Government

BG moves ahead on roundabouts and City Park building

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green rounded out the year Thursday by approving steps for the city’s first roundabouts and a new building in City Park. During its final meeting of the year, City Council voted unanimously to issue a total of nearly $10 million in bonds to finance both projects. For the roundabouts, $6.2 million in bonds will be used to improve the Interstate 75 and East Wooster Street area by constructing rotary intersections. “This is a great piece of legislation to end the year on,” said council member Bruce Jeffers. The city has been working on the East Wooster improvements for years, he noted. Jeffers told Mayor Dick Edwards that he recently visited the community of Carmel, Indiana, which the mayor frequently points out as a community that knows how to use roundabouts. Carmel has 100 of the circular intersections. “The roundabouts are going to be great” in Bowling Green, Jeffers said. The project will add two roundabouts designed for semi-trucks at both I-75 interchanges on East Wooster Street. The bridge driving surface will be replaced, with a bike-pedestrian trail being added from Alumni Drive to Dunbridge Road along north side of Wooster Street. The plan calls for a landscaped gateway to be created to Bowling Green and Bowling Green State University. The goal is made the entrance to the city more attractive, create a smoother traffic flow and reduce accidents at the interchanges. Though utility work will begin in 2018, the bulk of the actual interchange and roadway work will take place in 2019. The bonds will help pay for the road widening, paving, resurfacing, grading, draining, constructing curbs, sidewalks and related drainage…


Construction in Wood County is building its way back

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   It’s been a decade since the burst of the nation’s housing bubble. During that time, the construction industry has been slowly building its way back. That growth is being seen in this year’s numbers at the Wood County Building Inspection Office. Mike Rudey, chief building official in the office, reported to the Wood County Commissioners last week that his office is struggling to keep up with the construction. “We’re busy. We are very busy,” Rudey said. Last year, the county saw 240 new single-family homes constructed. This year, the number inched up to 250, he said. “Everything is definitely peaking over last year,” Rudey told the commissioners. The Wood County Building Inspection Office covers the largest geographic jurisdiction of all building departments in Ohio, covering Wood, Hancock and Henry counties for all commercial construction, as well as Wood County for residential construction. The building inspection office is charged with protecting the health, safety and welfare of citizens by ensuring all construction meets requirements set forth by specific building codes. This includes residential and commercial buildings – covering new construction, additions to existing structures and remodeling. In his newsletter, Rudey reported that a variety of large commercial projects were submitted for building inspection review this year. The cities of Findlay and Perrysburg took the lead again this year in permit revenue activity. “The residential housing market has also been positive this year with single family homes exceeding last year’s numbers,” Rudey stated in his newsletter. “I am anticipating the new construction market for 2018 will be very positive for our area based on this year’s activity.” The numbers in the last couple years…


Wood County to give 3% raises, update 911 system

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Approximately 1,000 county employees will see 3 percent pay raises next year, an upgrade will begin on the county’s 911 system, and plans will proceed for an expansion of the county jail booking area. Those expenses are part of the $44.6 million in appropriations for 2018 approved Thursday by the Wood County Commissioners. The county appropriations for 2017 totaled $43 million. “In recognition of our most valuable asset – the people who work daily to provide service to Wood County citizens – we agreed to provide a wage increase of 3 percent to employees of all commissioners’ departments,” a letter signed by the three commissioners stated. In addition to the commissioners’ departments, the 3 percent raises will also be extended to employees in the prosecutor’s, recorder’s, court security and public defender’s offices. Most other county offices will be given the equivalent funding to be distributed as the elected officials see fit. The county commissioners have spent the last couple months listening to funding pitches from county offices. “It certainly takes all of us working together to make this happen,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said. “I now appreciate how much work” the county budget entails, Commissioner Ted Bowlus said. Commissioner Craig LaHote also voted in favor of the appropriations, but was unable to talk because of laryngitis. Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar praised the reasonable requests made by county officials. “No one asked for anything unusual,” he said. Some of the bigger items on the appropriation list include $800,000 for architectural and engineering work that is needed to renovate the booking area at the Wood County Justice Center. The other major construction project that…


County to address sexual harassment in workplace

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   In response to the growing outcry against sexual harassment in the workplace, Wood County government will soon be hosting a workshop for its employees. The webinar is being offered by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, and will cover the “Top Ten Dos and Don’ts for Sexual Harassment.” The program is being created by attorney Marc Fishel, who regularly represents public employers throughout Ohio on employment related issues. “Their emphasis is going to be – how do we keep public offices from getting into trouble,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. “Are there things you have been doing over time that might get you in trouble?” Though the CCAO promotion material for the webinar said the presentation will review “the most crucial areas that an employer should focus on in order to avoid claims of sexual harassment,” Kalmar said the emphasis will be on avoiding not just the claims, but the actual sexual harassment. “It will focus on how to make sure the culture of your workplace is respectful to all,” he said. The webinar will also discuss how to investigate alleged misconduct, and how to discipline employees if they engage in improper conduct. In a recent article on sexual harassment, Fishel defined the term and gave examples. “Sexual harassment is severe or pervasive conduct that can take many forms, including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and inappropriate sexual comments or references. Often, sexual harassment is physical, verbal or visual and involves an express or implied expectation that harassing actions must be tolerated in order to get or keep a job. Such an expectation also may be considered “sexual harassment” when used to make…


After 10 years, Portage River cleanup to start soon

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The wait is nearly over for citizens who petitioned 10 years ago for a big portion of the Portage River to be cleaned out. On Thursday, the petitioners got two bits of good news. First, the county commissioners from Wood, Hancock and Seneca counties accepted a bid for the project. And second, that bid was $284,273 lower than expected. So after a decade of waiting, the Portage River project will likely get started in January. Four bids were received, with the lowest bid of $374,641 from H&H Land Clearing of Middlefield, Ohio, being accepted by the county commissioners. The highest bid came in at $547,782. Hancock County Commissioner Brian Robertson vouched for the H&H company, which has done work on the Blanchard River. The firm did a “fantastic job” and was “on task and on time,” Robertson said. The Portage River project is the biggest river cleanup undertaken in Wood County in terms of area, according to Wood County Engineer John Musteric. It follows 46 miles of the south and east branches of the Portage River, covering 111 square miles of watershed in Wood, Hancock and Seneca counties, affecting about 8,200 parcels of land. While the size of the project is great, the scope is not. There will be no digging, no widening, no channelizing. The river branches will be allowed to keep their meandering paths. The work will only remove logjams and trees leaning into the river. The cleanup of the Portage River branches is intended to reduce future flooding for properties along that stretch. Duane Abke, with the county engineer’s office, said the cleanup project may start as early as…


State legislators listen to some local concerns

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   State Sen. Randy Gardner and State Rep. Theresa Gavarone on Thursday talked about legislation aimed at school funding, violent criminals, drug trafficking, communication disabilities, and abandoned wells. All are efforts to make life better for Ohioans. But some local citizens wanted to know when the next cut in state funding was going to hit. Why was the state taking a share of municipal business income taxes? When can local governments expect state funding to be decreased again? And why are legislators focusing on issues that affect a small number of individuals when they ought to be tackling the big issues of education, health care, jobs and the economy? Gardner and Gavarone met with members of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce on Thursday to present a legislative update. “Some of our best suggestions come from meetings like this,” Gardner said. First, the state legislators talked about some of their successes this past year: School funding on a smaller scale Senate Bill 8 allows school districts to get up to $1 million in state funding for items such as technology expenses, roof repairs, school safety or adding a classroom. The legislature is designed to help districts – like Bowling Green – which are too wealthy to get much state help for major building projects, Gardner said. Districts are not likely to participate in the school facilities funding program if the state share is 20 percent or less. “For those kind of districts, they’re not likely to accept the strings attached,” Gardner said. So this bill allows districts to access state funds for smaller expenses. “It is now law and available to school districts,”…


BG doesn’t want state to pocket local income tax

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   After losing chunks of state funding over the last decade, Bowling Green officials don’t plan to sit still as more local funding is siphoned away. Municipalities across Ohio are suing the state over an income tax collection change that city officials call unconstitutional. The change would allow businesses to file income tax returns with the state rather than with the city where the businesses are located. The Ohio Department of Taxation would process the returns and distribute the money back to local governments – but only after pocketing a 1 percent fee for the service. “We can do it in-house for under that amount,” Bowling Green Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said. The change is set to take effect Jan. 1. State officials have said the change will save businesses time and money by streamlining the process of collecting more than $600 million in municipal income taxes paid by Ohio businesses each year. The change is also being promoted as a way to make the state more friendly to businesses that have locations in more than one Ohio community. But municipal officials have said giving up the processing of tax returns will result in a loss of accountability and personalized customer service for businesses. Fawcett added that the change will create confusion for businesses, and could risk the positions of four employees in the city income tax department. “We have a staff that does this. What would we do with those people,” Fawcett said. Bowling Green officials considered joining other municipalities in the lawsuit against the state, and were mistakenly added to the list of complainants. However, Fawcett explained that the potential…


McOmber served as trusted guide on BG City Council

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As the lone Republican on Bowling Green City Council, Bob McOmber could have easily been a pariah, with his comments getting the cold shoulder from his Democratic counterparts. But those attending City Council meetings quickly learn that when McOmber speaks, the heads on council turn his way. Whether talking about budgets or garbage bins, his words are measured and methodical. As he retires at the end of the month after 12 years on City Council, he leaves a legacy steeped in compromise, with no tolerance for political grandstanding or sitting on the fence. When the city faced a $625,000 deficit in its 2017 general fund, McOmber led the way out of the budget hole. Council had several options to plug the hole, including the trash collection fee which was ultimately selected as the best option. “I feel good about how that was handled,” McOmber said. “I purposely wanted it to be a group decision – a consensus among all of us. It could have been a very acrimonious decision. But it was a solid decision – rationally based.” When the city was working to pass two anti-discrimination ordinances in the 2010 election, the organizers turned to an unlikely ally. The ordinances faced tough opposition, so the week before the election, McOmber was asked to record a robo-call in support of the ordinances. Surprised by the request, he asked – why him? “Nobody thinks you’re a left wing nutcase,” McOmber was told. “I agreed to do it.” Both ordinances passed narrowly. And though they were highly controversial at the time, “those ordinances have worked out fine,” he said. As an attorney, McOmber had…


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

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green City Council set the stage Monday for issuing nearly $10 million in bonds – to help build roundabouts on the east side of the city and to build a new park building on the west side of the city. Council declared emergencies on both bond issues, to move them along a little faster. Both will have final readings and a vote at the next meeting on Dec. 28 at 5 p.m. Both projects have been in the pipeline for years. The $6.2 million in bonds is intended to improve the Interstate 75 and East Wooster Street area by constructing roundabouts. The project will add two roundabouts designed for semi-trucks at both I-75 interchanges on East Wooster Street. The bridge driving surface will be replaced, with a bike-pedestrian trail being added from Alumni Drive to Dunbridge Road along north side of Wooster Street. The plan calls for a landscaped gateway to be created to Bowling Green and Bowling Green State University. The goal is made the entrance to the city more attractive, create a smoother traffic flow and reduce accidents at the interchanges. Though utility work will begin in 2018, the bulk of the actual interchange and roadway work will take place in 2019. The bonds will help pay for the road widening, paving, resurfacing, grading, draining, constructing curbs, sidewalks and related drainage improvements, installing traffic signals and lighting, installing waterlines and sanitary sewers, and constructing a sanitary sewer pump station. The roundabout project is being worked on with the Ohio Department of Transportation. The current estimated cost for the entire project is more than $8.8 million. The city and utility…


Landlord and renter responsibilities examined in BG

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   In a college town with nearly 7,000 rental units, there’s an awful lot of headbutting between landlords and renters and homeowning neighbors. When problems occur with home maintenance, is it the landlords’ responsibility to prove that their housing meets safety standards? Or is the onus on the renters to notify authorities if their housing is substandard? For years, Bowling Green officials have debated this question. Other Ohio college towns – like Kent, Oxford and Athens – have mandatory rental inspection and licensing programs. Bowling Green has preferred to make sure there are services in place that respond to rental problems as they arise. Following are various viewpoints in Bowling Green, including those from Mayor Dick Edwards, BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey and landlord Bob Maurer. Those who respond to complaints – the health district, fire division, building inspection and planning office – also share their perspectives. People closest to the students, like BGSU legal services and some East Side residents, also weigh in. And officials from rental inspection programs in Athens, Kent and Oxford talk about their experiences. EYE-OPENING TOUR Early this fall, some BGSU students asked their professor Neocles Leontis to help them get out of a lease at a rental property they felt was unsafe. “I could not believe it was allowed to be rented,” said Rose Hess, who toured the house. Photos taken during the tour show a ceiling fan dangling from the ceiling, a filthy washing machine that wasn’t working, a dryer that was not vented, a stove that didn’t work, fuse boxes without covers, and bricks holding open windows. “These properties are unrentable, yet they are being…


EPA plan to deal with contaminants left at BG plant

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The Ohio EPA has come up with a plan for dealing with contamination of an industrial site in Bowling Green. Later this month, the public will be asked to weigh in on the proposal. A plan to address contamination at the Cooper Standard Automotive property in Bowling Green will be the subject of an Ohio EPA public meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 6 p.m., at Ohio EPA’s Northwest District Office, 347 N. Dunbridge Road, Bowling Green. An EPA investigation of the site at 1175 N. Main St. showed that “the contamination poses unacceptable current and future human health and environmental risks based on direct contact with contaminated surface and subsurface soil, inhalation of contaminated soil and/or ground water via vapor intrusion, and direct contact with contaminated ground water.” The contamination is believed to have occurred before Cooper Standard Automotive or Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. operated the site. However, the current owner is responsible for cleaning up the contaminant even if it did not create the problem, according to Dina Pierce, of the Ohio EPA. Cooper Standard Automotive purchased the 25-acre site from Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. in 2004. The property had been used by Cooper Tire to manufacture rubber hoses and seals for the automotive industry. Other businesses used the site for manufacturing before Cooper Tire began operations. Trichloroethylene (TCE), a common industrial solvent, is the primary contaminant being addressed by the plan. According to the EPA report, neither Cooper Tire nor Cooper Standard Automotive used TCE at the site. The Cooper Standard Automotive plant currently employs about 370 people. Those employees are not at risk from the contamination,…


BG digs out from deficit to a balanced budget in 2018

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green’s budget for 2018 doesn’t dazzle – but it also doesn’t drag down the city with a projected deficit. “It’s a budget that gets our head above the water,” said Municipal Administrator Lori Tretter as she introduced the 2018 budget to City Council and city employees Wednesday evening. “And that’s OK.” Last year at this time, Tretter broke the news to council members that the city was entering 2017 with a projected deficit of $625,000. So a balanced budget for 2018 was pretty dazzling to council. “When we stood here a year ago – that’s not where we were,” Tretter said. Council member Bob McOmber, who has served as finance committee chairman for the past eight years, said he would much rather see a “mundane” balanced budget. “It certainly looks better than the deficit we were facing last year.” The city budget, McOmber said, consists of many moving parts. “There are a lot of inter-related parts in the budget.” So getting it to balance is a feat. One reason for the additional projected revenue is a 3 percent increase expected in city income tax revenue. Modest increases are also projected in court activity and investment interest. The other big revenue boost is due to the decision made by City Council last year to start charging a fee for trash and recycling pickup. Council president Mike Aspacher said council went through serious deliberation of several options before enacting a trash fee. “That was a really difficult decision for all of us,” Aspacher said. But the fact that the budget for next year is in the black justifies the decision. “This budget proves…


Rover Pipeline ‘goodwill’ checks follow bad spill record

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Officials from Rover Pipeline – the company with 19 Ohio EPA violations so far and $2.3 million in fines and damages – presented some checks Tuesday to help first responders. The $10,000 checks, “offered in goodwill by the company,” are going to the emergency management agencies in each of the 18 counties in Ohio being traversed by Rover pipeline. Wood County is one of those on the route. The funds are to be used to purchase new equipment or offer additional training . “We hope these funds will go toward emergency first responders,” Bill Barth, senior specialist for emergency response with Rover, said as he passed on the giant checks. “We look forward to working with you.” Wood County EMA Director Brad Gilbert is grateful for the funds, but he would just as soon not have to work on a pipeline incident. He may use the check from Rover to help put a state MARCs radio system in the sheriff’s dispatch center. The $10,000 donation will pay just a portion of the total $40,000 expense. “The pressure’s on them to do the right thing during construction and operations,” Gilbert said of the pipeline. “Hopefully we don’t need it for any issues with them.” However, Rover’s accident record isn’t exactly clean. The check presentations come on the heels of Rover Pipeline being cited for a 19th environmental violation. Most recently, the Ohio EPA cited Rover for spilling contaminants into the Mohican River in Ashland County. When questioned about the level of trust counties should have in Rover, the company’s communications specialist said the 19 citations are based on Ohio EPA’s definition of a…


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

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green officials learned Monday evening how its solar field could be turned into a “solar sanctuary” for butterflies, bees and birds. The board of public utilities heard how the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service hopes to develop a wildlife and pollinator habitat around the 165-acre solar field near the corner of Newton and Carter roads, northeast of Bowling Green. “You are producing good clean energy, and you’re helping wildlife at the same time,” said Marci Lininger, of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service “This is a really cool project for us,” Lininger said. One goal of the wildlife habitat area is to bring back pollinators to the region. “Pollinators are in decline right now,” she said. Adult Monarch butterflies have seen a 50 percent drop in the last 10 years due to disappearing milkweed plants  – which are the only plants used by Monarchs for laying eggs. Some wildflower habitats target specific species. The one at Bowling Green’s solar site will be aimed at attracting several species of bees, birds and butterflies. The plan calls for three seasons of blooming plants. The 12-acre wild habitat area is intended to benefit various pollinators, crops, soil quality, water quality, foraging birds and Monarchs. Ohio is a priority location for Monarchs on their annual trek to Mexico. “We have a huge responsibility here in Ohio,” Lininger said. This region also has many crops that are suffering from inadequate pollination, she said. Crops relying on pollination include tomatoes, blueberries, melons, soybeans, peppers, peaches, cucumbers, squash and apples. Honey bees account for more than $15 billion in agricultural production of fruits, vegetables and nuts, Lininger said….


Wood County likes its status on low sales tax island

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County is on an island of low sales tax in this region – and officials have no intention of moving from its haven for penny-pinching shoppers. The county is surrounded by neighboring counties with higher sales tax rates, except for Hancock County, which is the same as Wood County. Some officials suspect that at least some shoppers are lured into Wood County because of the lower sales tax. “It’s probably not the first thought in their mind,” but on bigger purchases it could encourage shoppers to cross county lines, Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. The sales tax on a $1,000 refrigerator in Lucas County would be $72.5, compared to $67.5 in Wood County. “We’re like an island,” Kalmar said. “Everybody around us has a higher sales tax,” except Hancock County. In the recent general election, Hancock County voters had the chance to raise their sales tax there by 0.25 percent. The increase was soundly rejected, so that county will remain at the same low rate as Wood. Meanwhile most surrounding counties are 7.25 percent, including Lucas, Fulton, Henry, Sandusky and Seneca. The state takes the first 5.75 percent in sales tax revenue, then counties can raise sales tax up to an additional 2 percent. Counties and transit authorities are the only entities that can collect sales tax. The highest sales tax in the state is in Cuyahoga County at 8 percent, and Franklin County at 7.5 percent. Sales tax is a pretty solid revenue for Wood County. Last year, shoppers paid close to $21 million in sales tax. The receipts are even better this year, coming in at $1.8 million…