Discussion on Fluoride, Landfill Doesn’t Lead to Action

After a long meeting of Wilmington City Council, no action was taken on the two major topics of the night-fluoridation of the water supply and paying for the potential expansion of the landfill. Both issues have been ongoing discussions, with fluoride appearing on the ballot in an advisory election in November.

The Wilmington Landfill, owned and operated by the City of Wilmington, is growing at a rate that will force the city to expand it in around five years. Because of this, the City has worked on a plan to fund the expansion. The main ways to meet this financial need would be to raise rates, borrow the money, or do a hybrid of the two. During the meeting, Third Ward City Council Representative Joe Spicer, who is the chair of the Solid Waste Committee, spoke about the process. Mr. Spicer focused on the need to be proactive so rates did not have to be raised drastically in the future, but could instead be raised slowly and only as necessary. He discussed wanting to avoid the water rate increase that residents saw recently, as well as the three dollar increase to trash rates that Council had discussed last year. The plan that Mr. Spicer put forth was to increase rates fifty cents per month for a residence and one dollar per month for commercial customers. This, he emphasized, would not pay for the entire project, but would allow the city to borrow less money for the project in the future. Mayor John Stanforth then read aloud a note from the City Auditor’s office, which discussed some of the funding options. The Auditor’s office recommended waiting until 2019 and issue a note then for the full amount of the cost of the project. Mayor Stanforth emphasized that he believes that there is no need to raise rates now. Complicating matters is the recent resignation of Sanitation Department Supervisor Braden Dunham, which is a blow to a department that has a major automation process in the works to add to the discussion about landfill expansion.

After substantial discussion, Council decided to table the issue until the new Sanitation Department Superintendent is hired and is able to look at the finances and plans for the landfill. There was significant disagreement between the administration, council, City Treasurer Paul Fear, and the City Auditor’s office. Frustration boiled over for many who have been in the city government for a few years because of the lack of forward movement or solidification of a plan. Councilman Spicer has asked the administration to have a plan by May, so it appears that the discussion will be taken up again then.

During the Water Committee reports, Councilwoman Kelsey Swindler reported out on a “preliminary opinion of probable cost” and engineering report from Strand, who has been working on the report since after the first reading of the ordinance to fluoridate the water supply. There were two main points in the report that caused Swindler to ask to table the third reading of the ordinance to fluoridate the public water system. Ms. Swindler reported that the initial capital costs, according to the report, would be roughly $315,000 and the Ohio Department of Health would not be able to cover nearly that. Since Council got the report yesterday, Ms. Swindler decided to give them time to read over and respond to it, and to allow the administration to look at more potential funding sources before deciding on a way to move forward. Previously, some of the members of council expressed concern about the potential costs, so this seems like a solid move. Now, council will have to decide how to move forward knowing that the people voted to fluoridate the water system. Hopefully, some positive news will come from the administration’s search for new funding sources, and the City of Wilmington can finally join most other municipalities in Ohio and fluoridate its public water system.

One important piece to watch on Council is to see whether there is any movement on these issues over the coming months. Mr. Spicer and Ms. Swindler have made it clear that they will continue to pursue a resolution to the two major issues discussed at council. However, at a time where not spending money is the rallying cry for many on Council, will they be able to find allies as they work towards the future? The next few months will be a vital time for both of those issues, and will show the true willingness to problem-solve by members of council and the administration.

City Council has First Reading on Fluoride Ordinance

City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance to mandate that city water be fluoridated. This vote came after an advisory election, which passed 57% to 43%. This first reading will (hopefully) be the first of three readings, and will allow Safety and Service Director Brian Shidaker to work with an engineer to get an estimate on costs for the implementation of a fluoride program.

For anyone that reads this blog with consistency, I have (and continue to be) supportive of adding fluoride into the public water supply. The voters showed up on election day and told council, by a 14% margin, that they want fluoride in the city’s water system. So how, after supporting the move to go to the voters, did two council members still vote against a FIRST reading on this ordinance?

One council member, Lonnie Stuckert, has embarrassed himself throughout this whole process. He continued to do so with his behavior and statements on Thursday night. The week before the election, he wrote a letter to the editor that would have been bad anyway, but was made worse by his position on city council. He showed that he is more willing to listen to conspiracists and bloggers rather than the CDC and other public health organizations. This was in stark contrast to the pro-fluoride letters from a variety of physicians, dentists, and public health professionals in Wilmington. He doubled down on many of those statements Thursday night, which included him insinuating that Council member Kelsey Swindler was unethical and that those of us that voted for the fluoride measure were misinformed.

One statement from Mr. Stuckert that stood out to me was when he said the Society for Toxicology had said that fluoride was as bad as lead. This was shocking to many in the audience, and I immediately took to Google. I couldn’t find anything that indicated they had an official position on this, other than that their website still has educational materials that were pro-fluoride. I believe, although I am not certain, that Mr. Stuckert found an article from the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, which is cited frequently in the anti-fluoride literature as stating that the Society for Toxicology has come out against fluoride. A long search of their website did not lead me to finding anything of the sort. I did, however, find that the Journal has advocated such positions as linking vaccines with autism, saying HIV does not cause AIDS, and linking abortion and breast cancer, among a much broader list of scientifically unfounded and discredited claims.

So what do with a council member who refuses to represent his ward, but instead himself? With someone who has become so contrarian as to get personal with his fellow members of council, and say that voters who disagreed with him (the majority) have basically been duped? Who, in part, must blame the local medical professionals who have supported fluoride as part of this conspiracy to mislead the voters? I believe the voters in the 2nd Ward will know what to do if, hopefully, he sees challengers in next year’s election. He has shown that he is not interested in representing the most vulnerable residents of his ward–children who have difficulty accessing medical care, but instead wants to represent the bloggers and questionable science. We cannot afford to have someone who neglects to represent their ward like Mr. Stuckert.

Where does Wilmington go from here?

I have taken the last few months off from writing to work on the Campaign for Wilmington’s Future, which was a committee that was working towards the passage of the Wilmington Municipal Income Tax increase that I have written about many times on this site. After a successful campaign, I am glad to be back writing about local issues. Working on the campaign, learning from city government officials about the budget, having conversations with a variety of residents of Wilmington about the city and its government has been an education and enlightening experience for me.

The current budget situation

One of the biggest questions that we got during the campaign was “where is the money going?” Well, part of this answer was easy-the majority would go towards covering the deficit, while much of the remainder would be used to help build the city’s carryover (aka rainy day fund). This would leave an estimated $500,000 per year for the City to spend, ostensibly on infrastructure projects–with streets taking a top priority. Throughout the campaign, this is what the City had emphasized as its spending plan. While not as specific as many would have liked, the administration felt that it would be potentially irresponsible to give more specifics and have unforeseen circumstances change plans.

How should the city proceed?

Now is not the time for city officials to rest on their laurels. Passing the tax was a very important step in the right direction to help the City work towards a more secure financial future while increasing investments in infrastructure projects. During the campaign, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents worked together for the future of the City, showing support across the political spectrum. However, the City cannot ignore the nearly 2000 people who voted against the tax. This could be partially seen as a referendum on how the City communicates and pursues active transparency. While the City had open forums and a special Council meeting to discuss the tax, many still felt like information was not as readily available as it could have been.

I have written about the importance of citizens to be engaged in their local government’s activities. Additionally, I have written about transparency being an issue in local government (although I did praise the City for its efforts at publicizing Council meetings). This is a time for the City to have be aggressively transparent. Those people who were skeptical about the tax (many of whom still voted for it because they understood its importance) need to feel that their voices are being heard. The City should proceed quickly with public discussions on the budget, with Finance Committee leading the way with meetings being held in Council chambers to show residents of Wilmington exactly how they are planning on spending the money that has been entrusted to them.

It is time for Wilmington to begin the process of moving forward into the future, know that its short-term fiscal future looks brighter. However, the City must be prepared to listen to Wilmington residents and work together to invest in Wilmington. I encourage residents of Wilmington to go to Council meetings related to the 2017 budget to learn more about how their money will be spent, and I encourage Council to welcome these engaged citizens into these incredibly important discussions.

Issues and races I will be watching this fall

We are officially one hundred days from the November 8th election, one which carries massive consequences both locally and nationally. Here are four races that I am watching closely, from a local tax issue to the Presidential election:

The Proposed Municipal Tax Increase for the City of Wilmington

City Council has decided to put a 0.5% temporary income tax increase on the ballot in November. This is probably the issue that I have written the most about in this space (here and here and here), so I think my thoughts are well-documented on the issue. I have taken a role in the campaign to pass the tax increase, so most of my efforts on communicating the need for the tax will be made through the campaign. Bottom line-I have had conversations with people at the City Building, and there is no doubt in my mind that we must pass this tax. It is imperative. Whatever your beliefs on taxes, if you want our safety services (police and fire) to stay close to where they are, I believe it is in our best interest as a community to emphatically pass this tax.

Clinton County Commissioner

The election to replace Mike Curry, who is retiring from his post at the end of this term, took place in the spring Republican Primary. Brenda Woods, who has significant administrative experience in city, township, and county government, won the five person race.

The other race is still ongoing, as incumbent County Commissioner Kerry Steed has a Democratic challenger in Dean Feldmeyer. Democrats in county-wide races have faced an uphill battle, and Feldmeyer will probably be no different. Feldmeyer, whose involvement in several local organizations including Community Action spurred his entrance into the race, is running an unabashedly progressive campaign focused on what he calls a “caring economy campaign.” Mr. Steed focused his rhetoric of his campaign in the spring on his experience as County Commissioner and his focus on fiscal responsibility. Feldmeyer’s goal will likely be to continue to push for more local control of money from the Clinton County Senior Levy and continue his conversation on the “caring economy” model.

United States Senator

Not only is Ohio one of the most important states in the presidential election, but the election for Rob Portman’s Senate seat is arguably the most important senatorial race in the 2016 election. Challenging Portman for his seat is former Congressman and Governor Ted Strickland, who has spent the last few days campaigning with Hillary Clinton on the trail in Ohio. Portman, on the other hand, has endorsed Donald Trump, despite being openly critical of him.

Portman has opened up a 4-point lead in the polls, although they were taken before Strickland went on the road with Secretary Clinton. Recently, Portman has picked up a few union endorsements, including from the Teamsters organization that endorsed Strickland in his gubernatorial runs. Strickland does have several other big endorsements, including President Obama and several other unions. This race will likely come down to the wire, with Strickland touting his progressive agenda while Portman hits him hard on the job loss during Strickland’s time as Governor of Ohio. It also may be affected by rhetoric of the candidates for President, as Trump has already shown Portman’s early endorsement of him to be a questionable decision.

Presidential Race

I have written about Donald Trump before, and even gave my prediction for the contest at the state and county levels. Mr. Trump, of course, is running as the Republican nominee against former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was officially named the Democratic Party nominee last week. This is a race of historic proportions. On one side, Hillary Clinton has been involved in politics and government for thirty years, while Mr. Trump has often discussed entering politics but finally decided to pull the trigger last summer. There is not much more that I can say on this race that I haven’t said before. A Trump presidency would be a true disaster, and his comments about minorities and women, as well as his complete lack of understanding of foreign affairs, make him unelectable. If one of the candidates decides to swing through any small towns in southwest Ohio, I will cover it, but there are many out there who can do a much better job than me of covering this particular race.

 

This election is important and historic on a local and national level. If you are reading this, and you are eligible but not registered to vote, please click here to see more information on registering. Do it today! If you have questions or comments about the article, feel free to comment below or email me at thewilmingtonbulletin@gmail.com.

Council needs to take control of conversation on City’s CVB Funding

For the past several months, the issues surrounding the funding of the Clinton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has gotten to a point of embarrassment for the both the City and the CVB. This week, Judiciary Committee and full Council will both discuss changes to the legislation on the funding to the CVB , which is mandated by the state to be 50% of the lodging tax collected by the City.

The City’s Proposal

The City has decided to legislate that the CVB will get the state-mandated 50% of the lodging tax revenue, with 49% going to tourism more generally (and 1% going to administration). The CVB could apply for that money, along with other local organizations. Some that have been brought up as examples are the City Parks and Recreation department and Main Street Wilmington, with whom the CVB has had some collaboration in the past.

The CVB Response

The CVB has pulled out all of the stops trying to stop this change from being put into the legislation. Their concern is their loss of around $50,000 worth of income, out of an approximately $300,000 budget (this assumes that the city would not allocate any of the aforementioned 49% to the organization). The CVB and its representative on Council, Joe Spicer, have continued to put up nearly conspiratorial arguments about why the city shouldn’t take away their funding. Bob Heyob, the organization’s treasurer, went so far as to say the city would lose $2 million in tourism with the cuts. That number is ridiculous, and when questioned on it at a Judiciary Committee meeting, it was ignored. Spicer has said that the other money would go to “pet projects.” Debbie Stamper, the Executive Director of the CVB, has written letters to the Wilmington News Journal touting dubious economic impact numbers and saying that other organizations, specifically the Parks department, does not have any oversight of their budget. She also claimed that the money from the lodging tax was not public money, which drew a rebuke from several members of city government.

Where the City went wrong

From the beginning, the City lost the message of the issue, making it about moving money for tourism from the CVB to other organizations. As Wilmington faces a potential financial crisis, why have we decided to not use the rest of that money for the general fund? Instead, Council focused the discussion on using it for Parks and Recreation, as long as that money was used to draw tournaments to the City. Instead of having a conversation about the best use for that money, Council immediately capitulated to the belief that all of the money must go to tourism.

I have had conversations with several members of Council about waste in the CVB. Many have received or seen the organization’s Christmas cards, which are pointless and wasteful. Also, the organization spends over $25,000 in rent and utilities for a building in which two people work. In addition, they are spending $10,000 for their website, which is far more expensive than any of the local non-profit organizations with which I am familiar. Yet the organization is balking at transparency to Council-the organization elected by the citizens of Wilmington to protect public funds.

Council has its last shot this week. Either bow to pressure from the CVB to not cut their funding, or stand up for the General Fund and acknowledge the extreme financial pressure we are under. The City has been talking about this issue for a long time, and it is time to act. If Council decides that the CVB is deserving of the money when the City’s budget comes up, that is fine. The City should not force themselves into limited language on how that money is spent.

 

0.5% Municipal Income Tax Increase Goes to Voters

Last Thursday, July 7th, City Council voted unanimously to place a 0.5% municipal income tax increase on the ballot in November (Councilperson Joe Spicer was absent, but had previously voiced support for allowing the voters to decide). As per Ohio law, if a City wants to increase its municipal income tax beyond 1% (where Wilmington currently stands), it must go to the voters.

This has been several months, if not years, in the making. A Blue Ribbon Committee that consisted of local residents and politicians supported a municipal income tax increase after digging into the City’s budget, but at that time, the City had enough in reserves to push the matter into the future.

With the City’s budget at a breaking point, Council was finally forced to act this year. The City cut in certain places, but realistically, there is no way to cover a $1.5 million deficit. The City has lost so much money over the last decade, from the massive job loss at the airpark to the cuts to funds given to local governments by Governor Kasich and company from the state.

I have already voiced my support for this tax increase, and I have volunteered to help get it passed. I hope that this is the beginning of a dialogue about how the City spends its money and invests in infrastructure. We have streets that need to be paved and fire and police departments that need to be funded. The citizens of Wilmington should vote for this tax and continue to make sure their elected officials follow through with their promises on how they will spend additional funds coming into the general fund.

We Have an Open Meetings Problem in Wilmington and Clinton County

Let’s say you are a person who is interested in an issue being presented at a Clinton County Commissioner’s meeting, and you want to attend. You do your homework, prepare your statement, get some supporters to join you. Only one problem-you can’t because you have a job. As you may know, our Clinton County Commissioners meet at 8 am on Mondays and Wednesdays. This is a time that allows retirees and the lucky few who can get off work to be a commissioner or participate in meetings, but prohibits those of us who work full-time to attend meetings.

City government is not immune to this issue. I challenge you to find the regular meeting times for the commissions that are administered by the City on the city’s website. Personally, I have ties to multiple commissions/boards, and I struggle to understand or know when these meetings are.

Several local public bodies do a much better job of getting the word out for their meetings. City Council has their meeting times readily available online for both council committees and council at large. They even post the agendas for full council meetings online the day before (and have an email list you can join for the agendas). Council meeting times give more of an opportunity for people who do work to attend. The Clinton County Regional Planning Commission has their next meeting front and center on their website, showing that there are easy ways to do it.

So why do we have so many government organizations that have the issue of inconvenient meeting times or non-posted meeting times? The former is the biggest concern. It raises questions about who these boards serve, especially for the Commissioners. These meetings should be for the benefit of the public, as we are the people who are affected by their decisions. The meeting times also prevents many working people from not only attending meetings, but potentially being a county commissioner.

It is time for us, as a community, to move forward from the days where everyone who lived here, worked here, and people were more available for public meetings during the day. We must demand that our local governmental organizations abide by the spirit of the Open Meetings Laws and accommodate the vast majority of people who are unable to attend meetings during the day. Our elected and appointed officials need to know that these meetings should be held at the public’s convenience, not their own. Wilmington will likely be putting an income tax increase on the November ballot, and citizens should know that their city is actively working to make citizens be a part of the decision making process. Hopefully, the County Commissioners will consider holding their meetings at a time that will actually allow ordinary, working citizens to attend and have their voices heard. The government must work for the people-not the other way around.

Last week in City Council-6/13-6/17

As I said in my preview of City Council items for last week, I guessed it would be an interesting week. I was not wrong. Here is a quick recap of the three important committee meetings from last week, as well as council itself.

Finance Committee

The hottest topic in local politics continues to be the potential tax increase. The efforts to get the tax increase on the ballot were stalled last week because, according Finance Committee Chairman Mark McKay, Mayor John Stanforth and Council President Randy Riley wanted to send the resolution and related ordinance to experts on tax legislation in Columbus to assure that both documents were solid. Ultimately, this seems like the right thing to do, as long as Council proceeds with the vote on July 7th as they are intending (it seems like this will not be an issue). Having the voters approve the new tax and then somebody issuing a legal challenge is something the City cannot afford. This needs to be a lesson for Law Director Brett Rudduck-this should have been done weeks ago. The resolution and ordinance that were originally presented were riddled with errors, but tax legislation is very complicated. Hopefully, this will prove to be a minor hiccup and Council will be back on track with the ordinance and resolution on July 7th.

Judiciary Committee

After the relatively calm Finance Committee meeting, Judiciary started off with a discussion about Wilmington’s feral cat issue. Both the Wilmington Area Humane Society (WAHS) and the Clinton County Humane Society (CCHS) had representatives there to help answer questions about their Trap-Neuter-Release programs (WAHS’s program is currently on hold until they get their new building). This was an informative, but long, discussion, and it ended with the Committee deciding that there was very little they could do about it.

After the discussion on feral cats, discussion began on the changes to how the money the city receives from the hotel lodging tax is distributed. As anticipated, this discussion got fairly heated, and unfortunately nothing was settled. However, one thing is very clear-the Convention and Visitors Bureau does not want to have to be accountable to council at large or the Finance Committee. The proposal on the table is to cut the funds automatically given to the CVB from the tax money from 90% to 50%, with almost all of the other money going back to the general fund to be distributed to organizations trying to promote tourism in the city. The CVB would be allowed to apply for any of the money not automatically allocated towards them.

Members of the CVB board, along with Executive Director Debbie Stamper, were on hand to express their displeasure. Treasurer Bob Heyob was the most vocal, spouting off questionable numbers about the effect that this would have on the CVB, including that it would cost city tourism around $2 million. When I pushed him to elaborate on it, he declined, but I believe that he was indicating that the CVB is the only reason there is any tourism in Wilmington. This is a bold and ridiculous claim. Council Member and CVB representative for the City Joe Spicer was also on hand to say that there is an “agenda” and that the money would go to pet projects. What these were, he did not say, but he seemed to be fine pursuing a conspiracy theory angle instead of actually participating in discussion. He also called past council members “dumb” for not fixing this legislation previously. The Judiciary Committee needs to be firm with the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. For far too long, they have been able to give questionable research and numbers in relation to their impact on the county, and they have had a variety of expenditures that many non-profits would scoff at. Council needs to put their foot down and protect General Fund money, and the CVB needs to stop acting like their funds are unlimited and start acting as a protector for the limited tax dollars in our community.

Solid Waste Committee

Solid Waste Committee had a very productive and informative meeting about the future of our automated trash retrieval system. Sanitation Superintendent Braden Dunham was on hand to explain to the Committee, as well as those in attendance, some of the intricacies of the program. A few questions I have gotten about the program that Mr. Dunham answered:

  • There will not be an increased cost to those living in the city who only use one of the new trash bins (which will be provided at no cost to residents)
  • Residents that use more than one of the automated bins will be required to pay extra. For example, if it is $15 for trash pick-up per month for the first bin, it would be $7.50 for the second. I don’t know if these numbers have been finalized exactly, but these were the numbers discussed at Committee.
  • Residents will not have to pay for their own bins. The City will provide 95-gallon or 65-gallon bins, depending on the resident’s preference. The thought process is that many residents who do not have children at home may want the smaller, easier-to-handle bins.

The program will hopefully start in early September, with the goal roll-out date being September 1st. Soon, residents will receive more information in the mail about the program. I have also invited Mr. Dunham to talk for an interview for the blog and the podcast to help residents of Wilmington understand more about how this is going to work. If you have additional questions about the program, please email me at thewilmingtonbulletin@gmail.com.

I left the Solid Waste Commitee meeting impressed with these new advancements, especially Mr. Dunham’s efforts in saving the city money on the bins by working through multiple vendors. I look forward to the City pursuing more efforts like this to improve productivity and efficiency.

City Council

Surprisingly, City Council was not very exciting this week. Council is currently in a holding pattern for the tax increase issue, and no discussion was had regarding it. There was no discussion on the lodging tax or feral cats, but Mayor Stanforth did talk about the happenings of Solid Waste Committee in his section. The undeniable highlight of Council was when Alice Davidson, recent graduate of Laurel Oaks and Wilmington High School, was given a commendation and Key to the City by the Mayor as well as representatives of the Police and Fire Departments for her heroism in working to save a stranger’s life who had overdosed. It was a special moment for everyone at Council, and Ms. Davidson was very humble in accepting those praises.

 

The next Council meeting is July 7th at 7:30 pm. Hopefully, it will feature a 3rd Reading on the ordinance and resolution pertaining to the municipal income tax increase proposal. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be continuing to follow up on those issues, as well as providing an update on county politics. If you have questions for me or stories you are interested in, please email me at thewilmingtonbulletin@gmail.com