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.
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.
As I enter the final couple weeks of serving the 82nd District in the House of Representatives, I have had some time to reflect on my time in office and to the many people I have been so blessed to serve for the past four years. I cannot adequately express through words how much it has meant to Nancy and me to represent Defiance, Paulding, Van Wert, and parts of Auglaize counties.
Because of the input from hardworking men and women like those in northwest Ohio, I believe our state made great progress in recent years. I hope to see this continue for many more years to come.
From the day I started in the House four years ago, I have always looked at my role as someone who mostly works behind the scenes to improve upon the legislation that is brought before us. President Coolidge once said “it is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” I would like to believe that I have helped do both.
Some of the most gratifying work at the Statehouse occurred during the committee process, particularly as vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee. Agriculture, as so many of us know, is not only the number-one industry in northwest Ohio, but across the entire state. While I have taken all of the work in public office very seriously, working on ag-related issues was especially rewarding because I knew that it was an issue that so directly impacted the men and women of the district. Again, your support, input, questions, concerns and ideas helped guide me during our many policy debates.
Now, I am bidding farewell to the Ohio House of Representatives, an institution I have grown to love and respect so much. But I look forward to continue doing whatever I can to serve the people and interests of northwest Ohio, albeit in a different capacity.
Finally, I want to once again express my appreciation and humble gratitude to the families of the 82nd House District for giving me the opportunity to serve on your behalf in the Ohio House. It has been an experience I will forever cherish and never forget.
From my family to yours, have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After months of meetings and planning, the Van Wert Area Economic Development Corporation, the entity designed to combine city and county economic development efforts, will take the next step on its path to formality on Monday when elections are held for the three at-large positions to its Board of Trustees.
Not a member of the VWAED yet? No problem. The election is being held Monday night, June 20, at the Niswonger PAC and you can show up that night between 6:30 and 7, pay the $1 membership fee, and become a part of the future of Van Wert. If you can’t make it that night, memberships are still being sold during the day at the Commissioners’ Office and Mayor’s Office and you can vote at those places as well. Memberships will continue being offered after the election.
Several hundred memberships have already been sold. There’s been some interesting blocks of participation formed, but whatever makes someone want to be a part of the process is workable. If you want the windmills or don’t want the windmills and that’s the only thing you care about, being part of all of this will avail you to other things going on in the county that you might find relevant down the road.
I don’t believe we ended up where any of us thought it would be when we started, and ain’t nothing wrong with that. In the beginning, Mayor Jerry Mazur was meeting with me and the other two commissioners shortly after his election last fall, throwing ideas around on what each of us thought was important going forward.
At that time, Ohio State Extension had just inked a one-year contract for economic development with the city, courtesy of a shady maneuver by the former administration designed to keep us from moving forward after they left office. However, after the new city administration assumed duties, OSU Extension became helpful with what we wanted to do and its possible role in the process. Although it won’t be the lead in economic development anymore, there is still a great deal of utility OSU Extension can bring to the table down the road when things get moving, and I believe it will.
An initial concern was balancing public and private interests. The effort would not be effective should it be dominated by politicians, but, with hindsight provided by the past few decades, it also wouldn’t be effective if it became dominated by a small segment of economic interests either. It needed to be a broad-based, inclusive effort.
We came up with a scheme where an interim board would be formed to create a corporation, draft bylaws, design a structure, and basically get things rolling. There would be a commissioner (myself), Mayor Mazur, and two appointees each from the county and the city. We wanted a diverse representation of the community. The county appointed Stuart Wyatt of Ag Credit and Jim “Rabbit” Bonifas of The Kenn-Feld Group. Mayor Mazur appointed Van Wert High School Principal Bob Priest and Nicholas “Sticky” Rammel of KAM Manufacturing.
A seventh member, Sara Zura of Alexander & Bebout, was selected by the six initial board members. Mayor Mazur ran into some trouble early with City Council, which wondered on what authority the mayor was appointing members to an economic development board. It was explained that this was only an interim board, more of a committee. It was never meant to be exclusive anyway so Council was encouraged to begin attending the meetings and some did.
Much of what we did wasn’t recreating the wheel. We borrowed from corporate bylaws of similar organizations and rearranged them to fit our goals. City Law Director John Hatcher helped us incorporate and Rick Sealscott helped us obtain 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (since we didn’t have “Tea Party” or “Pro Life” in our name it went right through). With that, we are a non-profit organization that can receive tax-deductible donations — hopefully an additional funding source once we get up and running.
We settled on nine members for the final board to balance county, city, and private interests. Six candidates are running for the three at-large board positions on Monday to be chosen by the VWAED members. Their information can be viewed at www.vanwert.org and www.whyvanwert.org by clicking on the economic development and VWAED links. Three of the candidates will be on the “Commissioners’ Corner” radio show at 8:20 a.m. Sunday on WERT Radio — the show will also be available on the station’s website.
Once the three at-large positions are decided, the formal board will meet for the first time in early July. The county’s members on the board will be the same as the interim board and City Council will be presented the same nominees for its approval as well. We’ve had verbal exchanges that have bordered on heated on occasion — that happens when people care about a project. But it was understood from the beginning that our job was the combining of efforts on the way to completion and I believe we’ve accomplished the early parts of that mission.
As stated in a previous article, this board will not be the end-all, be-all of economic development, but it is the foundation. Early on, we envisioned the function of this board as approving the finances of the corporation and hiring a director and nothing else. It has grown into a bit more than that, but the real activity will be performed by committees under a director, where anyone can become a part of the activity going forward (more to come on that).
I’m not a joiner by nature and I’m guessing most people are like me. Don’t think of membership as creating obligations because it doesn’t. Think of it as becoming an independent power broker. You bring the ideas or energy and the purpose of VWAED is to enable your project. But that is in the future. The present is taking five minutes to become a member and vote on Monday.
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.
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.
To the Editor:
Local dogs should bark in celebration; their owners should jump for joy. Van Wert is planning a dog park! The park could be completed in 2017.
The Van Wert County Foundation is working with a community-led group to create a plan for the park. A designated area has been set aside on the northwestern edge of Hiestand Woods that the foundation owns. In size, it will be approximately 200 feet by 100 feet, and will feature two solid-surface entry pads, surrounded by a 6-foot fence. Both a large dog and small dog enclosure will exist.
To provide water, lines will be run so each enclosure will have access to fresh water. Doggie bags and waste containers will also be on-site. Best of all, the dog park will be handicap accessible.
Dog parks provide a new dimension to the community. First and foremost, these parks offer a safe haven for energetic dogs where they can burn off their pent-up energy. Equally, they foster positive interaction among local owners and residents. Hiestand Woods has always been a relaxing setting for family picnics and gatherings; now the dogs can enjoy the outing as well.
These parks provide a safe, secure place for dogs. Not all dog owners have adequate space in their yards for their pets to run. Finding time for a daily walk in this busy, work-related world is a problem. Obesity has become a problem in our society; so it is with many dogs who do not get the exercise they need. The dog park offers a community resource to address these problems and meet the needs of both the dogs and their owners.
Anyone wishing to make a donation can send a check to: The Van Wert County Foundation, c/o The Community Dog Park, 138 E. Main St., Van Wert, OH 45891. For more information, please contact The Van Wert County Foundation at 419.238.1743 or call community member Jan Spray at 419.203.8274.
To the Editor:
The Sister City visit to Van Wert was, in my opinion, a huge success in that both youth groups had an opportunity to gain insight into cultures that see the world from different perspectives.
The students from Sumoto City took up residence with Van Wert host families for three days, learning about the lifestyle of the typical American home, what common interests they share with kids their age, as well as what food American children enjoy. One thing was very apparent: all kids love Pizza Hut’s pizza and wings. I understand these are enjoyed in Japan as well.
I would like to thank the community of Van Wert for its warm expressions of well wishes, and the corporate sponsors, which supported the visit with food, gifts and lifetime experiences for our guest. But most of all, I would like to thank the many committee members who really put together a very memorable cultural exchange.
The following is a list of many people who contributed to the occasion’s success. If I have overlooked anyone who may have contributed in any way, please accept my sincere apologies.
Corporate and personal contributors:
Van Wert Federal Bank, Straley Realty & Auctioneers, Rhoades Insurance, Laudick’s Jewelry, DeShia, Van Wert Manor, Van Wert County Hospital, First Bank, Ace Hardware, Stephanie Dawn, Van Wert Police Department and Police Chief Joel Hammond, Lee Kinstle GM Sales & Service, Citizens National Bank, YMCA Camp Clay, Hugh Kocab, Clint Myers and staff, Pizza Hut, Marsh Supermarket, Brumback Library, Marcia Weldy, Van Wert County Common Pleas Court, Mike Kirkendall, Van Wert firefighters and Fire Chief Jim Steele, China Town Express, Connie and David Wai, Gary Taylor, Central Mutual Insurance Company, and Mary Jo Maag.
To all Committee Members: Thank you for your great work! We are very much looking forward to working with you in the planning of Van Wert’s cultural exchange visit to Sumoto City in 2018.
Anyone interested in joining or participating in such a visit may contact me at 419-238-0308 for additional details.
Again, thank you all for a job well done.
Mayor of Van Wert
To the Editor:
On behalf of the men and woman of the Van Wert Police Department, I want to thank the local businesses and citizens for the support we have been receiving in the wake of the national law enforcement tragedies.
In these difficult times, it’s easy to focus on the constant barrage of negative information that is being circulated daily. But locally, we are seeing the support around town, on social media, and citizens taking the time to thank us for the job we do.
These efforts have had a very positive impact on everyone in the department. It sends the message to those in public safety that the citizens of Van Wert appreciate and support us, which goes along way for morale.
Once again, thank you for your support.
Joel W. Hammond
Van Wert Chief of Police
To the Editor:
A big “thank you” to the 50 volunteers who helped mulch the Children’s Garden on Saturday, June 25. It was a beautiful day filled with fun, fellowship, and hard work.
There were representatives from Compassionate Friends, Rotary, Lifehouse Church, First United Methodist Church, Central Insurance, Eaton, Van Wert Service Club, Lincolnview FFA, retired community members, Master Gardeners from Van Wert and Paulding, Van Wert Parks and Recreation, and families and friends of the garden. Pizza Hut provided pizza for the workers.
The old saying “many hands make light work” was true on Saturday. Work started at 8 a.m. and finished at 12:30 p.m.
If we have forgotten any company or organization represented on Saturday, I apologize. You were all greatly appreciated.
Van Wert is a great community. Come out and enjoy the garden.
Ruth Ann Covey
and Van Wert Master Gardeners
To the Editor:
Fountain Park is clean and quiet, and everyone has gone home. Peony Festival 41 (XLI) is done.
Once again, there are many people to thank for their help and support. From our sponsors that make cash donations for specific activities or donate merchandise for our Quarter Auction, to those that attend our spaghetti supper, the quarter auction, and other activities throughout the year, we most sincerely thank you. It is your support that permits us to offer things like the trackless train ride, the caricature artist, and the Faery with her Enchanted Wagon.
Thatcher Insurance and the YMCA got some help sponsoring the Fishing Derby this year from Van Wert DARE, Bait Shore and More, and Cabela’s Retail Stores.
Car Show sponsors included Van Wert Propane and Shine, as well as their faithful friends at Straightline Auto Body and Custom Audio Concepts.
Van Wert Manor helped us honor our Flowers in Full Bloom and thanks to Straley Realty for sponsoring the Garden Tours.
The ever-popular bounce houses were brought to you by Lee Kinstle, Greve, Alspach-Gearhart Funeral Home, and others.
The Van Wert County Foundation deserves thanks for the bands in the parade, as well as the Native American dancers.
The list goes on, and all our sponsors are on our website at www.vwpeonyfestival.com. Please show your gratitude by frequenting these businesses.
I cannot close without recognizing the hard work put in by the dozen people on the Peony Festival Committee. It’s truly amazing what can be accomplished by just a few people.
Peony Festival Committee president
To the Editor:
On June 4, just two days before the 72nd anniversary of the D-day invasion at Normandy, Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative presented a check to the Northeast Indiana Honor Flight for $141,754.90. There is no greater reward than serving the veterans of this country.
These funds were the result of five months of intensive work by the employees of Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative. It was also the work of the community to help and support our efforts. We had elementary school kids doing fundraisers. We had people from all over the country and throughout the electric cooperative network buying raffle tickets.
The community of Grover Hill held a concert and dinner and raised over $7,000 to be one of our gold sponsors; Haviland Drainage Products provided direct funding and was our other gold sponsor; Andrew Hermiller, one of our journeyman lineman from our Columbus Grove office, sold over 70 raffle tickets. We had several contributions come from memorials from local community members.
The list of contributors is too long to include in this letter, but please check our website, www.ppec.coop, for the complete list.
To raise over $141,000 in a few short months not only takes commitment from our employees and organization, but that of our community. Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative serves a large service territory, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to just outside Lima; but we serve a greater community than just our service territory. The community we serve doesn’t have utility boundaries. Serving veterans doesn’t come with utility service territories. At Paulding Putnam Electric, we understand that the cooperative principle of Commitment to Community doesn’t have utility boundaries. This is why when people doubted that we could raise enough funds for one Honor Flight (about $70,000) our employees saw this as just another challenge. The final total will fund at least two flights.
The Honor Flight is so powerful, so meaningful to our veterans that fundraising was much easier than we thought it would be. In fact, one donor said if we didn’t meet our original goal of $70,000 to let him know and he would write a check to cover the needed amount. When we talk about commitment, that’s the definition of commitment. These are the types of people we have in our community; people that step-up for a cause.
The increased awareness of the Honor Flight program has been an added benefit to our campaign. Due to the increased publicity, the World War II veteran participation had nearly doubled for the first two flights in 2016. This alone makes the whole program successful.
I can’t thank everyone in this letter, but I need to give special thanks to two groups. First, to the Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana: There is no more dedicated group serving veterans that I know of. They have been so helpful and supportive and I can’t thank them enough. Second, to our employee committee that made it all happen: Tara Schlatter, Annette Schreiner, and Steve Kahle. These three were assisted by Erika Willitzer, and they made everything possible. They worked tirelessly to insure everything was perfect; and it was perfect, as the results show.
Finally, I want to thank our broad community for their support. We raised $141,000 because we have community support for our veterans. This community knows the importance of serving our veterans and I am glad that in a small way Paulding Putnam Electric could be a part of this veteran support.
PPEC CEO & General Manager
To the Editor:
The purpose of this letter is to say a word about volunteerism. Whether it be helping your neighbor trim his unsightly bushes or extending a helping hand by cleaning up our downtown area, it is important that we as a community help each other when we can.
Spring and summer are excellent times for tidying up our yards and properties, and volunteering opportunities abound. Volunteering benefits the giver, as well as the receiver. A friendly smile, a word of encouragement, a helping hand, and some good old-fashioned teamwork can result in extraordinary benefits to all involved.
A volunteer opportunity at the Children’s Garden in Smiley Park is approaching on Saturday, June 25, at 10 a.m. Any and all volunteers are encouraged to come and help spread mulch, weed the gardens, or perform various other duties.
No Master Gardener qualification is required — what is needed is your time, a positive attitude, and effort to help beautify the Children’s Garden so that our children and grandchildren can continue to enjoy this beautiful garden. If you care to get involved, please call 419.238.1237 to have your name put on a list of volunteers.
Won’t you join me in this effort in your own neighborhoods as well? It’s time we set aside personal differences. Be the person making the first move to improve neighborly relationships. We’re all in this together. We can be part of something bigger and more meaningful, while making Van Wert a better place for us to live.
Office of the Mayor
Van Wert, Ohio
To the Editor:
In the interests of keeping the City of Van Wert clean and inviting for Van Wert residents and guests, we ask that all residents take personal responsibility for themselves, their properties, and their pets.
We are acutely aware that residences must be cleaned up in terms of junk vehicles, trash, tall grass, and weeds, etc. We here at City Hall are taking the initiative to address all of these issues. Certain steps must be followed, and the process takes time. With active participation by all Van Wert residents, we can accomplish visible results in a timeframe that will be reasonable for all concerned.
With respect to your pets, please be a responsible dog owner. Taking care of your dog’s waste when you are walking with your pet is being responsible. Please do not allow your dogs to roam into neighbors’ yards unattended and leave waste. We all understand how unwelcome this type of discovery is in our own yard. Together, we can be responsible pet owners who do the right thing by our neighbors and our city.
Overpopulation of cats has also become a significant problem in Van Wert. We ask that you do not feed cats that do not belong to you unless you intend to neuter, vaccinate, and care for them. In addition, the Humane Society is currently overly full with cats, and adoption to good homes is encouraged. Please do not drop off unwanted cats outside the Humane Society’s business hours of 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday. Cats are to be confined to their owners’ property.
In conclusion, we ask that each individual take personal responsibility for his or her own household, property, and animals in order to make a positive difference in our community. If we all join together in a concerted effort with common goals, we can be proud to call Van Wert our home.
City of Van Wert Administration
To the Editor:
I sent a similar letter to the City Council members and received an acknowledgement from Joi Mergy, Ken Markward, and Pete Weir. I appreciate their taking the time to acknowledge my concerns. I hope that this editorial letter will provide thought provoking information for those who are in favor of the increased speed limit.
My husband and I live at the curve on South Walnut Street. We frequently use the curve sign to direct people to our home. In August, we will have lived here for six years. During that time, we have seen many close calls and have had a few as we exited our drive. I can cite many reasons the speed limit should be maintained and enforced at 25 mph.
A year-and-a-half ago, a man was critically injured while driving the curve. High school cross country and track participants frequently run this street along, with adult joggers. Youngsters 9 to 12 years old live in proximity to the curve. They, along with adults, like to ride bikes and walk along the street. Homeowners and their guests must enter and exit the drives. The curve makes it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to see oncoming cars.
Currently there is an excess of traffic because of the closing of South Washington.
Unfortunately, most drivers do not observe even a 35 mph speed limit and drive in excess of 45 mph, so I am speaking of the potential of life threatening injuries — especially around the curve going both north and south. Also, the speed on Walnut north of Ervin Road is 25 mph so why does this section have to be 35? Set your speed control to 25 mph, if it is too difficult to drive that speed. I do.