will result in a safer and better city for residents once it’s all complete, he said. Raquel Colon, external affairs specialist for Columbia Gas of Ohio, said the downtown project which started in June will not be completed until sometime in October. “We have brought some additional crews in to keep the progress moving,” Colon said. The gas line replacement project has taken so long because there are so many individual taps to replace in the downtown area. Unfortunately, the waterline work will be just as time-consuming, Craft said. The old lines are being replaced with new 12-inch lines. And those lines will be buried much deeper, he said. “Ours is going to be cumbersome,” Craft said of the waterline project. “Hopefully it’s a mild winter.” In the spring, the city will shift gears and start working on the downtown streetscape – which involves repaving the downtown plus restoring the bricks in the center of the four corners at Main and Wooster streets. The resurfacing project on Main Street will stretch from Oak to Ordway streets, and on Wooster from Prospect to Church streets. The streets have not been repaved since the Heritage 2000 project downtown. The streets will be paved with a new type of asphalt that is resistant to ruts, Craft said, noting the tire ruts that have appeared in some sections of the downtown. The city was able to secure $900,000 from the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments for the streetscape project. That should pay for all the repaving plus installation of all the ADA ramps in the downtown, Craft said. The city is also planning to replace the red brick area at the…


Excitement building for first Habitat home in BG

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   For 25 years, Habitat for Humanity has been building homes in Wood County. But until now, none was constructed in Bowling Green. On Monday, shovels were dug into the ground at the first of three Habitat homes to be built in Bowling Green, near the corner of Manville and Clough streets. Mark Ohashi, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Wood County, said he once asked his predecessor, Maxine Miller, about her motivation for building the first home in Bloomdale. Miller said, “I just feel that everyone deserves a decent house to raise their family.” “It was that simple,” Ohashi said. Many take housing for granted, but those who live in inadequate homes or who can’t afford decent housing know how important a good home can be. “We’ve been able to make an incredible impact on 39 families in Wood County,” Ohashi said. “We’ve built all around Wood County, but never in Bowling Green.” Marlene Lerch, whose family was chosen for the new Habitat home, is not taking the home for granted. “I’ve been praying for a house for years,” said Lerch, who has lived in a manufactured home for about 10 years. “This will be a safe place for my family. This is all a new beginning.” Lerch, who is a home-based coach with WSOS Head Start, said she is looking forward to putting her “sweat equity” into the home construction. “I’m ready,” she said. Her three children are also ready for the move. “I’m looking forward to getting out of a trailer and getting an actual house,” said Eric Lerch, 11, who will start at Bowling Green Middle School in a couple weeks. “I actually get a new bedroom,” which he plans to paint red and silver, Eric said. His older sister, Audrey, who will be a senior at Bowling Green High School, has plans to paint her bedroom light gray. “Just being able to have it be our own. With this opportunity it’s going to be amazing,” Audrey said. Their mom said the family has gone through a lot in the last few years. “I never thought in a million years that I’d get a new house built for me,” Lerch said. As she thanked those at the groundbreaking, Lerch expressed her appreciation. “I have a grateful heart to all of you who have made this possible,” she said. “This means the world to our family.” Many of those people responsible were in the audience – like Brian O’Connell, director of the city’s public utilities, who decided the city no longer needed the property where an old water tower stood, and that it should be given to Habitat for Humanity. “It feels real good,” O’Connell said as he watched the groundbreaking. Bowling Green City Council President Mike Aspacher talked about city’s unanimous decision to give the property to Habitat. “So clearly the city is supportive of this project and the benefits it will bring to our community,” Aspacher said. Ohashi recalled the offer from the city. “Initially I thought it was too good to be true,” he said. Then there are the community organizations, like the Rotary Club, Kiwanis Aktion Club, BGSU Greek Life, and “friends of Habitat” Tom and Dianne Klein. The actual construction of the homes…