Government

New voting machines in Wood County should be in place for next election

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News When voters show up at the polls next May, they will likely be casting their ballots on new voting machines. Those new voting machines could cost up to $2.2 million – with the state picking up $1.3 million of the bill. That may sound like a lot, but it’s about half of the estimated cost of $4.2 million for the voting machines in 2017. “We were hoping it would come in lower,” and it did, said Terry Burton, assistant director of the Wood County Board of Elections. “We are continuing to try to figure out ways to get this number lower.” The voting machine package got the approval of the Wood County Commissioners on Thursday. The cost not picked up by the state will come out of the county’s general fund. The county needs an estimated 525 voting machines. They will replace the county’s 12-year old touchscreen systems. The previous ballot stations lasted 40 years, and their predecessors were the first voting systems in Wood County. “Our life expectancy is decreasing,” as technology increases, said Carol DeJong, director of the Wood County Board of Elections. The county may lease these new systems, which would cost an additional $139,000 a year and guarantee modifications as the technology changes, Burton and DeJong explained. “It’s when,” not if upgrades will be needed, DeJong said. Terry Burton and Carol DeJong, of the Wood County Board of Elections, make their pitch to the county commissioners. The goal is to have the new voting machines in place by May, so the county has two elections to work out any bugs before the presidential election year. The systems will be leased or purchased from Dominion Voting Systems, headquartered in Denver. The board of elections is continuing to look at voting precincts that can be combined into “voting centers.” In Bowling Green, for example, several precincts share voting locations at the Wood County District Public Library and St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. There are some voting locations in the more rural areas of southeastern Wood County where the buildings didn’t “pass muster”…


BG and Menard’s strike compromise on sign variances

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Bowling Green officials have been told the city needs to tidy up its “sign clutter.” Tuesday evening, the city took a step to do just that when Menard’s requested a sign that would far exceed the city’s standards. That meant the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals might have had to reject a variance request from Menard’s – which hadn’t yet purchased the 26 acres to build on along the 1200 block of South Main Street, south of Walmart and across Main Street from Home Depot. But before the zoning board ruled Wednesday evening, the company withdrew its request for the massive sign. The pylon sign would have been 15 feet taller than the allowed maximum height of 25 feet, and 110 square feet larger than the 90 square feet maximum. “You could see it from Cincinnati, I think,” said Judy Ennis, head of the zoning board of appeals. The withdrawal of the request saved the board from a tough decision, Ennis said. “They said they wanted to be a good neighbor,” she said Menard’s officials. But while Menard’s pulled its variance request for the large pylon sign, the company stuck with its request for two other sign variances. One was for a wall sign which would be 306 square feet larger than the 90 square feet maximum size allowed. The other was for a total of 12 signs (one pylon sign and 11 wall signs), which would exceed the maximum of three signs allowed for a business. The 12 signs would also exceed the allowable 270 total square footage in signage by 552 square feet. But because of the massive size of the store and the distance it will sit back from the road, the zoning board of appeals granted both of those variance requests. “This store is going to be bigger than most that they have,” Ennis said. And most of the signs will be directional. Menard’s officials told the board Wednesday evening that they want to be ready to open in the spring of 2020. Ennis said she was glad that…


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

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Bowling Green’s front door is not exactly creating a great first impression for those entering the city. Knowing this, the city and BGSU hired Development Strategies to examine the 1.8 miles of East Wooster from Interstate 75 to the downtown. The firm has spent six months interviewing officials and residents, examining housing data, looking at construction costs, studying the zoning code, and more. On Tuesday evening, Matt Wetli and Anne Stevenson from Development Strategies presented their findings to City Council’s Committee of the Whole. Changes along the East Wooster corridor have the potential to increase jobs, bring more visitors, improve the housing stock, attract more development to the city, and convince more people to live and shop right here in Bowling Green. But the front door needs a facelift. “It’s the way most people come to know Bowling Green,” Wetli said. “First impressions are really important. This corridor is so important.” One of the goals would be to meet the needs of the city residents and the university – an issue Wetli is accustomed to handling “We tend to work in a lot of university communities,” and realize that the health of the city and university are intertwined, he said. The planners divided the 1.8 miles into four sections, with some potential focuses for each – though not all will be affordable for developers right now: Midtown, which are the blocks closest to downtown. Ideally that area would be good for student and young professional apartment buildings, creative office space, street level retail, boutique hotels, and gas station reuse projects.Eds and Meds, which are the blocks next to the university and the Falcon Health Center. That area would work well for other health care services, senior housing, and townhouses.Walkable hospitality district, which includes the blocks with hotels and restaurants. That area would attract more developers and more visitors with stricter zoning building specifications, Wetli said.The interchange area, which will be improved with the proposed roundabouts, and will look better with “gateway” signage. The entire corridor can’t be transformed at once, so “we need…


State funding options for schools can be slippery issue

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News A glimmer of hope has gotten dimmer for one state funding option for Bowling Green City Schools. During a presentation last month, one of the state funding options for school facilities looked promising … until a task force member asked more questions. The Bowling Green district is at least a decade down on the list for funding from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. So when Steve Roka, senior planning manager with the OFCC, met with the district’s finance task force and presented the option of funding through the state’s Exceptional Needs Program, it sounded worth pursuing. However, when Roka answered follow-up questions through email from task force members, the chance for funding anytime soon looked more remote. Roka said during the meeting that ENP funding typically covers only the very worst buildings in the state – such as those with dangerous electric systems. The funding can only be used for new buildings, not renovations. David Conley, the district’s consultant through Rockmill Financial, referred to the ENP as a “beauty contest,” with the ugliest building in the state winning. Roka presented the ENP option as a way Bowling Green could accelerate possible state funding. And many felt that at least one building in the Bowling Green district might be in poor enough shape to be worthy of those funds. “It sounded like we could apply for and get funding in that program,” Conley said. “It sounded good to me, too.” But when task force members asked further questions about the Exceptional Needs Program, the chances of that funding seemed to disappear. One task force member asked about the pending applications, the deadline for submission, and the timeline for a project. Roka responded that there are currently no ENP applications pending review. Roka added that the OFCC is not seeking new applications for the ENP. “Because of the number of districts eligible for funding through our primary program – the Classroom Facilities Assistance Program – ENP applications are not being received by OFCC for the current planning cycle. No determination has been made as to…


BG thanks rugby team for putting city in national spotlight

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The BGSU rugby team fought its way to the top – triumphing over St. Joseph University over the weekend for the national championship and putting Bowling Green in the national spotlight. Mayor Dick Edwards noted the last time a Falcon athletic team won a national championship was in 1984 when the hockey team won after four overtimes. Edwards recognized Roger Mazzarella, director of the BGSU Rugby Club, for keeping the program alive. “What you’ve done with this club …” the mayor said during the City Council meeting on Monday. “It’s taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears.” The rugby club has had to scrape for funding and “fight for your space over there,” Edwards said, recognizing Mazzarella and his son, Tony, who coaches the team. Tony Mazzarella said the championship was the end to an “amazing season” for the team. “We didn’t have our best overall season this year,” Roger Mazzarella said. But the senior-laden team was determined. “The guys were so committed this year.” His dad commented on the St. Joseph team, saying “They weren’t very Jesuit on the field there yesterday.” Council President Mike Aspacher complimented the team’s success. “You certainly made Bowling Green proud,” he said. Also at the meeting, City Attorney Mike Marsh praised the city’s police and fire services. About six months ago, the furnace at his sister’s home blew up, creating a large fire. The firefighters performed heroically, and police stood with his sister in her front yard, in the rain, for five hours. On Sunday, his sister moved back into her home. “I think sometimes we take them for granted,” Marsh said of the accredited police and fire divisions. Also at Monday’s meeting, Edwards read a proclamation declaring December as “general aviation appreciation month.” “I have enormous respect for what you all do there,” for the city, county and BGSU, Edwards said to Wood County Regional Airport manager Mark Black. The airport has been in Bowling Green since the 1940s, helping with economic development and training young pilots at BGSU. Black voiced his appreciation…


Christians only can pray at BG National Day of Prayer

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


BG budget flat – so nothing flashy planned for 2019

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Ideally, budget forecasts should not look like abstract art. But despite a couple funds showing diverging lines, Bowling Green’s city budget is pretty solid – almost boring. And boring is good. “I think this is a really solid budget,” City Council President Mike Aspacher said last week at a city finance meeting. “There’s not a lot of glamorous ideas,” but it does maintain core services and plans ahead for future projects, he said. Mayor Dick Edwards agreed the 2019 budget wasn’t flashy, but could be described as a “continuation type budget.” City Council and department heads gathered last week for a presentation on next year’s budget by Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter. “The revenue for 2019 in the general fund is flat,” Tretter said. The end of some grant funding was balanced out by an increase seen from the new garbage/recycling fee, income tax revenue being up a bit, a workers compensation refund, and interest income which “continues to come in very well.” The proposed revenue for the city’s general fund in 2019 is $16.4 million. The projected expenses are greater, at $16.6 million. The general fund balance expected in 2019 is $3.1 million – lower than the city’s targeted fund balance of $4.1 million. But Tretter assured council members that the city will not need to make cuts in core services. “We will be able to continue maintaining the core services of the community,” she said. City officials also plan to provide funding for some expenses suggested in the new Community Action Plan, for items like a zoning ordinance review, and microgrants to the community. And the city continues to put aside some money in each annual budget for 2021, when the city will have 27 rather than 26 pay periods. Tretter said the city is not creating any new employee positions for next year. However, she mentioned that the city expects several retirements next year – especially in the police and fire divisions. The city hired several fire and police employees in the 1990s after the passage of a couple safety…


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

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The City of Bowling Green may consider enacting a plastic shopping bag fee before the state takes away the city’s right to adopt such a fee. Joe DeMare, co-chair of the Wood County Green Party, approached City Council Monday evening, urging the body to act quickly to impose a fee on items such as styrofoam containers and plastic bags. The Ohio House recently passed a bill, that is now under consideration in the Senate, that would prohibit municipalities from imposing a fee on such items, DeMare said. “Around the country, small fees of a few cents per bag have been effective both at raising revenue and reducing the amount of plastic pollution,” DeMare said. “Studies have shown that being charged as little as a nickel per bag is enough to remind people to bring their own, reusable bags to the store.” But the state legislation could prevent that from happening, he said. So DeMare suggested that Bowling Green council members enact a fee before the state acts to prohibit them. According to DeMare, this bill is the latest in a series of anti-environmental bills being passed by the state legislature. Among them is an “unreasonable setback law” which outlawed many wind farms in Ohio, he said. The setback law would not have allowed Bowling Green’s wind turbines, which are currently producing electricity at half the market rate, DeMare said. “Bowling Green showed great foresight when it installed those turbines,” he said. “We are asking the council to show foresight again.” DeMare suggested the city establish a plastic bag fee quickly, before the state law goes into effect. “We might be able to argue in court that it could be grandfathered in, since it was in place before the law went into effect, just as we have not been forced to take down our turbines,” he said. “At the very least, it could give our community standing in a court challenge against a law which violates the principle of home rule, hurts the environment and blocks us from a potential source of revenue,”…


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

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Since the lame duck session of state government usually brings some hasty legislative decisions, State Senator Randy Gardner spent Saturday morning conferring with his constituents. Always a history teacher at heart, Gardner tried to put the present in perspective by explaining past decisions. For two hours, he answered questions at his town hall meeting, then spent another hour talking with citizens individually. Though they didn’t always like his answers, the citizens at Saturday’s town hall meeting appreciated the willingness of the senator to hold a public gathering. “The next three weeks will be a really challenging time with big decisions,” said Gardner, a Republican from Bowling Green who has rotated between the state representative and senate seats since 1984. Adding to the unpredictability of the lame duck session will be the number of amendments tacked onto bills at the last moment. “Amendments will change the outcome of bills,” Gardner said. And it’s not unusual for amendments to present competing interests in the same bill, he added. Gardner has two of his own issues pending in the lame duck session. The Sierah Joughin bill creates a statewide database for law enforcement listing convicted violent offenders living in their jurisdictions. The bill is in response to the death of a 20-year-old woman from Fulton County, who was killed by a convicted violent felon. “I’m pretty optimistic,” this will pass, Gardner said. This bill has its critics, he said. Some feel the database could impede the rehabilitation of convicts. To better understand that criticism, Gardner said he met with Eddie Slade, who spent 31 years in prison for murder and burglary. “I have extra respect now for people who struggle to turn the lives around,” he said. But Sierah’s Law is in the best interest of communities, he said. Gardner’s other pending bill would “finally” see movement to get funding for the preservation of a healthy Lake Erie and help the agricultural community at the same time. Following are some of the other topics Gardner was asked…


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

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


County commissioners debate budget requests for 2019

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As the Wood County Commissioners Office works on its budget for 2019, some of the funding requests were debated on Tuesday. Should the county pay an extra $67,800 to have the airport runway striped? Is $43,000 an acceptable amount to pay for a mower/snowblower? And what about that $46,980 for high-speed garage doors for the county parking garage? Commissioners Doris Herringshaw, Ted Bowlus and Craig LaHote were presented with the funding requests that weren’t slam dunks in the 2019 budget. Much of the budget is routine each year – wages and operational costs. So that leaves the “extras” for the commissioners to decide. For example, the Wood County Regional Airport, which normally gets $26,345 a year from the county, requested an additional $67,800 for runway striping. “It’s been a considerable amount of time since the commissioners gave them additional money,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. The runways recently received a low rating by the Ohio Department of Transportation, but was then turned down for a grant from ODOT for the striping, Kalmar said. The airport has also requested funding from the FAA, though no word has been heard on that request, Kalmar said. LaHote said the poor rating of the airport runways could have an economic impact on the airport, if fewer planes use the facility. Bowlus suggested that the county wait to see if the FAA may fund the work. Kalmar was asked to get more information before a decision was made. The commissioners agreed to fund the request for an industrial mower with a snowblower costing $43,149 for the East Gypsy Lane Road complex – though it was not without discussion. “I’m always aghast at the price” of such equipment, Kalmar said. “I grit my teeth. But they do last a long time.” In defense of the price tag, he said the mower/blower would be used year-round, and would have a cab with heat and air conditioning. That description led to the commissioners reminiscing about the days of hats and sunscreen. LaHote reasoned that the equipment is needed. “It’s…


Hot news – BG gas aggregation program locks in low prices

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


Tax revenue promised from Rover pipeline falls short

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


Revolving loan fund helps local businesses in a pinch

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


Mike Aspacher announces plans to run for mayor of BG

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