Wood County

Nearly 800 acres set to be shovel-ready for business

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County took another step this week to get nearly 800 acres shovel-ready for prospective developers. The Wood County Planning Commission voted to recommend rezoning of 793 acres in Troy Township, from A-1 agricultural to B-PUD planned business district. The acreage is located off the west side of Pemberville Road, just south of U.S. 20, near the Home Depot distribution center and the East Ohio Gas Co. site. The zoning change was requested by the gas company, also called Dominion Energy. The recommendation will go to the Troy Township Trustees for a final decision. With the economy picking up, East Ohio Gas has gotten some interest in the property, according to Dave Saneholtz, of Poggemeyer Design Group. “They are getting a lot of calls from perspective users,” Saneholtz told the county planning commission. And the companies calling are interested in large acreage areas, he said. “We don’t know exactly who’s coming,” Saneholtz said. But that specific information is not needed for the zoning change, which is intended to consider the best overall use of the property. Once a company makes a proposal for the site, then it will be required to present detailed plans to the township. Most of the surrounding zoning in that area is for industrial uses, with some agricultural land. Wood County’s land use plan calls for the area to be the site of growth. “We assumed it’s going to be growing,” said Dave Steiner, head of the county planning commission. “It’s an area we’d like to see economic development.” The acreage already has utilities to the site, and it has been declared by the state to be a “Job Ready Site.” “That’s a pretty important distinction there,” Steiner said. The zoning change now would be one less hoop for developers to jump through if they select the property. “This would get the property ready for development,” Steiner said. “So it will be shovel-ready. They won’t have to wait for the property to be rezoned.” The planned business district zoning classification allows some flexibility, but it will require the owners to meet buffer and setback regulations set by Troy Township.

Kling grows into job as county historical center director

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Kelli Kling wasn’t a born history buff – but she has definitely grown into one. Love of history was an acquired taste for Kling, who is the new director of the Wood County Historical Center. “I did not appreciate it when I was younger,” she said of history. But her 15 years as the assistant to the director and as marketing and events coordinator at the museum have turned her into a history geek. “I have learned so much working here,” Kling said. “Every day I learn something new.” It may have been the museum – which was formerly the county’s poorhouse – that lured her love of history. “There is really something magical being so connected to the community and understanding the history, and how it is connected to today.” As director, Kling is able to look back to the days of historian Lyle Fletcher, who made it his mission to preserve the old county infirmary for future generations. “I feel like from the very beginning people in the county saw the value of this place,” she said. Next year, the Wood County Historical Center will revisit the original purpose of the site – long before it was turned into a museum. The center will focus on all the county poorhouses in Ohio, with a photo gallery shot by photographer Jeff Hall showing the current status of all the sites. Wood County’s preserved poorhouse is quite a rarity, Kling said. “Some of them are empty fields or modern buildings,” she said of other counties’ former sites. “I’m very excited about the poorfarm exhibit because it delves into the history of this place,” she said. Then in 2020, the historical center will help celebrate Wood County’s bicentennial. “We do have a lofty plan in place for our exhibits and programs,” Kling said. The historical center is well respected for its exhibits, including the current World War I focus. “I do believe the museum is already a leader in the history field,” she said. “We want to continue on that path so that we are seen as a leader, not only in the county, but the region and the state.” The historical center also recently made strides to become more accessible to people with disabilities. The addition of an elevator has allowed senior citizens and others to once again enjoy the museum. “We have many people who haven’t visited for a long time, who have been able to come back,” Kling said. “They feel welcome.” But as with any historical site, the maintenance is demanding. The top need right now is fixing water damage in the “Lunatic Asylum” on the grounds. “We can’t afford to lose it,” Kling said. “All of the buildings are important.” One of the strengths of the museum is its variety of events, she said. There are demonstration days, when families can learn about blacksmithing, caning, farming and other skills. There are monthly “teas,” that are frequently sold out. “I’m proud that we can continue offering those events,” she said. The larger events include the Folklore and Fun Fest, the Holiday Gala, and the Living History Day that tells the stories of everyday people from Wood County’s past. “It’s all the people who had an impact on Wood County…

County worried about taxpayer fatigue impact on levy

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Concern about taxpayer fatigue has led to a request that the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services Board reconsider its proposed levy. The Wood County Commissioners have asked the board to consider other options for its November ballot issue. “We just want to make sure that what they put on the ballot, people will be in favor of,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said on Wednesday. “Our concern is – what if it doesn’t pass?” The ADAMHS board had asked that a 1.3-mill replacement levy be place on the ballot. In order for the issue to appear before the voters, the county commissioners have to certify the need for the levy millage. Last month, Tom Clemons, the executive director of the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, made his pitch to the county commissioners for the agency’s levy request. At that point, Herringshaw said that the commissioners had to discuss the levy request. “We want to make sure it is the right fit for Wood County and for the ADAMHS board,” Herringshaw said. The current 1-mill levy generates about $2.9 million. The levy replacement plus addition of 0.3 mills would bring in an additional $1.3 million. According to a letter from Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar to Clemons, the commissioners aren’t rejecting the request for the 1.3-mill levy. However, they would like the ADAMHS Board to consider other options. Those options, according to the letter, plus the original request are: 1.3-mill replacement levy for 10 years, which would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 approximately $45.50 a year. 1-mill replacement levy for 10 years, which would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $35 a year. Replacement levy at an amount between 1 mill and 1.3 mills for 10 years. Two separate levies, with one being a 1-mill replacement levy for 10 years, plus a new levy of 0.3 mills for five years. That lower levy would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $10.50 annually. If the opiate crisis is still creating a big demand for services after five years, the ADAMHS Board can put that small levy back on the ballot, the letter stated. Clemons said the additional funding is needed to keep up with growing needs for services. Some of the biggest issues include dealing with the opiate epidemic, providing more mental health housing, and improving crisis intervention services. At the same time as seeing rising costs for services, ADAMHS is also seeing a drop in help from the state and federal government. A decade ago, state and federal money made up 60 percent of the ADAMHS budget. Now the local levy dollars have to bear the burden of 75 percent of the budget. “We have made prudent reductions in our budgets,” he said. “We are conscientious about using taxpayer dollars.” The commissioners and Clemons will meet later this month to discuss the levy options.

New dental site won’t turn away uninsured patients

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   By the end of this year, people without dental insurance will have a place to turn for help in Wood County. “To be able to finally offer services is huge for us,” Wood County Health Commissioner Ben Batey said as he prepared for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new dental services expansion to Wood County Health Department’s Community Health Center. The dental clinic will have five exam chairs, offering services such as X-rays, minor surgeries and preventative care. Community health assessments have repeatedly shown unmet dental needs as a top health problem for local residents. The health department was able to secure nearly $900,000 from the federal government to cover the construction costs for the facility that extends off the east end of the health department at 1840 E. Gypsy Lane Road, Bowling Green. More than a decade ago, local officials who cared about public health and about children met at the county health department to discuss the lack of dental care for local children. At that point there was one dentist in the county who freely accepted Medicaid patients – Dr. Jack Whittaker. The problem wasn’t an easy fix with a clear culprit. Dentists are reimbursed at a lower rate by Medicaid than through private insurance. And the Medicaid patients often have significant dental needs because they have delayed treatment due to the expense. They often wait till the pain is unbearable, and the cost is escalated. Since then, the county offered a Band-Aid solution that has been a lifesaver to some residents. Once a month, the Smile Express parked its RV-size mobile dental unit outside the Wood County Health District to treat patients who otherwise would go without care. Though it made a difference in many lives, it was just scratching the surface of the unmet dental needs in the county. Every time the health district conducted an assessment of the county, the lack of dental services for low income residents ranked high on the list of needs. Wood County was not alone. In 2015, dental care was the top unmet health care need for nearly 157,400 children of all family incomes across the state, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Almost 486,000 children in the state lacked dental insurance, and nearly 340,000 had never been to a dentist. In Wood County that same year, 21 percent of children had not had a dental appointment in the past year, while more than 9 percent had never been to the dentist. Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children 6 to 11 years old, affecting about a quarter of all kids, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It worsens as they age, affecting almost 60 percent of those aged 12 to 19 years. The Ohio Department of Health cites that more than half of Ohio children have experienced tooth decay by the time they are in third grade. And poor dental care doesn’t stop at the gums, Batey explained. Tooth infections can lead to problems elsewhere in the body, and poor teeth can lead to bad food choices causing poor nutrition. “The whole body is connected. Health issues allowed to go unchecked lead to other problems,” Batey said. And minor dental issues left untreated often grow into…

Wood Lane makes preliminary pitch for November levy

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Many groups come to the Wood County Commissioners to get the board’s blessing before putting a levy on the countywide ballot. Very few are able to report that they will be asking for lower millage than in the past. Wood Lane Superintendent Brent Baer explained the situation to the county commissioners on Thursday. Over the last decade, the agency serving people with developmental disabilities has been able to trim back its levy collections. The board has rolled back its current 2.95-mill levy on multiple years – including collecting just 50 percent of the millage this year. However, more people with developmental disabilities are seeking more services to live their lives. That means the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities will likely be on the ballot this November. But instead of going for the same millage, Wood Lane will likely ask for a lower amount, possibly 2.45 mills. “We believe that allows us to be fiscally responsible” and continue to provide quality services, Baer said to the commissioners. The Wood Lane board will discuss the millage at its June 21 meeting, then come back to the county commissioners to get their blessing for the ballot. “Your services certainly do make a difference to families in Wood County,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said. “We hear that over and over.” As of earlier this year, Wood Lane was serving 1,007 people. Broken down into age groups, those served are: 114 age 0-2; 95 age 3-5; 316 age 6-22; 171 age 22-30; 124 age 31-40; 74 age 41-50; 86 age 51-64; 27 age 65 and older. Baer explained that Wood Lane has seen “significant growth” in those being served, especially among the very young. “We start at birth with early intervention services,” he said. More people needing services means more staff to serve them. “We’ve had pretty significant growth in the overall level of staff,” Baer said. More early intervention is needed for children with autism, and for children affected by the opioid crisis, he added. As the children age, Wood Lane School gets involved for youth up to the age of 22. “Anyone who runs a school for people who have significant developmental disabilities has additional costs,” Baer explained. But Wood Lane has no intention of not offering school services. Without them, children would be placed back in their home schools – which would just shift the costs to those districts. Or they would be cared for at home, where little socialization is offered. “We just can’t let that happen,” he said. Wood Lane School does have extra costs due to its student population, Baer said. For example, during a recent performance of the “Princess and the Pea” opera for students, three individuals had significant seizures within an hour. Adequate staff with proper skills must be available. The agency also offers Family Support Services such as respite care, help with home modifications, and special diet assistance. “It’s a bit of a lifeline between the county board and those who receive services,” Baer said. Requests for those services are also growing. The agency provides homemaker care, transportation to work and medical services, plus vocational services. One of the big challenges is to find safe, affordable and accessible housing for their consumers. “We continue to be overwhelmed by…

County approves $5 hike in license plate fee

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The Wood County Commissioners unanimously Thursday (May 17) voted to increase the cost of getting a license plate by $5. This will bring the county portion of the fee to$20 or $25 depending on the community. The state fee is $34.50. County Engineer John Musteric said the Permissive License Fee increase will generate an additional $632,660. That money will all go to road and bridge projects, he said, not for personnel or operating expenses. The county, he said, is facing a shortfall of about $3.7 million meet the needs of county road and bridges. “This will only be a drop in the bucket, but every little bit helps,” Musteric said. After a study of road conditions, the engineer’s office determined 74 percent of the county roads are in marginal or worse conditions. To address all that work, would take about $6 million a year. The office now spends $2.3 million. Also, 52 of the county’s 441 bridges, which have an average age of 41 years, are in poor or worse conditions. To catch up, the county would need to replace nine bridges annually, at about $400,000 each. That’s double what it can do. This comes at a time when the cost of materials is increasing. Musteric said his office has tried to make cost savings where it could, including not replacing employees who leave and doing in-house work that had been outsourced. One county resident Wade Kemp commented on the license fee increase. He said he supported it but wondered why he had to pay the same amount for his motorcycles as for his truck or his neighbor had to pay for a recreational vehicle. That is set by the state, assistant county prosecutor Linda Holmes said. Commissioner Craig LaHote noted that if the state allowed the county to levy an additional 3.2-cent-a-gallon gas tax, it would provide the revenue needed to fully fund the road and bridge repairs. Given the fluctuating price of gas, people wouldn’t even notice it Musteric said. Kemp noted that as federal fund economy standards go up, and people use less gas that will take a bite out of revenues from the gas tax. Musteric said that’s especially true with the increasing popularity of electric cars, and hybrids. LaHote said some states charge more for a license plate for an electric vehicle. California, Musteric said, charges by weight for registering vehicle. Board President Doris Herringshaw said that the commissioners did receive a couple telephone calls on the issue, both in favor of the increase. This was the second of two public hearings on the issue. The first hearing was held last week. The fee will go into effect sometime around the first of the year after it is reviewed by the state.

More levy funds sought for opiate, mental health services

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Tom Clemons would love to not have to ask Wood County voters for more money. But then he would also love if the opiate crisis weren’t killing people, and if the state and federal government would not have cut funding. So on Tuesday, Clemons, the executive director of the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, made his pitch to the county commissioners for the agency’s levy request. The board will be seeking a replacement 1-mill levy plus and an additional 0.3-mill levy. The levies will be on the November ballot. Wood County Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said that the commissioners will have to discuss the levy requests before deciding whether or not they will get their blessing as the levies go on the ballot. “We listened to what he had to say,” she said of Clemons’ presentation. “We’re still at the point where we’re absorbing what he had to say. We’ll be discussing it. We want to make sure it is the right fit for Wood County and for the ADAMHS board. The current 1-mill levy generates about $2.9 million. The new levies will bring in an additional $1.3 million. Clemons said the additional funding is needed to keep up with growing needs. “First and foremost, we think the opiate epidemic is costing us a little over $700,000 a year,” Clemons said last week. The costs include inpatient and outpatient detox services, recovery housing, clinical services for the Vivitrol program in jail, services for addicted women who are pregnant, help with the Addiction Response Collaboration, short-term residential treatment, help providing medication like Naloxone, outpatient programs, and school-based prevention programs. “It’s touching everyone,” Julie Launstein, ADAMHS finance director, said of the opiate crisis. But it appears that Wood County’s opiate programs are working according to Chris Streidl, manager of clinical programs with ADAMHS, who explained that this county has a significantly lower death rate than those being seen in Lucas and Hancock counties. “We see the numbers,” Clemons said. “This epidemic is not going to go away any time in the near future.” At the same time as the opiate crisis, the ADAMHS board still needs to deal with other mental health, alcohol and drug addiction issues. “We’re going to have to look at doing some more mental health housing,” Clemons said. That will include more 24/7 supervised housing and more independent housing. The agency also sees the need to improve crisis intervention services. “We have had more deaths due to suicide in the last three years than due to overdoses,” Clemons said. In 2016, there were 20 suicides recorded. And the numbers aren’t looking better this year. “We’re on pace for breaking a record.” Turning around those numbers will take programming, he said. “In order to address suicide, you have to have crisis intervention services 24/7, and excellent therapy,” Clemons said. ADAMHS is looking at a different solution than the brick and mortar Link facility in Bowling Green. “There are very few people who walk into it,” to get help, Clemons said. So ADAMHS is interested in offering a mobile crisis response. “So we can treat the crisis where it’s occurring,” whether that’s at home, in a park, or in a store, he said. If Wood County were to have…

$5 license tax goes unchallenged at public hearing

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Talk of raising taxes normally raises the dander of local taxpayers. But when the Wood County Commissioners held a public hearing Thursday morning on a proposed $5 license tax, no one showed up to complain. The commissioners took that as a sign that local residents realize the poor condition of county roads and bridges. The public will have one more chance to voice opinions during the second public hearing on the tax set for May 17, at 10 a.m., in the county commissioners’ hearing room. The new tax was requested by Wood County Engineer John Musteric, who is tired of just spinning his wheels on endless road and bridge repairs. The $5 permissive vehicle license tax will be used only for road and bridge expenses, Musteric said. “Every little bit helps,” he said on Thursday. According to local county officials, state and federal government have no appetite for raising gas taxes themselves. And the revenue brought in by gas taxes isn’t growing to meet expenses, since more fuel-efficient cars mean less gas is needed to traverse the state. But the state has given local governments the option of tacking on the new tax. “They recognized the stagnant funding of local transportation systems and that counties were struggling to keep up with the need for bridge replacements and road repair,” Musteric said. The proposed $5 increase is projected to bring in an additional $632,660 annually for road and bridge repairs. Musteric pledged to the commissioners that the additional funds would be used only on capital expenses, not on personnel or operating costs. Currently the state registration fee is $34.50, and the local permissive fees are between $15 and $20, depending on the community. The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents has not been increased since 1993, and the state gas tax of 28 cents has not been increased since 2005. “Our revenues have been stagnant,” Musteric said. Meanwhile, the cost of building and maintaining roads has continued to grow. Since the last state gas tax increase, the cost of asphalt has jumped 58 percent, steel has increased 35 percent, concrete has gone up 10 percent, and road paint has jumped 38 percent. “So we have to do something,” Musteric said Thursday. To deal with stagnant or declining revenue plus rising costs, some counties have enacted county road and bridge levies. Wood County has not. Some counties have dedicated a portion of their sales tax revenue for roads and bridges. Wood County has not. According to Musteric, the county engineer’s office has tried to do more with less. The office has reduced the number of employees from 52 in 2006 to 44 in 2018. He is also trying to turn over some of the smaller roads to township maintenance, and transfer bridges inside municipalities to their care. The operating budget for the engineer’s office has barely budged since 2006 when it was $7.6 million, to 2017 when it was $7.75 million. Musteric said the county is in an impossible position of catching up on road and bridge repairs. Following are some statistics about county bridges: County owns and maintains 441 bridges. Average age of the bridges is 41 years old. Bridges 50 years old or more: 149. Bridges 75 years old or more: 68….

County parks levy takes a hike with levy victory

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As voters where casting their ballots, the Wood County Park District board was holding its monthly meeting in the Bradner Preserve. It was a perfect day to be in a park. Sun was shining. Trees were budding. The park board was hoping that feeling would continue into the evening when the votes were counted. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” said park board president Denny Parish. There was no need for caution, since the voters showed that they supported the county park district’s mission by approving the 1-mill renewal levy by 74 percent. The unofficial count was 14,462 to 5,207. The park board was worried of other financial competition on Tuesday’s ballot. “We were concerned there would be several financial issues on the ballot,” Parish said. “But it’s obvious tonight that people who support the parks, support the parks.” The key to such overwhelming support could have been that the park district stuck with its 1-mill levy, rather than increasing its millage. For the last decade, the levy has generated about $2.8 million a year. That amount is expected to grow to $3 million a year because of new construction in the county. Or it could have been all the park district offers for residents. The county park district has grown to 20 different parks, with 1,125 acres, open 365 days a year. “I think it’s just the good work that the people I work with everyday do for the parks,” said Wood County Park District Director Neil Munger. The park district may have also won such support by showing voters that it listens to their suggestions. Based on resident requests, new programming has been added – both educational and adventure activities, Munger said. “Everybody likes what we’ve been doing,” he said. “We’ll keep listening to the public to see what they want to see for their parks.” Park district adventure activities include archery, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, hiking, geo-caching, hunting, rock rappelling, bicycling and bouldering. Programs are offered throughout the year, including classes on wildlife, bird migration, nature photography, stream studies, fire building, seed cleaning, beekeeping, trees, yoga, tai chi and camping. There are also full moon walks, senior nature hikes, wildflower walks, and summer nature camps. The park district also shares its wealth, with small community parks in the county. The district awards $100,000 a year to local parks for such items as playground equipment, restrooms, or ADA accommodations. During the last several years, the park district has focused funding on land acquisitions.  But that focus is about to shift. “I think we’re looking at a maintenance phase,” Munger said. But don’t think the park district won’t continue to grow – it’s just that they will do so with different funding sources like grants. “I wouldn’t say we’re going to sit back on our laurels,” Munger said. And now the park district can start planning for the future, Parish said. The Wood County Park District currently has 20 sites throughout the county, including Adam Phillips Pond, Baldwin Woods Preserve, Bradner Preserve, Beaver Creek Preserve, Black Swamp Preserve, Buttonwood Recreation Area, Carter Historic Farm, Cedar Creeks Preserve, Fuller Preserve, William Henry Harrison Park, W.W. Knight Preserve, Otsego Park, Reuthinger Memorial Preserve, Sawyer Quarry Nature Preserve, Slippery Elm Trail, Rudolph Savanna Area, Cricket Frog Cove Area,…

Courthouse tour lays down the law for BG students

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   There was a bit of disorder in the courts  Monday as Bowling Green sixth graders got a close-up view of “Lady Justice.” They sat in on a court case, they offered ideas for new laws, and they met with the sheriff. And as a bonus, they learned a bit on how the county handles emergencies. The kids were awestruck by the court proceedings, and suitably impressed by the grand Wood County Courthouse. But kids being kids – they sometimes found a different focus than the intended. For example, as architect Heidi Reger pointed out the intricate stone work on the front of the 1896 courthouse, she asked the students to find the faces and animals carved into the stone. “They liked to tell a lot of stories in the stones,” she said. But during one group’s tour, Reger had some competition from above when one of the Peregrine falcons roosting in the courthouse clock tower snatched a bird for breakfast. It wasn’t long before a burst of feathers came floating down from the clock tower. Once inside the courthouse, the students got to listen to cases presented to the Sixth District Court of Appeals. The lesson there might have been that real court cases aren’t necessarily as exciting as those portrayed on television. But the students sat respectfully with little fidgeting as a case was argued about who was responsible for paying for roadwork and causeway maintenance for Johnson Island. Though the legal arguments were tedious, technical and long-winded, the students sat quietly. One court constable suggested that the sixth graders were likely intimidated by the panel of three robed judges, or by the ornate courtroom with its stained glass ceiling. After sitting through the governmental arm that rules on the law, the students heard from state legislators that make the laws. State Senator Randy Gardner and State Rep. Theresa Gavarone, both R-Bowling Green, talked about their routes to the statehouse. Gardner started out as a teacher, and Gavarone as an attorney and part-owner of Mr. Spots – which seemed to impress the students. Gardner stressed to the students that they are the bosses of state legislators. “If you live in Wood County, that means you’re our boss,” he said. “We listen to you.” Both talked about bills they sponsored that involved kids – such as legislation against bullying, requiring vision screening for students, and allowing students with asthma to carry their own inhalers at school. Gardner also talked about legislation introduced by students, like the bill designating the white-tailed deer as Ohio’s official state animal. “It came right from students,” specifically sixth graders who believed Ohio should have a state animal, he said. “It was really pretty cool.” Currently, other students in Ohio are working on legislation creating an official state dog. Gardner asked the students to guess the breed under consideration. The guesses included mainstream German shepherds, golden retrievers and Chihuahuas, and more specialized Pomeranian-husky mixes, pit bulls, and Tibetan spaniels. As it turns out, Gardner said he believes it’s a Labrador retriever being put up for the position. Gardner asked the students what laws they would like enacted. One suggested a bill against animal abuse. Done that, Gardner said. Another suggested that fidget spinners be allowed in school. Not…

Foster family opens home and hearts to 19 children

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Some parents dream of becoming empty nesters. Quiet dinners, no pediatrician appointments, less hectic households. But Chris and Melanie Feather, of Grand Rapids, felt something was missing when their four boys grew up and moved on. So they took a bold step – bigger than buying an RV or a warm weather winter retreat – they became foster parents. “We had empty rooms,” Melanie said. “We really felt that was something we needed to do.” That was seven years and 19 children ago. “I love kids. I could probably do this forever,” Melanie said, giving a sideways glance at Chris to check his reaction. It took a few seconds, but then her husband’s straight face broke into a big silly grin. The couple, who was recently named Wood County Children Services Foster Parents of the Year, has taken in children ranging from newborns to 17-year-olds. So they now have four adult children, one adopted, plus six biological grandchildren, and “a lot of honorary” grandchildren. “I always think there’s somebody else out there who needs us,” Chris said. “There are a lot of kids who need love,” Melanie said. “They come in as strangers and leave as family.” “Or they don’t leave,” Chris said, referring to all the kids that stay in contact with the Feather family. “It makes my heart happy,” Melanie said, smiling. The Feathers readily admit the job of foster parenting isn’t easy. It ranges from fun and a blessing, to frustrating and nearly maddening – and that can be all in one day. But they try to stay focused on the goal. They are in this to get kids through rough patches in their lives that are no fault of their own. Some children don’t want to be removed from their families, no matter how bad that environment might be. “Some of the kids are mad they are in foster care,” Melanie said. She and Chris explain to the children that they realize they aren’t their parents. “But we’ll be their mom and dad as long as they need us to be.” Chris, a school bus driver and farmer, learned early on what many kids need. “The kids just want an adult’s attention,” he said. They want consistency and unconditional love. They have chores, like cleaning their bedrooms, setting the table, unloading the dishwasher. “Some of them just appreciate having a regular meal,” Melanie said. “They want somebody to talk to, who listens to what they say,” she added. And they seem to appreciate the fact that the Feathers make a big deal out of the kids’ birthdays and holidays, Chris said. Melanie, who works in the fiscal department at the Wood County Educational Service Center, at first struggled with handling girls after raising four sons. She would caution the girls that her hair styling skills were lacking, unless she consulted the Internet. Over the years, the couple has learned to “never say never.” “After the first teen, we said we’d never do that again,” Melanie said. But that didn’t last long. “We said we’d never take more than two,” at once. But they now have four foster kids, ranging from age 4 to 15 ½. There have been times that the Feathers have nearly given up on some…

Route 6 project steering toward fewer fatal crashes

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   U.S. 6 offers few challenges to drivers. It’s about has flat and straight as they come. But the route that stretches east-west just south of Bowling Green is the site of many fatal crashes. “It’s the number one deadly killer road in Wood County,” said Sandy Wiechman, coordinator of Wood County Safety Communities. In the past three years, there have been 18 fatalities on Route 6 in Wood, Henry and Sandusky counties. During that same period, there have been 252 injuries and 745 property damage incidents on the roadway. So the route is now the focus of “Safe 6 Initiative,” which will coordinate law enforcement agencies to target aggressive driving behaviors on Route 6. The top causes for crashes on the route have been identified as failure to yield, failure to keep assured clear distance, going left of center, unsafe speeds, and improper passing. Route 6 is the second largest federal highway in the U.S., second only to U.S. 20, Wiechman said during a gathering Tuesday of area law enforcement, Ohio Department of Transportation and AAA officials. On its route from California to Massachusetts, Route 6 travels across Ohio farmland in the west, up to Lake Erie, and then through wooded areas of Ohio’s east. “It cuts through the heartland of Ohio,” Wiechman said. The roadway is used by many area residents for their daily commutes. Traffic increases in the summer, as motorists use the route to get to Lake Erie or other vacation destinations. Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Angel Burgos, of the Bowling Green post, said Route 6 is known for being a dangerous road, high in fatalities. Burgos has had to make death notifications to families of the victims. “The driving behavior just needs to change,” he said. “Hopefully, we can make Route 6 a lot safer this summer.” The high number of crashes on the route is a “head-scratcher,” according to Staff Lt. Jerrod Savidge, of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “It’s straight. It’s flat. It’s kind of a boring drive,” Savidge said. Many of the crashes are caused by drivers failing to yield or going left of center. Edgar Avila, president and chief executive officer of AAA, is working with local law enforcement on the traffic safety initiative. More than 90 percent of vehicle crashes are caused by human error, he said. “AAA is happy to partner with Wood County Safe Communities,” Avila said. One of the focuses will be to take away distractions when driving. “AAA is asking drivers to put away devices and just drive,” Avila said. Wiechman agreed. “It does only take one time,” for a crash to occur. “We need to buckle up, hang up and heads up.” Drivers stopped on Route 6 will be handed safety information. Tips for avoiding potential crashes for those in passenger cars: Obey all traffic control devices. Follow the speed limit. If the weather is hazardous, adjust your speed accordingly. Always wear your seatbelt. Leave two to three car lengths between you and the car in front of you. Stay focused on your driving. To avoid crashes with commercial vehicles: Remember, if you cannot see the driver, they cannot see you. Allow for safe lane change. Maintain a safe distance. Be patient. Allow extra space for stopping.

Wood County Park District makes pitch for renewal levy

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   It doesn’t seem likely the Wood County Park District would suffer from an identity crisis. Where else can county residents hike, bike and revel in nature 365 days a year in 20 different parks with 1,125 acres? Where else can adventure lovers go kayaking, rappelling and geo-caching? But as the county park district nears the May 8 election, there is some concern that Bowling Green voters will confuse the Wood County Park District levy with the city parks and recreation levy that was passed last November. “There is some confusion between the parks,” Wood County Park District Director Neil Munger said. “I’m hopeful that we get the word out.” That word includes the fact that the park district is trying for a levy renewal – meaning no extra millage. Board President Denny Parish stressed recently that the renewal will be same millage sought when the park district last passed its levy in 2008. “Which means no new taxes,” Parish said. For the last decade, the levy has generated about $2.8 million a year. That amount is expected to grow to $3 million a year because of new construction in the county. “It won’t cost individual homeowners more than they’ve been paying for the last 10 years.” If approved, the 1-mill levy will cost the owner of a $150,000 home a total of $39.54 per year. Munger said the district is committed to not raising the tax burden on local residents. “We aren’t asking for any additional money,” he said. The park district also wants local residents to know that when they make suggestions, the park district listens. New programming has been added – both educational and adventure activities, Munger said. “Everybody likes what we’ve been doing,” he said. “We’ll keep listening to the public to see what they want to see for their parks.” In 1986, the county park district consisted of two parks – Otsego near Grand Rapids and Harrison near Pemberville. The two part-time maintenance employees used an old beat-up pickup truck with a “Dewey for President” bumper sticker, according to Bob Callecod, who was a park commissioner then. At that point, the two parks were in poor condition, with non-functioning restrooms and rickety railings, Callecod said. Since then, the district has grown to 20 parks and shares its wealth with smaller community parks by awarding $100,000 in local park grants every year. More than $2 million has been given out in grants, he said. Not only the park acreage, but also the programming has grown. In the past few years, park programming has been expanded to add kayaking, rappelling and archery. “We’re always listening to the public about what they want,” Munger said. During the last several years, the park district has focused funding on land acquisitions.  But that focus is about to shift. “I think we’re looking at a maintenance phase,” Munger said. Future land acquisitions will rely on grants or other funding options, he said. “We will be looking for other sources of funding rather than going to the taxpayers.” The Wood County Park District has 20 sites throughout the county, including Adam Phillips Pond, Baldwin Woods Preserve, Bradner Preserve, Beaver Creek Preserve, Black Swamp Preserve, Buttonwood Recreation Area, Carter Historic Farm, Cedar Creeks Preserve, Fuller Preserve,…

Rumor about farm equipment fees spreads like weeds

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As the weather warms and farmers start itching to get out in their fields, the Wood County Commissioners want to make one point perfectly clear – there will be no blanket fee for farm equipment on county roads. During discussions about an overweight truck program for the county, an initial annual blanket fee of $100 per vehicles was considered. However, the commissioners quickly nixed those plans, and removed any blanket fee for farm equipment from the overweight permit plan. While the word about the initial farm fee proposal spread like weeds in a soybean field, the word about the fee removal seems to have missed some people, Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said Thursday. In fact, the rumors worsened, with some farmers now believing they will have to pay $100 each time their vehicles travel county roads. The commissioners have heard that many farmers plan to show up to protest the non-existent fees at the next town meeting held by the commissioners on Monday at 5:45 p.m., in the Center Township Building. The goal of the Overweight Vehicle Permit program is to protect county roads and bridges from damage.  Overweight vehicles that travel state routes are required to obtain a permit from the Ohio Department of Transportation.  These same overweight vehicles travel state routes legally, then exit onto county and township roads with no permits or regard for the capacity of the roads or bridges. The only permit fee that could affect farmers is for vehicles that exceed 87,000 pounds – most likely semi-trucks hauling grain. “This is to protect our assets,” Wood County Engineer John Musteric said of the overweight permit program recently during a meeting with the county commissioners. “We’re spending a lot of money to improve these roads and bridges.” While many of the proposed county fees mirror amounts charged by the Ohio Department of Transportation for overweight traffic, the initial farm fees do not. The commissioners agreed that the blanket farm fees be discarded. “You don’t want to be the farm police,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said during that meeting. Grand Rapids area farmer Dan Potter said there would not be a meeting room big enough for all the unhappy farmers if the county enacted blanket fees. He explained that ODOT exempts all farm equipment driving down the road from overweight fees. No farm equipment weighs more than the maximum allowable weight of 80,000 pounds, Potter said However, some semi-loads of grain may be overweight. But there is no way for farmers to determine the weight of the loads prior to them being weighed at the grain elevator. “We know that coming out of the field it’s impossible to tell,” said Shane Johnson, of the county engineer’s office. Commissioner Craig LaHote suggested that the new overweight load program information be given to local grain elevators, so they can inform the farmers who bring in heavy loads. The goal of the program is to redirect heavy traffic away from roads and bridges that are not able to handle the loads. “This is really nothing new,” Musteric said. “All we’re trying to do is protect our assets. We know people are overloaded and they’re going across our load-limited bridges. We’re concerned, and the commissioners should be, too. It’s your…

873 pinwheels show extent of child abuse and neglect

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The spinning pinwheels planted in the ground by giggling children tell a very different story than it appears at first glance. “Without alarming the kids, we let them know this is something to help other children who need help,” said Susie Dunn, who brought out children from Dunn’s Kiddie Kare to plant the pinwheels in the ground. The 873 pinwheels represent the number of child abuse and neglect investigations conducted last year by Wood County Children’s Services. This year the blue and silver pinwheels bear testament along Ohio 25 where motorists will easily see them, in the front yard of Thayer Ford/Nissan, 18039 Dixie Highway, Bowling Green. The annual display of pinwheels is part of Child Abuse Awareness Month in April. The display serves as a reminder that not all children have carefree and loving lives. “We continue to run record levels of investigations,” said Dave Wigent, director of the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services. Last year’s numbers dropped slightly from the 894 cases in 2016, but the severity of the cases continue to worsen. The pinwheels are a visual reminder that the public needs to notify authorities about child abuse and neglect. “We depend on the community to report child abuse,” Wigent said. In addition to the countywide pinwheel field, individual displays are once again being planted in communities to show the number of cases in each school district. “It’s everywhere in Wood County,” said Sandi Carsey, administrator of Wood County Protective Services. Area schools will have displays on their campuses, with the number of pinwheels indicating the number of families in the district assisted by Wood County Children’s Services. The breakdown per district is: Bowling Green – 198; Eastwood – 45; Elmwood – 46; Lake – 55; North Baltimore – 75; Northwood – 72; Otsego – 54; Perrysburg – 146; and Rossford – 90. The pinwheels will be on display throughout the month of April. Some of the continuing high numbers seen in abuse and neglect cases may be due to public education efforts, Carsey said. “I think people are more aware now to call us,” she said. Another reason may be increases in drug abuse. “The reports are very serious that we’re getting,” Carsey said. “We have parents overdosing in front of their children. It’s everywhere.” Carsey noted the recent creation of the Addiction Response Collaborative through the Wood County Prosecutor’s Office. The program responds to opiate overdose cases. “We’re hoping that will help stem the tide,” Carsey said. Last year’s investigation numbers included the following cases: physical abuse, 250; sexual abuse, 136; neglect 392; emotional abuse, 25; dependent, 16; families in need of services, 54; and other, 21. Drugs were involved in 209 cases; 97 involved opiates.