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The Van Wert County Courthouse

Thursday, Jul. 27, 2017

Opinions

Prevailing wage is a state calculated mandated wage that is used on all local government construction jobs that exceed $250,000 in total value.  State universities, cities, counties, townships and other government entities such as libraries, museums and fairgrounds are all required to pay prevailing wage when they are using taxpayer funds.

By State Rep. Craig Riedel

Simply stated, prevailing wage is state government overreach into local government affairs and it works opposite of free market principles. Most often this mandated wage drives up and inflates the overall cost of a project leaving that local government entity less money to work with on other construction projects. By not allowing the labor rates to be part of the competitive bid process on a project, the taxpayer ends up overpaying because the free market is unable to play out.

By Supporters of prevailing wage will want you to believe that it provides higher quality work and safer working conditions. There is no credence to those assertions. I worked 27 years in private business, all in the construction industry. I will attest that the quality of workmanship and safety on construction projects today are of the same caliber whether that project pays prevailing wage or doesn’t.

There may have been a day 40 or 60 years ago when that assertion was true, but it certainly is not the case now. In today’s construction world, the workmanship and safety culture at a non-union construction company is every bit equal to that of a union construction company. There is no validity to that belief any longer.

The beauty and genius of HB 163 is that it allows prevailing wage to be permissive. The local government entity gets to choose for itself on a job-by-job basis whether it wants to use prevailing wage. If Summit County wants to use prevailing wage on a project to pave a stretch of road it can choose to do so, and if, at the same time, Van Wert County decides that it doesn’t want to use prevailing wage to pave a stretch of road and instead uses market rates that likely saves taxpayer dollars, it can do so as well.

HB 163 is a common sense bill with a simple concept: allow prevailing wage to be a permissive decision for local governments, not a mandated one. The end result will allow local governments to make decisions that benefit them and their local residents.

POSTED: 07/20/17 at 6:25 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions

Live long and prosper! Buckeyes are taking Spock’s famous advice to heart. Over the past three decades, Ohioans’ life expectancies have increased in every county.

By Sue Roy

They can thank healthcare programs like Medicare Part B for these increases in longevity. Part B helps seniors pay for lifesaving medicines, such as chemotherapy, that must be administered by healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, the federal government may soon change the program and restrict Ohio seniors’ access to these drugs.

Doctors pay for Part B drugs up front. The federal government then reimburses doctors the average cost of treatment plus a small add-on fee for administrative costs.

In April, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission — an independent federal panel more commonly known as MedPAC — recommended reducing the add-on fee from 6 percent to 3 percent.

These cuts could put providers, especially those in rural areas, out of business. Sixty-nine percent of rural hospitals already operate at a loss. Experts predict that 25 percent of rural hospitals will close in the next ten years due to financial constraints.

Ohio is no exception. Two rural hospitals have already closed in the state. Additionally, 16 clinics have shut down, while another eight are struggling to stay open.

If reimbursement cuts don’t cause these facilities to shut down, many might still need to turn away Part B beneficiaries to avoid losing money. Patients in rural areas would have to travel further to receive care in big hospitals that can afford to operate despite razor-thin reimbursement margins.

Such travel is more than a mere hassle — patients undergoing Part B treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, often receive infusions once every 15 days. These infusions can take four hours to administer. Sick patients may not have rides or enough money to travel hours from their homes to receive these treatments. As a result, many patients might just opt out of treatment, grow sicker, and increase healthcare costs in the long-run.

MedPAC also recommended combining Medicare billing codes for highly advanced “biologic” drugs and the “biosimilar” medicines that closely, but not perfectly, mimic them.

In practice, setting a single billing code — and therefore, a single reimbursement rate — for different medicines would force most doctors to switch their patients to cheaper biosimilars, since the reimbursement would no longer cover the full cost of biologic drugs.

Patients who transition from biologics to biosimilars can experience adverse reactions. One study published in theAnnals of the Rheumatic Diseases examined rheumatoid arthritis patients who stayed on a biologic for two years versus those who transitioned from a biologic to a biosimilar. It found that 46 percent more of the transitioning patients experienced adverse side effects compared to those who did not make the switch.

Doctors shouldn’t be forced to put their offices’ financial wellbeing ahead of their patients’ physical health.

Medicare Part B has helped extend and improve Ohioans’ lives. Slashing reimbursements would reduce access to care by causing clinic and hospital closures. And forcing doctors to switch patients off successful treatment regimens would harm patients’ health. Both moves, in the words of Spock, would be “highly illogical.”

–Sue Roy is the legislative director for Ohio State Grange.

POSTED: 07/06/17 at 7:31 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions

Finally, it can begin. After a couple years of adjusting the power structure and reorganizing and combining efforts, 2017 purports to be the birth of a new era. Local resident Stacy Adam takes the helm as Director of the Van Wert Area Economic Development Corporation (VWAEDC – still trying to get people to pronounce it vwadik, but that hasn’t caught on yet.) Adam is currently organizing the land bank efforts and establishing the office at 145 E. Main St., the VWAEDC’s new home, ahead of the larger tasks that lay ahead.

The VWAEDC Board of Trustees chose Adam after interviewing several candidates from within and from outside the county. The unanimous decision for the hire was based more on Adam’s impressive corporate background and presence at the bargaining table than her economic development experience. As a member of that group, I think I speak for all of us when I say it was a great satisfaction to hire such a highly qualified candidate and a great relief to end the process of weekly meetings, which had gone on for nearly six months.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

The Board, along with the city and county governments, now hope to fade into the background as this private-public hybrid grows into its own thing. I will be participating along with many others who have been involved in the process, but it will be more as a community member than as a county commissioner.

In the interviewing of candidates for the director position, it was clear that everyone in the area already knows what we know — economic development has become a population and workforce challenge in Northwest Ohio and the rest of the rural Midwest. What we didn’t hear in the interviews was any solution to this problem that we hadn’t already come up with ourselves. Actually, I think we are already ahead of neighboring counties in addressing these problems.

Consider the recent expansion at Vantage and introduction of Northwest State as our designated community college. Also, the effort led by Principal (and VWAEDC Board member) Bob Priest at Van Wert High School to institute a career readiness program that offers an alternative to college, keeping many from incurring a $100k debt for a degree that would earn them a job paying no better than what is already available locally through certificate course training. The county schools aren’t far behind and Middle School Physics has shown some promise in its short tenure. There will be a jobs website soon — Van Wert Works. We have taken what we have learned over the past several years and are in the process of creating something new and unique.

This uniqueness is furthered in our director hire. Most economic development directors start in the public sector or in education. The pay is usually not enough to draw someone from the corporate world where talent is better compensated. More often, a successful economic director is lured away. After an accomplished business career, Adam is available to us now only because she loves this community. As director, she brings to Van Wert a different and more substantive viewpoint than those that head most nearby economic development efforts.

All of this momentum is moot without a sense of community, however, and that is what we really hope to be building. Immediate economic success does not necessarily mean long term growth. Even if we landed a Honda or Tesla manufacturing center on the Megasite, that would only be part of the big picture. Flint, Michigan no doubt thought all of its problems were solved seventy years ago with the influx of auto jobs. Now it only makes the news when its water turns to poison.

And it’s no secret that we have an aging population. There are talented young people in every high school graduating class and we’re certainly not going to keep them all, but we need to start keeping more of them. Twenty years from now, it would be better to have twenty companies that employ fifty people each than one company that employs a thousand. Small businesses aren’t planted, though, they come from local innovators.

Young people don’t hold all the potential. I spent years working in factories and in construction before going to law school. Not in management — I was running a press and setting steel. In that time, I met people every bit as smart as the attorneys I deal with now. Most times the difference that kept them from a business career was an aversion to classrooms or corporate politics. There were people with ideas and drive but no good outlet for it. Many of these people had their own business ideas and were perfectly capable of making it happen. If you are one of these, you could be just as significant as the young people we are trying to keep.

There is a place to start. The upcoming Entrepreneurship Fair will take place Saturday, January 21, at Vantage beginning at 8 a.m. There is no commitment, money or expectations involved. Anyone thinking they would like to start a business can hang out for a few hours, drink some free coffee and listen to what it takes from people who have been through it. Just learning what is involved in hiring an employee would have been extremely helpful for me when I opened a law office.

The new business challenge will follow in the weeks after the Fair. Past winners of the challenge have garnered prizes of $2,500 for going through the process and developing a business plan. At worst, a participant will have something at the end that can be taken to a bank for financing.

Your community needs your involvement, whether it is leading an economic development committee or starting a small business. Who knows? Maybe years from now, you can look back and say it all happened in early 2017, year zero for the new Van Wert.

POSTED: 01/07/17 at 8:07 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions

2016 may have been a year of restructuring economic development in Van Wert, but it was anything but a lost year. On multiple fronts, efforts that have been brewing in the background over the last several months have either paid off or are beginning to blossom.

The Van Wert Area Economic Development Corporation Board recently took action on a couple of fronts. First, we hired Comstor, a company based in Huntsville, to design a website similar to the one it developed for Mercer County. To get a glimpse of what will be coming in the form of a revamped Van Wert Works, go to www.hometownopportunities.com. Mercer County’s economic development director attributes much of his county’s success to this website and what it has done to connect businesses and potential employees, as well as link to community events and educational activities.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

A local team will help Comstor create the website. The normal build time is three months, so by early next year, a young person living in Columbus will be able to keep track of job postings here and, as the website develops, should even be able to watch a video about the company and its open position. It will be quite a tool for the new economic development director.

Speaking of whom, we are currently conducting interviews to hire a director and that process should be completed by the end of next month. By December 1, it is hoped that that person will be ready to take charge of the brand new economic development office at 145 E. Main St. in downtown Van Wert. This week, the Board entered into a lease for that recently remodeled location, which sits across a garden lot from the future site of the wine and craft brew shop being created by Jim Collins. This site should serve to impress a visiting outsider and is big enough to house multiple offices.

Although a director taking charge will be significant, things have been happening without that lead. The county has maintained a community development director throughout and that person, Sue Gerker, recently won a $500,000 grant to fund our newly created land bank in an effort to tear down abandoned homes. County Prosecutor Charlie Kennedy has filed the first two foreclosures on tax delinquent properties through a special process that will expedite them into the land bank for demolition. Other properties are being identified and the half-million of grant money should provide for at least 30 to 40 total demolitions throughout the county.

The Business Development Corporation (BDC) continues its own efforts to build a spec building. Working with a grant through the state, the project would demolish the old Chrysler Amplex building on Kear Road and allow the construction of a 100,000 square foot facility for a subsequent manufacturer. This might sound somewhat pie-in-the-sky until you sit down, as I did this week, with Jerry Robinson, the site’s developer. Robinson presents as one of the more impressive business people I’ve talked with since taking office and has his own connections for finding an end user. He also has a string of past successes in doing just what is being attempted here. Kudos to the BDC for its vision on this front.

And not to be lost in the shuffle are the jobs on the horizon in the mental health arena. Ridgeview Behavioral Hospital will be expanding its facilities outside Middle Point substantially in the coming year and is expecting to need a few hundred more employees. Meanwhile, on the other side of Ridge Township, the trustees recently resolved a zoning question that will allow the contemplated sale of the Starr Commonwealth to proceed. The prospective buyer provides a drug recovery program that doesn’t use withdrawal drugs, more of a cold turkey approach. What this would mean for Van Wert is still more jobs. I haven’t even mentioned yet that Cooper’s is expanding (it is).

If all of this is happening without a director, the question becomes what will be the new director’s main objectives? A recurrent question of the Board in the interview process has been: “How would you, the prospective director, propose to bring together our disparate groups who are already making economic development efforts?” To provide a short and incomplete list, these groups include all of the county’s villages, Main Street Van Wert, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the BDC, the Community Investment Corporation (CIC), the Port Authority, the Chamber of Commerce, the Van Wert County Foundation and our schools. All of these groups work together when it suits them. It will take a talented person to convince them that the general effort is what suits them all.

Perhaps the director’s ultimate challenge will be finding people to fill not only these new jobs but make sure our existing businesses have all they need. All the progress is erased in an instant if one of our big employers decides to move on. In attracting people, especially young families, we will need a plan and a theme. Science County, USA has not been forgotten, just put on hold until the preliminary efforts are completed. Or perhaps someone has a better idea. We are nearing a point where we have that discussion.

POSTED: 10/31/16 at 6:25 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions

Since taking office nearly four years ago, I’ve searched incessantly for the way to bring college to Van Wert. The first efforts were just to get some classes here. We (the commissioners and the county economic development office) convinced Wright State to offer a few classes at Vantage initially but they weren’t well advertised and that effort didn’t lead anywhere. We tried to find other colleges who might teach courses here. In the end, with online opportunities on the rise, the model of the traditional branch campus proved an unsustainable relic.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

Our second initiative involved Northwest State becoming designated as the county’s community college. The designation enabled that institution to expand its offerings here. Along with that, we (the “we” now including Northwest State) started eyeing the Starr Commonwealth campus east of town with some grander schemes. The campus was too big for Northwest State alone but we came up with idea after idea for possible consortiums involving multiple partners and universities. It went so far as Northwest State being on the verge of renting the main building until Starr backed out toward the end of last year, deciding instead to sell the whole thing.

During the last several months, there were still hopes that a Starr buyer might be interested in our college model. But the current prospective buyer would not be so inclined and if that deal does not go through it appears the Starr will be auctioned before the end of the year.

What all of this means is that it is time to develop a third model. Here is what I proposed to Northwest State President Tom Stuckey a few weeks ago: A one-year program where students get a full year of liberal arts classes locally. It sounds similar to things we have talked about in the past, but this is different in one critical way.

First, let’s consider the cost of college. At even the most reasonably priced schools such as Bowling Green and Toledo, a year of higher learning costs $25,000. High school students are told only that they need a college education for a better life, but it is never explained to them what a $100,000 non-bankruptable debt at the end of it all means. It should be a crime if the value of college and the plague that will be this debt are not discussed simultaneously with an 18-year-old.

A $100,000 debt at the current 4.66 percent average student loan rate will require a $514 per month payment for 30 years. It would take 10 years at this rate to pay off the first $20,000 of this loan. The one-year local model I’m proposing would save that first $20,000 by simply doing that first year of college at Northwest State instead of at a university. Parents: by your child doing one year at home, you are saving him or her 10 years of $514 per month payments.

Moreover, many students are not ready to be away that first year out of high school. I know I wasn’t. I was homesick for that year and hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do with my life anyway. Others I knew in my freshman year at college frittered it away with irresponsibility and dropped out. A wasted year in college was a waste of a year then. Now, it’s a waste of a year and a $25,000 of debt to kick off adult life.

Dr. Stuckey and his staff quickly completed a possible curriculum for a one-year course. It would feature an intensive two-day-per-week schedule with five classes on each day. Over two semesters, a student could earn his first 32 college credits. There would be no electives, which is the key difference from anything that has been proposed before. The student would be signing up for an entire one-year program instead of choosing classes. The creation of this program would ensure that these classes would be offered, overcoming the main problem with general education classes at community colleges in the past — their guaranteed availability.

Although, by prior state mandate, these credits should be accepted at any other Ohio institute of higher education, it would help to have the specific endorsement of a few. Bowling Green, for example, would no doubt be willing to endorse, as it would provide a stream of second-year students. I’ve got a feeling it wouldn’t be hard to get several other endorsements.

Since it is a two-day schedule, a work program with local businesses could also be developed for part-time employment, should the student wish. This would also help our local employers who cannot find responsible workers. The first year could easily be paid for by the working student, saving even more and providing the young person some useful exposure to the real world before heading off to the fantasy land of college.

Everything discussed before involving consortiums with other universities could be built off of this. The common sense of this one-year program would seem apparent, but the obstacle is parents and guidance counselors in all of our area schools who need to start having that $100,000 discussion.

POSTED: 10/03/16 at 7:27 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions

Millennials are a new and strange generation in a new and strange world. They make us older folk glad that smart phones and all-absorbing video games didn’t exist when we were young – think of all the things we would have missed. Millennials are such a unique generation that even their boundaries can’t be defined. The best guess is that they include people between the ages of 18 and 34.

And like it or not, old-timers (again, I’m including myself), they own the future. Whatever we might want our community to be 30 years from now, it will be whatever they want it to be or it won’t be at all. They are the generation currently producing the next generation and they are doing so here less and less.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

When we talk to people who have achieved community revitalization elsewhere, it is constantly reiterated that if you want to grow or even maintain, you have to be attractive to Millennials. Technology has made this group less social, at least in traditional ways. If you want to get them to think of your community as a destination, you need things like craft brew and coffee shops. If you want to interest them in community events, you need to serve beer. Not that they’re any more inclined to imbibe, they just happen to be of that age and less rooted — more susceptible to the attractions of the big city and less likely to return home once gone than previous generations.

I understand and appreciate the arguments against beer tents at community events. I think everyone does. But to begin a counterargument, one that will no doubt earn me a good share of derision on next week’s opinion page, let me proffer every Catholic town you can think of. They all have huge festivals with beer tents where the entire community turns out, those drinking and those not drinking, and defying the demographics of northwest Ohio, they are all growing in population.

The Wren Homecoming Wiffleball tournament is the only thing in county that compares, and it sells beer. The Van Wert County Fair used to be our main community event and still gets passable attendance from us older folk and from the young kids who have the rides. What is almost entirely missing from the fair crowd are Millennials, and that spells certain long-term trouble. The concerts at Fountain Park are well attended without beer, but those are spectator events more than social events and also don’t draw Millennials.

Some church groups are opposed to beer tents at our festivals and that is understandable, but think of the missed opportunity. The primary goal of most Christian organizations is ministry and outreach. Where better to do that than at a beer tent? Locating a soul in turmoil there is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Drunk drivers? No one wants to drive anywhere close to drunk if they have a choice. Religious groups could provide that choice and a ride home is a perfect mission opportunity. Someone who has had too much to drink is going to wake up in the morning with a headache, automatically rethinking their most recent decisions. As they ponder their life’s course, what better time to come across the pamphlet they were handed while getting out of the car from the Good Samaritan who provided them a ride home the night before?

Not having beer at our events does not prevent drinking, it just drives it different places. Perhaps the upper crust might go to the country club or the Elks and others go to bars. Many just stay at home, where the prospects of a domestic incident increase with every swig. But nowhere is there someone wanting a drink not having one and nowhere will they interact with a tempering influence. Beer tents mix the sober and the drinking populations and enable their interaction. When the eyes of the community are on you, you are less likely to get to the point of buffoonery, unless you are, in fact, a buffoon, for which there is no known cure anyway.

If you haven’t been to small town events with beer tents, this weekend is the Delphos Canal Days. On October 1, Van Wert Main Street will host the Outhouse Races and Chili Cook-off — beer won’t be sold on public property, but will be available at a couple of stores off to the side. The next day, October 2, take a drive down to Minster, run the 10K, and then experience perhaps the best small town Octoberfest in the Midwest.

And what happens the next day in Minster? Everyone gets up, goes to work and school. Most have new fond memories of their hometown from a community event that no one from there would ever miss, even the Millennials, and it all continues to grow.

POSTED: 09/19/16 at 7:48 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions

Efforts continue behind the scenes on two important economic development programs in the county: one to build the future and one to tear down the past.

The Van Wert Area Economic Development Corporation (VWAEDC; pronounced Vwa’-dek) has been meeting weekly, going through the tedium of forming a corporate structure, adopting bylaws, and establishing accounts for banking and insurance. Local resident Bill Marshall has graciously allowed us to hijack his years of headhunting experience, helping us develop a job description for the future economic development director. That job description will soon be posted on the city and county websites, as well as in the media and various professional avenues identified by Mr. Marshall. In the interim, if you have interest in the job description, contact the city or county offices.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

That is the future. Regarding the past, the county completed and submitted the application this week for federal funds to enable our land bank to begin tearing down abandoned homes. I related a few weeks ago that myself and County Community Development Director Sue Gerker would be working on the application. That eventually turned into me doing a little bit of research and writing and Sue doing 95 percent of the work. But technically, that still makes it a collaborative effort, right?

In the end, we stand to gain $825,000, if funded, and that would get rid of 60 to 80 homes in the county, as well as providing the ways and means to demolish more in the future. If it happens, perhaps there can be some thanks to the efforts of us city and county officials who scrambled to put the land bank together, but we can mostly thank Sue. We will learn if we have succeeded in October.

To support the grant application, I researched the population trends that tell the story of our blighted areas. Obviously, fewer people mean more abandoned homes. The decline in most of our villages has been stark and the cause easily identifiable. When Lincolnview, Crestview, and Parkway formed in the early 1960s, some or our villages retained an elementary school. The real decline began when those districts eliminated their satellite buildings and centralized their operations.

In 1960, at Crestview’s creation, Wren’s population stood at 287. Through 1980, it had remained relatively stable at 282. In the early 1990s, Crestview built an elementary, along with its new high school in Convoy, eliminating the Wren school. By 2000, Wren had lost almost 30 percent of its 1980 population, down to 199.

Middle Point actually increased in number in the decades after consolidation as Lincolnview maintained its East Elementary building there (where I went to school K-3). Population rose from 571 in 1960 to the town’s high water mark of 709 in 1980. In 1997, the Lancers won state in basketball. A wave of good feeling passed a school levy to build an elementary school next to the high school and the Middle Point building was abandoned. By 2010, population in Middle Point had fallen to 576, a decrease from 1980 of 19 percent.

Willshire has had the worst run of it. In 1970, shortly after Parkway consolidated and the village was left its elementary school, Willshire’s population stood at 623. In 1980 and 1990 that number fell by 9.5 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively, to stand at 541. But by 2000 it had fallen another 14.4 percent to 463 and the town soon lost its elementary school. By 2010, population stood at 397, a drop of 36 percent over a 40-year period. There were other factors at work here, as well as in Wren, but the failure to repopulate certainly involved the lack of a center provided by a school.

Ohio City is relatively new to all of this. The Ohio City-Liberty High School existed until 1989, when it was absorbed by the Van Wert City School system. I was a junior at Lincolnview when students from Ohio City came to visit our school as their district was trying to decide which way to go. At consolidation, Ohio City had a 1990 population of 899. That fell in the following decade by 12.8 percent and by another 10.1 percent  to 705 in 2010.

The exception that proves the rule is Convoy. In 1960, Convoy had a population of 976. Although it has had slight decreases over the last two decades, in 2010 there were 109 more people living there than in 1960, a population of 1,085 and an increase since consolidation of 11 percent. But that’s not to say blighted homes is not a problem there as well. When we sent out a request to the villages for possible target properties to include in our grant application, Convoy got us 10 the next day.

The city in the middle, Van Wert, has maintained a comparatively stable population throughout. Over the 50-year period of 1960 to 2010, there was a decline of 4.2 percent, from 11,323 to 10,846. The blighted housing problem in the city has different roots. In the villages, there has been little new home construction in the last 40 years. In Van Wert, even though the population has been relatively static, several new housing developments have been built, leaving many homes abandoned in the older parts of the city.

There was nothing inevitable in the emptying of our villages. St. Henry’s population in 1960 was 711, basically the same as Middle Point then. It is 2,427 now, an increase of 341 percent. In the same period, Coldwater’s population increased 6 percent to 4,427. Those towns are four miles apart and did not consolidate. Ottoville, Kalida, and Fort Jennings have all increased over the last 50 years as well, as each defied proximity to resist centralization.

There were good reasons for school consolidations when they happened and everyone loves their Lancers and Knights. I bet even some old Ohio City Warriors are starting to consider themselves Cougars. But one has to wonder, if our villages had it to do over again …

POSTED: 09/02/16 at 10:54 pm. FILED UNDER: Opinions

If only we could, as the Talking Heads once celebrated in song, burn down the house. Oh for the day when the fire department could flame out a dump for practice, back before the EPA, in its never ending crusade to save us all from things that never seemed to hurt us before, made the practice illegal.

Now, every day on your block or maybe once a month while not driving your normal route, you find yourself passing by that obviously abandoned structure that looks as if a stiff breeze might take it down. But, year after year, it seems to survive not only stiff breezes, but heavy winds. At least most of it does.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

What remains of these haunted habitats is not only an eyesore but a health hazard and a devaluation to every property from which they can be seen. This problem seems to grow exponentially as the county ages. Newer housing clusters together on the edges of town while the older housing zones are left to make do in strange arrays of the upkeep spectrum.

A few years ago the county created the Phoenix Initiative as a community development effort to disappear some of these properties. The idea was that the county would partner with a city, village or township that could obtain rights to a property to be demolished. Costs to tear down a home generally came in under $10,000.

The program has been slow going, with the major roadblock being the owners of these properties, many of who think they are sitting on some sort of gold mine if they just wait it out. A good number of these owners do not live in the county. Even when they let the taxes go so we can foreclose, someone buys it at auction instead of letting it revert to the county with the intention of flipping it for a few hundred dollars again and no work ever gets done. In fact, most of these are beyond repair. If they were cars we would call them “totaled”.

The Phoenix Initiative requires the owner to either sign over the property or allow a lien to be placed on the property for the cost of a teardown. There is no money made available for acquisition, however, as it seems inappropriate in most cases to use county taxpayer dollars to buy a property above its actual value. Especially when it is hard to tell if the owner is innocent in the home’s deterioration or has taken the insurance money and ran after a casualty incident.

The demolition of abandoned and dilapidated properties has also been a priority of the City of Van Wert since Mayor Jerry Mazur took office. We’ve worked with the City on a couple of Phoenix Initiative properties but the problem is always the same — absentee and unrealistic owners with little to lose just letting the property rot.

The good news: We’re developing a new weapon to deal with all this.

Land banks are created under the same state guidelines as Community Improvement Corporations and are similar. They are quasi-governmental, but can buy and sell property without the normal constrictions of government. There are several steps to create these things and it all usually takes over a year. The City and County of Van Wert are working to create one in a month and it looks like we’ll make it.

Prior to last year, under Ohio law, counties needed to have a population of over 60,000 to form a land bank. That has changed to have no population restriction. Allen County began creating a land bank before the law was changed. Unfortunately, no great effort was made to inform small counties that federal money to the tune of $60 million would soon be made available for counties with land banks. We caught wind just weeks ago. Big counties would like to absorb all of this money as they normally do.

None of the other small counties in our region are even attempting to create a land bank and complete the application for the money by the September 2 deadline, but we stand to gain over a half million of that federal money if successful. County Community Development Director Sue Gerker and myself are scrambling to put together the required stacks of documents and written proposals because there is literally nothing to lose but our time and effort (and nobody cares about that).

The best thing about the federal money is that a fifth of it can be used for acquisition. Some of the owners of these dumps are innocent. Some turned elderly and were unable to fix their properties as things went to hell. A storm or fire might have caused damage that insurance found a way not to cover. A contractor could have taken repair money and performed no work. There are literally a few dozen reasons we have these dumps.

The way I see federal money is that if it is going to be wasted, and it certainly is going to be, let’s waste as much of it helping our county as we can. If we don’t use it to acquire properties to tear down, President Obama will just buy everyone a cell phone or give it to Solyndra. Someone tell me I’m wrong.

We haven’t won the grant and there is a good chance we won’t, but we’ll be well positioned for the next round whenever that comes even if we don’t. When the land bank does get some money we could use the community’s help in identifying properties to demolish, the condition being that they have to be vacant, the last use has to have been residential, and they can be acquired for a few thousand dollars.

And, if you can figure out how to explain to someone who otherwise doesn’t know that a house with no windows, no siding, a partially collapsed roof, and a family of raccoon tenants has no value at all, that would be helpful too.

POSTED: 08/13/16 at 6:21 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions

Wanna start an argument? Go to almost any random group of people in Van Wert County and state your opinion about windmills. Chances are, you will quickly find someone with whom to disagree. Without question this is the most divisive issue blowing around our county, the one that puts people in ardent camps of pro and anti, our local Donald Trump.

It seemed to be a dead issue just a few years ago when the state passed legislation changing the setbacks – the distance a windmill needs to be located away from other private property. The setbacks nearly tripled eliminating over 90% of the proposed sites.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

But then came House Bill 190, which offered to give the setback issue back to county commissioners. Although the bill never made it out of committee, it renewed hopes for the pro-windmill crowd. In the commissioners’ office, we had to consider what we would do if the issue came back to us and agreed that the best alternative would be to put it to a referendum.

To be clear, we are not proposing a vote on whether or not the county should allow more windmills. Every property owner has a right to do what they want with their property and it is a concern of ours to protect that right.

But if you are going to build something on your property, you are subject to a tax assessment. Real property taxes are assessed on all land, buildings and structures. If a property owner would choose to build a windmill, they would be taxed on its full value.

The question then is should a wind farm receive a tax break? The pro crowd argues that, yes, most definitely, this is economic development and a tax break should be automatic. The current wind farm is taxed pursuant to a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) wherein the schools, county, townships, and other agencies receive a fixed payment instead of the windmills being normally assessed. This results in about a 70-80 percent reduction in tax payments.

A few years ago, before the state changed the setbacks and after several conferences with our township trustees, the Ohio Power Siting Board, and Iberdrola, we determined that the PILOT eliminated our ability to negotiate with wind companies and was not in our county’s best interest. We revoked the Alternative Energy Zone designation for our county that had allowed the Blue Creek Wind Farm to be taxed under the PILOT.

Should the setbacks be returned to a manageable distance for Apex or Iberdrola to build a farm, this is the issue we would present to voters. We would ask the affected townships and the wind company to negotiate a tax scheme that has a chance to be approved and then submit it for an up or down vote.

A concern becomes who gets to vote on this issue? It does not seem appropriate that areas that stand only to benefit from a taxing scheme be allowed to vote to burden another area. For example, if a mega hog farm would want to locate on the outskirts of Convoy and the tax benefits would accrue to every other part of the county, what might be the result in Middle Point of that vote? Or if the roles were reversed, what might be the result in Convoy?

Van Wert City Schools would receive a significant monetary benefit if turbines were located in Liberty Township. But it is the residents of Liberty Township who would be burdened by the presence of the windmills and it would be that township’s tax revenues that are affected by a reduction in the amounts paid by windmill owners. I don’t know a definition of fair that would allow Van Wert City voters, an overwhelming majority of the school district, to determine this issue for Liberty Township.

Hog farms are a good parallel. No one wants to live next to one, including me. But the county has no authority to limit hog farms (or chicken farms like the one currently proposed in Jennings Township). Rural area is zoned agriculture and the Ohio Department of Agriculture is the regulatory agency. But, imagine if we started giving tax breaks to incentivize a hog farm to locate next door to you. That is what the wind companies would have us do to the people in the rural areas, many of whom see the windmills as a greater nuisance than a hog farm.

Another concern raised by a few of our township trustees is if we put this to a vote we’ll be putting everything in their township to a vote. But the farms will not be within one township. There needs to be a general scheme across several townships for any chance of success. And it is hard to understand why a trustee would not to want to discern the will of their constituents on a controversial issue like this.

Personally, I think I’ve been clear on my position in the past. I think windmills are horrible federal policy but as long as the federal government is intent on bankrupting our next generation, I wouldn’t object to see some of that money get wasted locally.

If you are in the pro crowd, I would advise against trying to pressure us to force windmills on a population that, as of now, does not want them. That has been the tactic of the wind companies for the last few years and it continues to have a zero chance of success. Replace lecturing with negotiation – the antis are well aware of the reasons to build these things and are not convinced. Perhaps you can pay their electric bills to win some support.

And perhaps there is no way to win support. But if a majority of people in a zone for a proposed wind farm cannot be convinced to accept a tax plan, then someone will need to explain why it should be forced on them over their objection, because that is really the only thing that has been proposed to date.

 

POSTED: 07/05/16 at 7:06 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions

The Ohio House of Representatives has been hard a work the past several months passing legislation that will benefit all Ohioans in all corners of the state. Three pieces of legislation in particular that I was proud to vote in favor of was a bill to give small businesses increased access to small claims courts, a bill to establish online voter registration for Ohioans, and a bill to prevent child sexual abuse to protect our children.

By Ohio Rep. Tony Burkley

By Ohio Rep. Tony Burkley

House Bill 387 increases the maximum monetary limit for businesses trying to settle claims in a small claims court. Currently, the limit is $3,000; however, after unanimous passage by both the Ohio House and Senate, the limit will soon become $6,000.

Although this may seem like a minor adjustment, this will benefit Ohio’s businesses tremendously. Prior to this legislation, any cost above $3,000 that a company wanted to recoup required utilizing a higher court, meaning higher court fees and attorney fees. Doubling this limit will not only put Ohio on par with our surrounding states, but it will also help business owners keep court costs down so they can focus their time and money on growing their businesses.

The second beneficial piece of legislation for Ohio is establishing an online voter registration system. Clearly, we have entered the age of technology where almost anything can be done with the click of mouse or the tap of a finger on a smartphone. So why can’t registering to vote be just as easy? Starting in 2017, it will. Allowing Ohioans to register to vote, or change their voting address, through the Internet, is a huge step forward in encouraging more participation in our cherished democracy.

Finally, the Ohio House also passed House Bill 85, also known as “Erin’s Law.” Although a difficult topic to discuss, House Bill 85 establishes curriculum to teach students in grades K-12 about the signs of sexual abuse.

The unbearable reality is that far too many of our young children are put in a situation that they do not understand, or are too scared to speak up about what is happening to them. This can unfortunately happen to any of our children, and we must not ignore the issue. Teaching our children the basics about appropriate sexual behavior is crucial to preventing abusers from damaging their victims’ lives forever.

As your state representative, I am proud to be a voice for northwest Ohio in Columbus. I am confident that these three pieces of legislation will have a tremendously positive impact on all Ohioans, whether it be by improving business prospects, making government more accessible or protecting our most vulnerable generation.

POSTED: 06/27/16 at 6:32 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions

Kay-toons

POSTED: 07/21/17 at 6:26 am. FILED UNDER: Kay-toons

Letters

To the Editor:

The Holiday at Home Committee would like to thank all of the donors that supported the Fourth of July fireworks by their donations. Those include the following:

Van Wert County Foundation, Federal-Mogul Corporation, Brennan Profit, Leland Smith Insurance, Cooper Farms, Wallace Plumbing, State Farm Agent Trisha Fast, Ace Hardware, Star Rentals, Elks Lodge 1197, The Kenn-Feld Group, Van Wert Federal Savings Bank, Sparetime LLC (Olympic Lanes), Braun Industries, Citizens National Bank, First Federal Savings & Loan, Choice One, Alexander & Bebout, and Brookside.

The committee still has a shortfall of dollars to finalize the payment for the fireworks. If anyone is interested in supporting the event, please feel free to forward a check to the Van Wert County Foundation, marked “fireworks”.

Thank you,

Holiday at Home Committee

POSTED: 07/14/17 at 7:39 am. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

I am the CEO of a nonprofit that provides support services and housing for people with disabilities or mental illness. We provide services for over 100 individuals. We employ over 70 people. The Senate health care bill will cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid over the next decade. These proposed caps and cuts will devastate Medicaid-funded services that people with disabilities need to live, work and participate in their communities.

People with disabilities rely on the Medicaid program for home and community-based services — this important network of services and providers make it possible for people with disabilities to be in their communities, attend school, church, and have jobs. We must never forget that before these programs were in place, individuals with disabilities lived in the shadows, were warehoused in state-run institutions, and in many cases treated inhumanely. We have come so far because of these successful programs.

Yet the whole funding structure of Medicaid is at risk. The Senate bill, which is scheduled for a vote next week, caps the funding for disability Medicaid programs and puts the responsibility on states to pick up the tab. States are still recovering from the recession and cannot handle the shift. There is already a workforce crisis in direct care staff that provides these crucial services for people with disabilities and putting greater strain on states will inevitably mean fewer services for people who need them the most. The average wage of a direct support staff is $10.42. Our current reimbursement system cannot sustain any more cuts in funding.

Those who support the Senate health care bill say that they are not intending to hurt people with disabilities. But evidence already shows that the rates for disabled populations are not sufficient – and there is no guarantee in the law that the rate set this year won’t change next year (the President’s budget indicates even further cuts). Most importantly, there is no guarantee the funding going to states will be used for the disabled population when they have many other priorities to address.

The bottom line is that the Senate bill, like its predecessor in the House, fails people with disabilities. The services they rely on to live are being used to pay for tax cuts and that is just wrong. I know Senator Portman can do better. I urge the senator to vote “no” on harming people with disabilities and to vote “no” on the health care bill.

Garry B. Mosier, CEO

Mercer Residential Services Inc.

via email

POSTED: 06/26/17 at 7:18 am. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

What a weekend! Two days of beautiful weather, wonderful people, and lot of fun had by a record number of visitors. Peony Festival XLII is on the books and after a short break, the committee will start working on the XLIII edition.

Without our sponsors, like Eisenhauer Manufacturing, Thatcher Insurance, Bait, Shore ‘n’ More, Kitchens Inc., Central Mutual Insurance, and many others (for a complete list, please visit our website at www.vwpeonyfestival.com), events like the fishing derby, bounce houses, car show, and others could not be free of charge.

The unsung heroes of the festival are all the folks at the (Van Wert) Parks Department, the Street Department, and Police Department, and our local media, The Van Wert independent, The Times Bulletin, The Photo Star, and WERT Radio. They do an amazing job of providing us with beautiful surroundings in which to hold the festival, helping with necessary street closings, and all the behind-the-scenes work that can go unnoticed because they do their jobs so well.

We are grateful for the support of the Van Wert County Foundation for the parade and their Friday night concert.

And thank you to our visitors. Without you, there would be no point to holding the festival. The committee thanks you all from the bottom of our hearts.

Sincerely,

Zoe Longstreth

President

Van Wert Peony Festival Committee

via email

POSTED: 06/09/17 at 7:50 am. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

Memorial Day always falls on the last Monday of May, this year on May 29. While many see this holiday as the much anticipated, unofficial start to summer, the day is truly about something more meaningful. It is one day out of the entire year set aside to remember all the men and women who have died while serving in the United States military.

Since our country’s founding, over 1 million brave Americans have given the ultimate sacrifice to uphold the rights and values we hold dearest.

This year in honor of Memorial Day, I was joined by (State) Senator Cliff Hite and the Defiance County Veterans Affairs Office on Friday, May 26, to designate the signs for United States Route 24 within Defiance County as the “Defiance County Veterans Memorial Highway.”

My office was approached by a resident of Defiance County who has been working towards this special designation for twenty years. With his idea and input, we were finally able to make this memorial highway a reality.

It may be a small token of appreciation, but I hope now every time you’re driving along U.S. Route 24 in Defiance County you think about our service men and women, especially those who gave their lives to protect our freedom and our country. I hope it reminds you to thank those who continue to serve and to honor the countless lives lost.

Sincerely,

Craig S. Riedel

82nd Ohio House District representative

via email

POSTED: 05/26/17 at 6:01 am. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

I would like to sincerely thank the following people and businesses for their part in making this year’s Van Wert High School prom, “Tale as Old as Time-Beauty and the Beast”, a success.

Thank you to Greif Inc., Rural King, F & S Floor Covering, Spoor Contracting and Tecumseh Packaging Solutions for their generosity and assistance this year. I would also like to thank Mr. Jeff Meyers for his help with some very special construction projects for the prom. Special thanks also to the Van Wert Middle School Physical Education Department for their flexibility, along with the Van Wert High School Theater Department, TV Production Department, Tech Department and Maintenance & Custodial staff for always being so willing and available to help.

As always, I truly appreciate the help of the Van Wert Police Department, who help us maintain a safe and enjoyable environment for our students. Thank you also to our sophomore prom servers, chaperones, and, of course, the Class of 2018 for its hard work and dedication to making this unique prom theme come to life.

I also deeply appreciate all of the parents who worked throughout the week on prom construction, as well as those who helped in the kitchen and with valet parking on a chilly Saturday night. This event simply could not happen without all of you.

Special thanks to the Van Wert Optimist Club for providing a fantastic After-Prom for the students of Van Wert County at Olympic Lanes Bowling Alley. Also, a big thank you to Mr. Bob Priest, Mr. Todd Keller, Mr. Manuel Alvarado, Mr. Brad Scheidt, and the members of the sophomore class who came in on Sunday afternoon to assist with clean up.
Thank you all for another great prom season!

Sincerely,

Brenda Smith

Van Wert

via email

POSTED: 05/13/17 at 8:27 am. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

Dear VWCS staff, students, parents, and community,

The last couple of weeks have certainly been a whirlwind! What a big day in the life and times of Van Wert City Schools to have national leaders make their way to Van Wert County. Words cannot express the gratitude that I have for each and every person in our district.

Even though many of you went home and thought to yourself or said to your family it was just a normal school day, it was far from normal for anyone in our school district. There is so much that we can all take pride in when it comes to our school. So take a deep breath and have a strong sense of accomplishment.

VWCS would certainly not have educational leaders visit our school if it weren’t for each and every one of our teachers and paraprofessionals doing his or her best each day to meet the needs of all of our students. For our amazing students many of their days begin and end with a bus driver wishing them well and making sure they are safe. Our district buildings would not attract people to say “wow” if it weren’t for the TLC they get from our custodial staff. VWCS would not have the outstanding reputation that it does if we would not have the efficient and progressive administrative leadership placing teachers, paraprofessionals, and students in a position to be successful!

Of course, those students would not impress our visitors, if they weren’t loved and encouraged by their families and community who take such pride in their public school and generously support schools with their tax dollars and donation of time and monies.

Until now, I have stopped short of thanking anyone by name because successful public schools require that everyone take part and that all show their “Cougar Pride”.  Even though this man of great humility may be a little upset with me, I must take a special moment to thank Superintendent Ken Amstutz. Ken has displayed an inspiring work ethic and has always been willing to sit, listen, and display care and concern for all. His commitment to innovation and collaboration in and out of the classroom has made VWCS an enjoyable and rewarding place to call home.

Jeff Hood

Van Wert Federation of Teachers president

via email

To the Editor:

Thank you to the Van Wert City Schools and American Federation of Teachers for hosting Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ recent visit to Van Wert. I was among a group of sign-carrying citizens from Van Wert, Hancock, Mercer, and Allen counties who gathered to send a message to Secretary DeVos.

Our message — We are proud of our public schools. The residents of Lincolnview Local, Crestview Local, Van Wert City, Parkway Local, Wayne Trace Local, and Delphos City Schools support their respective districts. We are proud to be home to Vantage Career Center.

As a city resident, I pay my school taxes knowing that VWCS are providing to our children a quality education. I want not one penny of that tax diverted neither to charter schools nor to other for-profit learning centers. I applaud parents who choose to send their children to private schools for religious or other reasons, but I do not want to pay for that choice.

I further believe that the vast majority of Van Wert County residents, who voted heavily for Donald Trump, do not agree with his Secretary of Education’s plan to divert their tax dollars to profit-driven charter schools.  Charter schools have nothing to offer the young people in well-functioning public school systems like ours. That is the message our group of “protesters” hoped to communicate to Madame DeVos.

Ohio has been home to the charter school experiment for some time, and it has not yielded good results.  Fraud and unaccountability have been the overriding outcome. VWCS alone in this county has had $311,000 deducted from its 2016-2017 state allocations and sent to charter schools. The graduation rate at ECOT (Ohio Connections Academy), one of those charters, is posted by the Ohio Department of Education at 39 percent, while VWCS has a graduation rate of 96 percent.

I suspect that a majority of Van Wert County taxpaying Republicans, Democrats, and Heartland Patriots do not see this as anything less than an intrusion upon their will by government. Betsy DeVos, please take that message back to Washington.

Al Arnold

Van Wert

via email

POSTED: 04/22/17 at 8:33 am. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will visit Van Wert County on Thursday, April 20, at the invitation of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten. During her expected visit, Ms. DeVos will tour Van Wert City Schools to see one instance of how public education works in west central Ohio.

This is a great opportunity for our sister district to showcase their ongoing efforts to promote their students’ well-being, develop and enrich their staff, and collaborate with members of their community to grow their district through public education.

What cannot be lost during this visit is the drastic difference in opinion between our local communities and the Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos is an advocate for increased voucher programs and for-profit education centers in Ohio and around our country.

Her efforts are masqueraded by a rollout of buzzwords that include grandiose visions of “school choice” for families. What needs to be made clear for Ohioans — particularly those in our region — we already have school choice options for our students, and that Ms. DeVos’ educational suggestions, rooted in for-profit voucher programs, amount to the theft of public education at the expense of our students and district taxpayers.

The responsibility for public education is not something that starts and ends with school administrators, teachers, and support personnel. It is not merely a collection of assessments and checkpoints for students on their way into the workforce or onto further training or education. True “school choice” lies with our many communities across Ohio and our collective capacity to participate in the public education process.

It is our civic responsibility to support candidates for public office to supervise, manage and oversee the function and operation of our public school districts.

It is our civic duty to ask tough questions of teachers and administrators when reports show that improvement is necessary for our students and communities. It is our civic opportunity to consider tax levies that could be utilized to renovate, improve or re-task elements of a school district for the constantly evolving mission of public education for our children and their eventual children.

School voucher programs in Ohio and around the country are not all connected to the type of for-profit scheming that we have seen in Michigan and in other parts of the country; however, the recent rollout of voucher proposals in Columbus and around our nation by those that share the DeVos mindset for community destabilization cannot be tolerated by our Ohio citizens.

We cannot rob a community trust for an unchecked, enterprising gamble. If we are not vigilant, our state coffers will be emptied of revenue initially aimed at supporting our public school districts and redirected at commercial “academies” and “schools” associated with benefiting shareholders, rather than developing students and communities for a better tomorrow in the State of Ohio.

We have always had a choice in Ohio, and many of us have used that opportunity to be involved in our local school districts as much as possible. This new “choice” is a carefully packaged and convenient “fox in the henhouse” that is designed to prey upon parents’ desires to promote a better future for their children.

The only obvious choice that we have in Ohio is to continue to invest in our local districts, and work together to make sure that they are in a position to meet the needs of our students and communities in the future. While it is important that Van Wert and other communities in Ohio and around the country welcome Ms. DeVos with an open mind, we must be ever diligent to avoid the cheap parlor tricks associated with the branding of new “school choice” rollouts by the current Secretary of Education and state legislators that might introduce her brand of education.

James Lautzenheiser, President

Crestview Employees Association (OFT-AFT)

Crestview Local Schools

via email

POSTED: 04/19/17 at 9:30 pm. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

To the voters:

As you consider the proposal to raise the Van Wert City Income Tax rate by 0.28 percent, please review the city’s three major reductions in revenue.

1) The Ohio general business tangible property tax (sometimes called personal property tax) was phased out, ending in 2008.  I have never owned a business, but I have heard from most business groups that the elimination of this tax was a good thing, in order to make Ohio more business-friendly.

2) In January 2011, Ohio’s “rainy day fund” had 89 cents in it.  In July 2015, it had $2 billion. One of the ways that happened was by cutting state aid to local governments (also called local government funds).

3) The Ohio Estate Tax (sometimes called the inheritance tax) was repealed effective January 1, 2013.  Since most of the money in an estate has already been taxed at least once, this seems like a good idea to me.

From 2008 onward, you could say that the City Council “should” have asked for a tax increase then.  It was apparent that the General Fund revenues would no longer be adequate.

However, since we were in the midst of the great recession, in 2009 a different question was put to the voters: Would it be permissible to use part of the Police and Fire Equipment Fund to be used for General Fund expenses?  The voters said “yes,” and it was hoped that this temporary solution would give the state legislature time to fix the situation.

Now, nearly a decade later, the legislature has not provided a fix, and there is nothing being considered by them.

Today, the City’s Police and Fire equipment are still in good condition, but if we continue the current situation, eventually the services we have come to expect from those departments will suffer.

I would like to mention one more thing.  Since 2005, Ohio has been gradually decreasing the state income tax rates.  Considering the three major reductions I mentioned above, it makes sense that these rates should go down.  But even if I pay 0.28 percent more to Van Wert, I will still be paying less overall than I was in 2005.

I can’t say that I enjoy the amount of taxes I pay, but I do like the idea of having less of that money going to Columbus, and more of it staying in Van Wert.

Please join me in voting “Yes” on the proposal.

Kenneth J. Markward
Van Wert City Council
Third Ward representative

via email

To the Editor:

We have a decision to make this May regarding an increase in our Van Wert city income tax. If passed, the increase would bring our total city income tax to 2 percent, or 2 cents on every dollar of earned income. Currently, it is 1.72 cents on each dollar of earned income.
As I understand it, we senior citizens with no earned income (unless you have a job and receive a paycheck) will not be responsible for paying anything additional should it pass. We will, however, enjoy the benefits of the what the tax will help continue to provide — uninterrupted, quality, fire and police protection, for example. A lesser, but very much appreciate service, is the leaf and brush pick-up!
Should this tax issue not pass, many of these services may eventually have to be cut back with some eliminated completely. This will not only affect us, but our children, grandchildren, and our many friends as well!
I very much appreciate our city officials, who have not only stepped up to run for public office, but must also forever seek out new ways to keep up our quality of services, especially when revenues decline.
I urge you to be sure to take the time to vote and to vote “yes”.
Joan Stripe
Van Wert

via email

To the Editor:

Hello voters of Van Wert. By now many of you are aware of the upcoming 0.28 percent tax increase ballot measure that will be decided at the May 2 primary. Mayor Jerry Mazur’s previous columns lay out the basics for the needed ballot measure including reasons for Van Wert’s declining revenues as well as measures taken to fill in past budgetary gaps. If you haven’t up to this point, please read the Mayor’s columns and ask questions of any member of City Council or city administration.

Here, the intent of my letter is to explain why I voted to include the 0.28 percent tax increase on this May’s ballot and why I will vote “yes” come May. Being a member of City Council has afforded me the opportunity to view the City of Van Wert’s budget for several years (Note: This is an opportunity any citizen can have as well, you must simply file a request).

I have seen firsthand the steps taken by the employees of the city to reign in expenses, often to their own personal detriment. Further, I have been involved in countless discussions about the city’s budget, and finally, I, along with all the other members of City Council, have come to the conclusion that a tax increase is necessary. Like you, I hate paying taxes and despise the idea of paying more. For my family, any tax increase hits me twice, since I work in Lima and live in Van Wert. Despite this, my vote in May will still be to the affirmative.

If I may digress, a quick look at national politics will help make my case. Presently the Republican party controls both the legislative and executive branches of government. We have heard many pledges and promises by these politicians about any number of problems facing our country. For example, a common one is the growing federal debt. Did you know that only three areas of federal spending make up about 65 percent of all dollars the federal government spends? These areas are Social Security, healthcare spending such as Medicare, and national defense. Why does this matter you may ask? Simply put, unless we want to cut one or more of these areas, it will be very difficult to balance the federal budget. Similarly, in the city of Van Wert, our safety services, namely police, fire, and EMS, consume approximately 63 percent of our General Fund budget. So that begs the question: to balance Van Wert’s ever-tightening budget which of these three critical services would I like to cut? The answer: none. With the growing drug epidemic affecting our area, I certainly don’t want a smaller police presence around my family. When the smoke alarm woke my daughter and grandson last summer, followed by a speedy visit from our wonderful firefighters, I would not want to jeopardize their lives for any amount of money, especially something as minimal as $3 per week. And finally, I know all too well the importance of time during emergencies. How many of your loved ones would have needlessly suffered if 9-1-1 meant “sorry, we don’t have enough staff, you will have to wait”?

For these reasons, I will vote “yes” on May 2. I humbly ask you join me with your vote.

Sincerely,

Jon C. Tomlinson, Ph.D.
Van Wert City Council At-Large

via email

POSTED: 04/11/17 at 7:19 am. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

Mercer Residential Services is a local nonprofit organization that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as autism, Down Syndrome, and cerebral palsy by offering long-term supports and services funded almost exclusively through Medicaid.

Currently, our Congressional representatives are preparing to pass legislation called the American Health Care Act (AHCA) that would fundamentally change the structure and financing of Medicaid — the federal-state program that provides health coverage for 70 million low-income Americans, including one in five people on Medicare.

Federal financing for Medicaid would be converted to a per-capita cap model (such as under the AHCA) or block grant, both of which aim to limit and make more predictable federal spending on Medicaid and provide states more flexibility in their management of Medicaid spending.

Such a change could affect low-income people on Medicare because Medicaid helps cover Medicare’s premiums and cost-sharing and pays for services not covered by Medicare, such as nursing home care.

Under current law, the federal government matches state Medicaid spending at a rate determined by a formula set in statute. Federal spending increases in response to the rise in the cost of providing care to enrollees, with no limit on total federal contributions.

In contrast, under a block grant or per-capita cap model, federal Medicaid spending would rise at a specified growth rate, irrespective of the actual rise in Medicaid spending in a state. Limits on federal spending could put pressure on states to limit Medicaid spending over time, if Medicaid spending increased faster than the growth in federal contributions, potentially affecting 11 million elderly and disabled people on Medicare, who account for a disproportionate share of Medicaid spending. As written, the AHCA could put people with intellectual or developmental disabilities at great risk.

Replacing the Medicaid entitlement with per-capita caps or block grants means there is no guarantee that states will spend any of the funding they receive on disability services. In addition, there is no clarity of growth and whether intellectual and developmental disability programs will be able to survive or waiting lists will be reduced. With Medicaid as the principal source of funding for IDD programs, it is untenable that individuals with disabilities and their families have their livelihoods and well-being thrown into complete uncertainty.

There is no clarity over what a block grant would include in terms of flexibilities, what protections people with intellectual and developmental disabilities would have, and whether reimbursement rates for providers that provide services for this population would be sufficient to provide access to services.

This will also end the enhanced match rate for the Community First Choice Option program, which allows individuals with disabilities to live outside of state-run institutions and in the community, will add pressure on state budgets and increase the chance that individuals will have to return to state-run institutions.

Any changes to Medicaid must strengthen, protect, and stabilize the direct support professional workforce that supports individuals with disabilities. We must do this because our workforce is the key to services for people with intellectual disabilities — individuals with significant disabilities rely on staff to help with daily life activities, job coaching, transportation and more. Around 80 percent of the Medicaid funding in this arena goes to workforce known as direct support professionals (DSPs)

According to the National Core Indicators study that many states participate in including Ohio, the national direct support professional turnover rate in our field is 45 percent. In our area, annual average turnover is 52 percent. With such limited funds, we need to be able to keep and pay qualified staff to continue to offer stable and quality services to the people we currently serve rather than spend those critical dollars on constantly rehiring and retraining a new workforce. We also need direct support professionals to decrease the overwhelming in-state waiting lists of individuals with IDD who need but are not yet receiving services.

We are price-takers, not price-setters.

We want to employ more people and expand our services to meet the needs of our community, but states set the reimbursement rates which pay for our services (with approval from CMS) and we cannot negotiate the rates we need to meet demand or compete in an area with an unemployment rate around 3 percent.

We need to consider how changes to the Medicaid program will affect how much we can invest in our workforce, be competitive employers, and serve individuals so they can live full lives in the community. Limiting or capping funds to states will widen the gap between our ability to offer services and demand.

We need to tell Congress that this bill is unacceptable because as written; it could harm people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities by reducing how much Medicaid funding they receive. Please consider contacting our representatives and urge them to vote “no” on the American Health Care Act.

Garry Mosier

CEO, Mercer Residential Services Inc.

via email

POSTED: 03/22/17 at 6:55 am. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

I would like to clarify my position in the recent city council discussion on alcohol served on city-owned property.  As you may know, I was one of several vocal opponents to this issue.  I don’t mind at all when people disagree with my position, but I do not like to have it misrepresented.

Three times I publicly told Council that I have nothing against people drinking socially in the places where it is now allowed in the city: restaurants, bars, social clubs, private properties, etc. What I did totally disagree with is the idea of public drinking on city-owned property. Not only do I think this is a liability the city does not need to open itself up to, but I believe it basically puts the city in a position of sending a message to the children who are within a stone’s throw and eyesight of the area that alcohol (a mind-altering drug) is needed to have fun and make money.

Both Van Wert media outlets chose as their only quote for last Monday’s meeting that of Stuart Jewett, who said in part, “We’ve obviously got two different kinds of people in this room. We’ve got people who would enjoy to have a social beverage with each other and people who think that’s wrong.”

The articles did not indicate my rebuttal to that, in which I (again) indicated I am not against adults drinking socially where they are now allowed, but that I do not think the city has any business opening up its property for such activity.

Am I disappointed with the council’s vote? Yes, of course. But it is the way our governmental system works.  Many people over the last few weeks have used their right of free speech to voice their opinions to the Council against the sale, serving and public drinking of alcohol on city-owned property, and for that freedom I am thankful.

Thank you for allowing me to clarify my position.

Linda Hartman

Van Wert

via email

Editor’s note: To clarify, the independent did not include Mrs. Hartman’s rebuttal statement, because it had already been included in other stories on the alcohol amendment discussion.

POSTED: 01/13/17 at 8:21 am. FILED UNDER: Letters to the Editor