Government

Ditch cleanup stirs up conflicting interests

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Farmers between Bowling Green and Perrysburg don’t take kindly to their fields being flooded out by plugged ditches. But it appears that people living in neighboring housing developments also don’t take kindly to being told how to handle the ditches that meander through their backyards. The two sides of the issue butted heads last week during preliminary hearings on clearing two ditches in Middleton Township. The opposing sides did a lot of eye rolling and head shaking at each others’ testimony before the Wood County Commissioners. The proposed ditch projects, petitioned by farmers Gerald Moser and Doug Pratt, start on Five Point Road and head north through the River Bend housing subdivision. Flooding already occurs in the Five Point Road ditch area, and is expected to get worse once nearly 300 homes are constructed in the development. According to Wood County Engineer Ray Huber, the watershed for the projects includes 764 acres. “This office feels that the quicker the ditch in question can be placed under county care, the better,” Huber stated in his report to the county commissioners. “In other words, this would lessen the impact on developed lots and facilitate ditch construction where home construction has not started.” Prolonging the ditch cleanup will only exacerbate construction issues later, Huber said. But attorneys representing the River Bend development said putting the ditches under a county maintenance program is unnecessary. The homeowners association can properly maintain the ditches, they stated. “The assumption is government can do a better job” than the homeowners, attorney Jerome Parker said. “That’s not true.” Brian McCarthy, developer of River Bend, said clogged ditches have not been a problem. “We’ve maintained our ditches,” McCarthy said. However, Huber said such efforts by homeowner groups are often unsuccessful. Duane Abke, of the county engineer’s office, said McCarthy made the same claims with the nearby Emerald Lakes subdivision. But the ditches there often flood with rain,…


BG hears concerns about car crashes, snowy streets, parking tickets

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green City Council spent a lot of time on transportation issues last week – not just the flashy topics of roundabouts and pedestrian walkways – but also the more mundane issues of downtown parking, snow removal on streets, and curves that may be contributing to accidents. Nathan Eberly, who lives on Sandridge Road just west of Avery Drive, told council that two curves on his stretch of the road seem to be sending quite a few motorists into his lawn. He asked that more signage be considered to notify drivers of the upcoming curves. “I end up with several people in my yard,” especially in the winter when the roads are a little slick, Eberly said. There was a period last year during a storm when four cars ran off the road into his yard in about an hour. Eberly told council he no longer puts his lighted Christmas deer in the yard since they are too often the victims of accidents. Eberly said he and his neighbors would like the city to consider placing more warning signs for the curves. He was instructed to take his concerns to Bowling Green Public Works Director Brian Craft. Also at last week’s city council meeting, Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter explained the need for residents to comply with rules for “snow streets.” She talked about how problems can snowball if cars are not removed from the street in a timely manner. She showed a photograph of a vehicle parked on a “snow street,” which kept the snowplows from clearing the street, which then kept the garbage and recycling trucks from picking up bins placed by the street. Emergency vehicles may also not be able to make it down unplowed streets. All “snow streets” in the city are marked with white and blue signs labeling them. “That’s how you know you live on a ‘snow street,’” Tretter said. All cul-de-sacs…


BG makes no promises to fight pipeline further

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green City Council made no promises this week to continue the fight against the Nexus pipeline. Earlier this month, council voted unanimously to deny an easement request for the Nexus pipeline to cross 29 acres of city land located in Middleton Township, about 2.5 miles east of the city’s water treatment plant. Council’s stand was cheered by well over 100 pipeline protesters present at the meeting. But many realized that the excitement of a small community triumphing over a big pipeline company was likely just a temporary coup. This week at city council, Bowling Green resident Neocles Leontis asked council about the next steps planned to oppose the pipeline. The company does not yet have eminent domain authority, but is actively pursuing that power. Council President Mike Aspacher said he had not spoken with fellow council members or city administration about future actions to halt the pipeline. Though the unanimous vote against the pipeline was definitely a feel good moment for the city – council also has to face the hard realities of its budget. And that budget doesn’t leave room for a costly court battle against the natural gas line, Aspacher said. “My personal feeling is, I would be very reluctant to take any legal action to stop the process,” he said. Last week, city council and administration had its first look at the complete budget figures for next year. The budget is already tight, and a court fight would be costly, Aspacher added. During the last council meeting, council member Daniel Gordon said the pipeline company currently does not have eminent domain powers because it has not yet proven the benefits it would bring to Ohio communities. “I’d personally like to see them not get eminent domain,” Leontis said. However, City Attorney Mike Marsh has warned that any battle against eminent domain would be a futile and expensive venture. The 36-inch Nexus natural gas…


County approves 3% raises in 2017 budget

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County’s new budget for 2017 calls for 3 percent raises for about 430 employees and $300,000 to help Bowling Green build two roundabouts at I-75 and Wooster Street. The appropriations for next year total $43 million – about $2 million more than in 2016. “It generally reflects the current healthy status of the county and our revenue sources,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said of the budget. The pay raises add up to another $698,000 from the general fund. The 3 percent increases were approved for employees in all commissioners’ departments, as well as those in the prosecutor’s, recorder’s, court security and public defender’s offices. A 3 percent increase will also be given to all remaining elected officials and general fund departments to distribute as they see fit. The funding to assist Bowling Green with the roundabouts was made after city officials asked the county for $1 million to help pay for the traffic circles. That request was later lowered to $750,000, Kalmar said, with the county ending up giving $300,000. “They felt that was a reasonable amount,” Kalmar said. The appropriations include $1 million in the permanent improvement fund, in an attempt to rebuild that fund. “It is the fund that helps us care for county facilities,” Kalmar said. The county also created a new fund to pay the cost of vacation and sick leave when employees retire, and to help cushion the effect of the 27 paycheck year that occurs every 12 years. Following are some of the bigger budget items for next year: $312,000 to replace and realign all the parking lot and exterior lighting at the East Gypsy Lane Complex. The LED lighting is expected to provide a significant savings on energy and maintenance costs. $219,664 to purchase six road patrol SUVs for the sheriff’s office. $323,700 for ongoing support of the information technology system for all county offices. $139,150 for the…


BG moves on roundabouts & pedestrian crossings

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Motorists and pedestrians will be getting some relief on East Wooster Street with plans moving ahead for two roundabouts and two pedestrian crossings. Bowling Green City Council voted unanimously Monday evening to work with ODOT on roundabouts at the I-75 intersections on Wooster Street and on two pedestrian beacons on East Wooster Street to help people cross the road near the Stroh Center and near McFall Center. Though some who spoke at council are still skeptical of roundabouts, the traffic devices can reduce fatalities by more than 90 percent, cut injuries by 76 percent, and reduce all crashes by 35 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Those safety factors helped convince council to approve the plans. While the roundabouts faced some concerns from local residents – the pedestrian crossings encountered no roadblocks. The crossings will have buttons for pedestrians to push, which will activate red lights. Motorists will be required to stop, explained Bowling Green Public Works Director Brian Craft. “They’ll no longer be running across five lanes,” Craft said about pedestrians trying to get across Wooster Street near the Stroh Center. They will no long be “hanging out in the middle of the street,” trying to make it to the other side. ODOT is investing $368,000 in the pedestrian crosswalks, with officials hoping to study the crossings in high traffic areas. The lights, called pedestrian hybrid beacons, will make it much safer for walkers, Craft said. ODOT is also sinking money into the roundabout project, committing $750,000 in safety funding, engineering and design. Sandy Wiechman, of Wood County Safe Communities, offered data to “ease some of the concerns and fears of roundabouts.” In 2013, Wooster Street between Mercer and Dunbridge roads saw 70 crashes, with 22 injuries. Based on the statistics from the Federal Highway Administration, the number of crashes could have been cut by 35 percent and the injuries suffered could have been cut…


No limping along for Ohio’s lame duck session

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Lame duck legislatures don’t exactly limp along as the name implies at the end of the year. Instead, some make a sprint to pass sweeping legislation as the final days of the year tick away. During the past few weeks, Ohio’s lame duck legislatures managed to cram through dozens of bills that may not have stood a chance earlier in the year. The bills placed tight restrictions on abortions, allowed concealed guns on college campuses, forbid municipalities from raising minimum wage, and threw out renewable energy mandates. Pretty weighty stuff to rush through without the customary review process. By time the lame ducks were done, dozens of bills were passed by the Ohio House and Senate during the final three voting days of the 131st General Assembly, ending with a marathon session that started early one afternoon and concluded the next day in the wee hour of 3 a.m. That doesn’t sit well with State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green. “It is extremely difficult to handle 40, 60, 80 amendments and bills in the matter of two weeks,” he said. “We had more decisions that shouldn’t have been done,” in this past lame duck session, Gardner said last week. “Typically, it’s the amendments,” that are the biggest problem. “That’s the challenge in lame duck – to sort out what has to be done, what should be done, and what shouldn’t be done.” One of the bills missing from the list was a proposal to ban lame duck sessions – the flurry of legislative work every two years when members of Ohio’s House of Representatives have either been re-elected, defeated or relinquished their seats. Only about eight state legislatures allow bills to be passed during the lame duck session. But to be fair, only eight states have legislatures that meet throughout the entire year. Some state’s regular sessions are quite limited, such as Florida which convenes on March…


BG seeks new sources of revenue to help balance city budget

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green will usher in the new year looking for some new ways to bring revenue into the city coffers. While income tax revenue is up, the city continues to take hits from interest revenue, intergovernmental funds, estate tax losses, and the end to its cable franchise income. Local government funds shrank from 18 percent of the general fund a decade ago, to 7 percent now. Interest revenue slipped from 6 to 3 percent of the general fund. “That is somewhat eye-opening,” said Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter, as she reviewed the city budget with council and department heads on Wednesday. “That makes us somewhat vulnerable” with 50 percent of the budget now coming from income tax revenue. So overall revenue continues to be flat, while costs continue to escalate. In fact, the budget lists revenue of $14,996,197 and appropriations of $15,623,253 – which means it has a deficit of $627,056. Tretter warned that if steps aren’t taken to cut costs or find new revenue sources, the problem will only get worse. “The revenue in the general fund has been flat for a number of years,” and additional revenue isn’t likely unless the city identifies other sources, she said. “We need a sustainable plan to bring our budget into alignment,” Tretter said. Specific ideas to raise revenue were not presented at the budget meeting on Wednesday, but both Tretter and Mayor Dick Edwards said revenue generation will be a priority item for discussion in the new year. “We need to get serious about having those discussions,” Council president Mike Aspacher said. City Finance Director Brian Bushong told council that the deficit may not be as dire as it sounds. Historically, the city has spent 95 percent of its budget, and the income is usually a bit higher than projected. “It’s not as bad as it seems,” Bushong said. Council member Bob McOmber recalled during good economic years when…


It’s beginning to look a lot like … time to shovel

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Mail carriers, dog walkers and kids trudging to schools aren’t the only ones who want sidewalks cleared of snow in Bowling Green. The city wants sidewalks cleared within 24 hours after snowstorms stop. And if homeowners don’t shovel their sidewalks, the city will do the work and send them the bill. This is how it works. If a citizen complains or if the code enforcement officer sees a snow-covered sidewalk, the city will send a contractor out to clear the walkway. The homeowner will then be sent a bill for about $65. If the bill isn’t paid, the charge will be placed on the property’s taxes. If the city has to return to the same property later in the winter, the owner will be charged the snow removal rate, plus receive a civil citation. The citation fines start at $50 and increase each time, with a maximum penalty of $150. The sidewalk regulations started out of a concern for children walking to school. “The focus was to keep kids safe walking to school, to keep them off the streets,” said Brian Craft, director of the city’s public works department. About six years ago, city officials added another step to the process after being accused by a resident vacationing in Florida of charging him improperly. So now, the city takes “before” photographs of the snowy sidewalks and “after” photos of the cleared walkways, Craft said. City officials would much rather landowners clear their own walks – but they also have an obligation to provide safe walking surfaces in the community. “We’re wanting to work with the residents as much as possible,” said Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett. The city has had the snow removal ordinance for years, but initially hoped that residents would just comply. That didn’t happen, Craft said. “People would call and say, ‘Why do you have this rule if you aren’t enforcing it?’” Craft recalled….


County park district sets $4.7 million budget for 2017

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   This past year, Wood County Park District built a staircase into an old stone quarry, constructed boardwalks in two nature preserves, repaired a park ravaged by an ice jam, and moved 110-ton one-room school. But there is more work to be done – more than $1 million in capital improvements next year. The money will be spent on items like new restrooms, trail surfaces, playground equipment and an archery range. On Tuesday, the park board approved the district’s 2017 operating budget totaling $4,733,909. Among the larger capital improvement projects in the budget are: $160,000 for new restrooms at William Henry Harrison Park. $72,000 for roof replacement of the Otsego Park Stone Hall. $46,500 for an archery range and parking at the Wood County Historical Center. $108,650 for surface treatment on the Slippery Elm Trail. $59,000 for parking lot construction at Baldwin Woods. $60,000 for field tiling at Carter Historic Farm. $171,000 for parking lot and driveway at Bradner Preserve. $30,000 for playground equipment at Cedar Creeks Park. $10,000 for trail construction at W.W. Knight Preserve. The biggest investment will be made in Bradner Preserve, totaling $338,000. The plans call for the asphalt parking lot and driveway, rules signs, boardwalk construction, site lighting, interpretive center furnishings, garage/picnic shelter conversion, greenhouse/porch renovation, large grill and trash cans. The equipment costs increased a bit in next year’s budget. In the adventure programming area, costs will be incurred for the new archery range supplies ($3,850), the river kayak and canoe program ($15,000) and rappelling supplies ($2,500). Increases are also seen in the salaries, with raises approved earlier this year by the park district board. The staff salaries totaled $1,175,083 in 2016, and will be bumped up to $1,297,994 for 2017. The budget also calls for the addition of part-time staff, including a seasonal adventure position, a part-time naturalist, and a part-time farm specialist. The total estimated revenue for 2017 is $7,128,324….


Demolition permit sought for former Pharm store

After years of sitting vacant, there is some action at the former Pharm store on North Main Street, in Bowling Green. The plan isn’t to renovate the site – but rather tear it down, according to Heather Sayler, planning director for the city of Bowling Green. The owner of the old Pharm site, at 1044 N. Main St., has requested a demolition permit from the city. Future plans for the site, just north of the Dollar Store, and south of Parkview Drive and Huntington Bank, have not been submitted to the city. The owner of the property, Isaac Property Holding Co., of Bryan, was not available to answer questions about plans for the site. The store has been vacant for about a decade. Prior to it being used as the Pharm, it was a FoodTown grocery store. According to Sayler, over the years businesses have expressed interest in the building, but nothing transpired. “They never seemed to pan out,” she said. “A lot of it probably has to do with the condition of the property.” The demolition permit is still waiting for the city’s approval.


BG helps citizens lacking housing, transportation

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green has used just over $700,000 in grant funding to help local residents make housing repairs, pay for housing for homeless, and help those most in need with transportation. The funds, from the Community Development Block Grant program, are used by the city to help low and moderate income citizens who lack adequate housing and transportation. “The value is remarkable,” said Tina Bradley, the city’s grants administrator. For example, earlier this month, the program helped install a furnace in a home where the old furnace broke down right before winter hit. “A family who would have been without heat, we were able to meet that need,” Bradley said. In the past year, the CDBG program, assisted by the Business Revolving Loan Fund, assisted low and moderate income families by using $701,640 to pay for: 17 housing repairs. 84 more adults (elderly and disabled) were issued B.G. Transit ID cards, providing them with access to half-priced fares. 129 people who were homeless were transitionally housed. 7 jobs were created/retained as a result of Business Revolving Loans. Fair Housing education and outreach. Bradley explained that the housing repairs include items that involve health and safety issues, for families of low and moderate incomes. The transit cards help elderly and people with disabilities to get to destinations such as grocery stores, medical appointments and social events. The transitional housing is provided by partnering with the Salvation Army. “They do most of the heavy lifting,” Bradley said, by working to arrange up to two weeks lodging at local hotels. During that period, the people are hooked up services such as Wood County Department of Job and Family Services to help with job and home searches. The transitional housing requests are often greater than the funds available, Bradley said. “We always exceed that number. There’s tremendous need,” Bradley said. “We plan to keep doing it.” The Business Revolving Loan Funds require…


Yemeni family fought to make it to U.S….now worried if they are safe here

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Mohammed Al-Dailami gave up his career and all his possessions to get his family out of war-torn Yemen. Now he worries that he has brought his wife and children to a country where they are not wanted. Al-Dailami, who created a language center and taught English in his homeland of Yemen, was one of 19 teachers selected from around the world to be part of the Teaching Excellence and Achievement program at BGSU in 2014. It was that visit to Bowling Green that convinced him that this would be a good place for his family. It also convinced BGSU that Al-Dailami would be a good fit for the English as a second language program here. So Al-Dailami was asked to teach and take classes here starting in the fall of 2015. It seemed like a perfect way to continue his education and to get his family out of Yemen, where bombings by nearby Saudi Arabia were making life very difficult. “The situation has gotten worse and worse,” Al-Dailami said. Saudi Arabia is bombing everything, “from humans and rocks, as they say in my country.” The American Embassy was shuttered, the airport in the capital city of Sanaa was destroyed and the seaport was closed. “They tried to destroy anything vital to the people.” There are no jobs, no electricity, no water and almost no gas. Al-Dailami had to wait three days each time he needed gas. “Life had stopped,” he said. “The middle class had become poor.” Despite peace talks, the bombings by Saudi Arabia forces continued. “We have a lot of oil in our country. They don’t want us to find it,” Al-Dailami said. “They are killing us.” But now that Al-Dailami, his wife (an Arabic language teacher in Yemen) and three daughters (ages 10, 6 and 3) are safely in the U.S., he worries about the hatred stirred by President-elect Donald Trump toward Muslims from…


Wood County land use plan to steer development

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County’s land use plans get more colorful as the county continues to try steering development toward the best areas for growth. “It may not happen overnight, but it’s coming,” said Wood County Planning Director Dave Steiner. And the county wants to see that growth going to areas with the roads, waterlines and sewer lines to handle it – while maintaining the agricultural and natural areas that are also important to the county. Last week, the county planning commission unveiled the draft of its latest land use plan. The plan takes into consideration the latest census information, demographics and development. “I didn’t want to work off the old one at all,” Steiner said during an open house on the plan held at the county library. The county had outgrown the last land use plan, which had been adopted in 2007. “There were a lot of changes that hadn’t even taken place yet,” like the CSX intermodal hub near North Baltimore. “I wanted something more substantial.” The plan also looks at “reinvestment areas,” where previous development has “fallen by the wayside” and may need a jumpstart with brownfield development, Steiner said. And the plan defends agricultural areas that are still vital to the county’s economy. “We’ve designated a chunk where we don’t want anything,” he said. “We want to protect agriculture.” The guiding principles of the land use plan are as follows: Support sustainable land use and development patterns, and identify and protect natural and environmental resources. Protect prime agricultural land and support agricultural production. Target economic development areas to support and attract employment generating uses. Identify sensitive natural areas for protection, possible areas for recreation in coordination with these natural areas, and historic or cultural sites to protect. Make efforts to promote redevelopment and reinvestment in areas with existing infrastructure and services and strategically manage the outward expansion of suburban development particularly in townships with the greatest…


BG doesn’t want mini cell towers popping up all over city

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green officials want to keep small cellular towers from cluttering up city properties. But Ohio is considering legislation that would allow companies like AT&T to erect mini cell towers on municipal buildings, water towers, even utility poles. Small cell towers are being erected to fill holes in cell companies’ coverage and ease network congestion. State legislators passed the cell tower provision as an amendment piggybacked on a completely unrelated bill on pet stores. The bill is now waiting for Gov. John Kasich’s signature. Both Bowling Green Mayor Dick Edwards and Utilities Director Brian O’Connell talked about the issue last week evening during city council meeting. The mayor had contacted State Senator Randy Gardner and State Rep. Theresa Gavarone, both R-Bowling Green, to voice his concerns about the amendment. Gardner voted “no” on the bill, and was the only Republican in the Senate to do so. Gavarone voted “yes” on the bill. The cell tower portion of the legislation, pushed primarily by AT&T, would give cellular companies the ability to place mini towers on any structures in municipal right-of-ways. “We would have very little review,” O’Connell said. “Our ability to deny is very restricted.” City Attorney Mike Marsh also expressed his concerns about the amendment. Cell companies could place towers on top of telephone poles, city buildings, water towers and other structures with little input by the city. “This would take our ability away” to control outside items placed on city property, he said. And it is unclear if the city may be responsible for maintenance and repair of the mini cell towers, the mayor said. Edwards said the bill was rushed through the lame duck legislative session. “It didn’t go through any legislative process.” The mayor said he and other municipal leaders in the state are noticing more and more legislation chipping away at the rights of cities and villages. “This is another case,” Edwards said….


Brown back in BG as new city prosecutor

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Hunter Brown made the decision early on to use his law degree to serve the public. “I’ve always liked the idea of working for the good guys,” said Brown, Bowling Green’s new city prosecutor. When Brown moved into his office at Bowling Green Municipal Court on Monday, there was something very familiar. It wasn’t just that he had worked as prosecutor in a college town before. It wasn’t just that he graduated from BGSU and interned at the local court during law school. It was all that, plus that he was born and raised in the community he was now working for as prosecutor. “I’m about as local as you can get,” Brown said. “This is the community I’m from. It gives me a chance to help out the community.” Brown, who now lives in Toledo, has taken the seat formerly held by Matt Reger, who was recently elected Wood County Common Pleas Court judge. Reger held the city prosecutor’s job for 20 years. “The hard part about leaving is we’re a family out there,” he said. But Reger added that he leaves knowing the office is in good hands. “He’s from Bowling Green. He knows the community. He knows the people,” Reger said of Brown. And he knows how to work in a college town, since he has spent the last three years as city prosecutor in Tiffin. But when he took over this week, Brown said he quickly realized some differences. “This job is bigger. The caseload is bigger,” he said. “It’s something I’m excited to tackle.” According to Reger, the municipal court sees up to 13,000 cases a year, with the city prosecutor’s office handling as many as 4,000 of those. The court’s jurisdiction covers most of Wood County except for Perrysburg and some villages. The types of cases heard in this court have a lot of similarities to those in Tiffin – another…