Latta tours county villages, visits rail spur
DAVE MOSIER/independent editor
U.S. Representative Bob Latta got a chance to learn about the triumphs and challenges of Van Wert County’s small villages during a tour of five county communities on Thursday.
Latta took the time to visit Middle Point, Ohio City, Willshire, Wren and Convoy during a four-hour tour set up by County Business Outreach Coordinator Sarah Smith, while County Commissioners Thad Lichtensteiger, Stan Owens and Todd Wolfrum acted as tour guides.
The discussion thread that ran through all five village visits was that of government regulation, particularly water and sewer requirements handed down by the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection Agencies. All five villages either talked about water or sewer projects completed or likely needed in the future because of EPA regulations. Ohio City officials, which installed a multi-million-dollar water plant a couple of years ago, now are looking at the possibility of having to upgrade their sewer system – something Mayor Dale Boroff and other village officials say their residents can’t afford. Noting that village residents are already paying an average of $56 per month for sewer treatment, as well as an additional amount for water treatment, Boroff said having to increase sewer payments would likely force a number of village residents to move elsewhere.
Latta said he would continue his efforts to rein in the EPA, as well as other government agencies, who he said are responsible for $1.7 billion in costs to local governments, businesses and farmers each year.
In addition to EPA concerns, each village had its own particular project for which they sought federal grants and other funding.
Middle Point Fire Chief Craig King sought funding for a $1.7 million firehouse project in that village. Although the village has a 4.9-mill, 25-yaer bond levy on the ballot to pay for construction of a new fire house, King said it was far from certain that village residents would support a new levy, especially in addition to other taxes and increasing utility bills they already face.
Ohio City officials are looking at street improvements in the downtown area, for which they are seeking federal assistance, while Willshire and other village and township officials are looking for legislation that would do more to force absentee landlords to keep their properties cleaned up.
Union Township Trustee Mike McOmber, as well as several village officials, noted the problems created by out-of-state banks and others who own houses and other properties in the county, but don’t mow the lawns or do anything else to maintain the properties.
“It’s a big problem,” McOmber said, adding that local officials now have to mow lawns themselves and bill the owners or assess costs to maintain properties on tax bills — without much change of getting paid either way.
Wren officials would like to find some financial assistance for a ball diamond project, while Convoy has stormwater and street projects needed in the future.
One bright spot, Latta found, was also in Convoy, where several area churches have come together to create the Village Ministry Center, which provides homework help, tutoring and other services to young people in the community.
Latta said the project was one of the more exciting projects he has seen in touring his 14-county district — the largest in Ohio in terms of area.
In addition to visiting the villages, Latta also got a chance to see the progress at the 1,600-acre Jobs Ready Site north of Van Wert.