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.

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.

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.

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

An Open Letter to Council about a Potential Tax Increase

To all of the members of Wilmington City Council and Mayor Stanforth:

Thank you for hosting the public meeting on Thursday about Wilmington’s current financial situation. I believe that for many in Wilmington, the information presented by Service Director Brian Shidaker and Council President Randy Riley was valuable and informational. Finance Committee Chairman Mark McKay did an admirable job of allowing conversation between council members to flow without much interruption. Although the meeting was long, the discussion between council and among the members of the public who attended was good, and there were several issues brought to the table.

As it seems right now, Finance Committee seems to be leaning towards a recommendation to put a 0.5% earnings tax increase (likely temporary for five years). I believe that this is the best course of action in order to get something passed in fall election, and I hope that Finance Committee and Council work to bring this to the voters in this fall’s general election.

In my opinion, Council must consider the following issues:

  • How does Council assure the people of Wilmington that this money will be spent appropriately and prudently? In my opinion, Council must create a specific spending plan that shows how the money will be spent if the voters approve the tax increase. This plan should focus on the future of Wilmington, and how Council plans to make it a brighter one. I believe that it should include street repairs and property maintenance/building code enforcement specifically, as these are two items that many in Wilmington have expressed interest in.
  • Is a temporary tax the best way to go? I believe that it will be easier to pass, but I am not sure whether it is totally honest. Would the city be prepared to lose roughly $2 million from one year to the next in 5 years? It seems like we need significant monies to work to improve the city, and I am not sure if we can accomplish it all in 5 years. If the city can propose a spending plan that gets itself back to a level of services that people in Wilmington can agree with, I hope that Council will move forward with some considerations of putting a permanent tax on the ballot, but if you choose to pursue a temporary tax, that is an understandable move.
  • All Council members should be prepared to answer difficult questions about the city budget. If there are still Council members who believe that the city can cut itself out of this after Thursday night, I encourage you to present these plans. If not, I encourage you to admit you were wrong to publicly say this to get elected, and that we must move forward to provide a desirable level of services to the citizens of Wilmington.

As members of Council have pointed out, once Council moves the issue to a ballot, it must stay out of the campaigning. Ohio law prohibits government/public monies to be spent on most campaigns. Therefore, there will have to be work to create such a committee. As I have been a close and sometimes critical observer of this process, I would like to volunteer to head such a citizen’s committee, which would recruit volunteers and provide information for the passage of the tax increase. There is little doubt in my mind that with a good outreach campaign with Wilmington citizens from across the political spectrum, we can accomplish the goal of passing this tax increase and working to provide the residents of this incredible city the services they need for a city they can be proud of.

Respectfully,
Tyler Williams

This Week in Council-5/2-5/6

Finance Committee

Finance Committee is, at this moment, the most important and temporarily powerful body in the city. It has also shown itself to be the most inept. This week’s meeting may have been the most disappointing, with the committee rehashing the same discussion they have had for the last four months, with almost no progress. Here are some highlights:

  • Finance Committee spent almost the entire 30 minute meeting discussing what kind of special meeting to have. Chairman Mark McKay started the meeting by requesting a special Finance Committee meeting next week because he wanted to make sure they could spend enough time on the issue and that it was the only thing on the agenda. This appears to be a stall tactic. There were only a couple of other small, quick agenda items that took less than ten minutes before they got to the budget discussion.
  • President of Council Randy Riley essentially took over the meeting, pushing for a whole group special council meeting next Thursday to discuss the budget. He openly advocated towards coercing members of council to not take any vote or make any motions towards a vote on anything regarding the budget.
  • Eventually, a workshop was decided upon, with the administration presenting expenses of the city. Does Finance Committee not have that information? Did they not pass the budget?
  • Nathan Kraatz, reporter for the Wilmington News Journal, asked Finance Committee if they wanted the administration to present 15% in cuts that would need to happen to balance the budget. Chairperson McKay first asked where this number came from and then requested that it happen; subsequently, the administration said they would not be able to pull that off. City resident Mark Rembert asked why finance committee would not be recommending that. There was no real answer. There was also no statement as to why Finance Committee hasn’t taken any actions on the numbers it got almost two months ago from the administration as to potential cuts.

So what will happen at next week’s council “workshop?” It certainly sounds like this is not the public forum that Finance Committee was hoping for at the beginning of the year, but is more of an education for City Council itself about the budget. Finance Committee is under the gun to take action, but Chairperson McKay seems to think they are ahead of the game because it is only May. I hope that Thursday’s workshop will give Council and the Finance Committee enough information to act, but after this last Finance Committee meeting, I am skeptical.

Judiciary Committee

One item that I have purposely not written about here is the matter of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau funding. The reason I haven’t is because, for some reason, this funding has been tied to the Parks and Recreation Department, where my mother is the director. However, I wanted to give a quick overview of what happened at the meeting. I want to state, firmly, that I do not believe this money should be tied into parks in any way. I believe that this is about making sure General Fund monies are being spent wisely.

The CVB, through Executive Director Debbie Stamper, released a statement on the potential for losing some funding. In it, she said that the hotel lodging tax was “not public money.” She reiterated most of this at the meeting, but backtracked a little. Councilman Matt Purkey and Mayor John Stanforth were quick to say that this was wrong. The CVB argues that this money only comes from transient guests, and that it should be spent on these purposes. In the letter to Council, the CVB took the bold stance of telling Council how to spend its tax money, specifying that any money that the City withholds from the CVB should be spent to improve the City parks to attract tournaments (essentially, to increase the amount of revenue from lodging taxes).

Judiciary, especially Councilman Purkey, did an exceptional job of trying to separate the issue from Parks and make it about tightening up. Purkey pointed out the CVB Christmas cards as an example (I could point to many more, including a party for local people) of waste by the CVB. I could not agree more that there is bloat in the organization. The CVB has avoided much of this for years, but it seems that now might be the time when there is political will to make sure that General Fund monies are being spent in an appropriate and closely-watched manner.

City Council meeting

City Council was highlighted by the community fluoridation public forum. I will be doing a podcast on this, and encourage you to listen to that. It was certainly a good discussion, with both sides presenting arguments without getting nasty or angry. I believe that all of the concerns brought up, from the effect on kidneys to skeletal and dental fluorosis, were well handled by the physicians and dentist that were present. It is important for us to remember that many of these debates are taking place between people for whom these efforts will have minimal benefit-generally, adults that can afford dental coverage. This is sometimes ignored as we look at the benefits of fluoridation, unfortunately, but it must be an important part of the consideration if the issue moves to a vote.

After the public forum, the rest of the meeting went by without much discussion, save for the repeal of the G-1 Gateway Zone. This was met mostly without opposition, except for Mayor Stanforth. The mayor, who has indicated that he supports simplifying zoning in Wilmington, wondered if there would be an impetus to do so if the G-1 was repealed. In my opinion, the mayor makes a good point in that the city has lost some of its bargaining power with those that said they opposed the G-1. Zoning seems to be an important issue for many on City Council, and the Judiciary Committee has promised a Zoning Task Force to lead the way in zoning changes. This is a great start as we move towards a comprehensive zoning plan for the city.

Final thoughts

It was an exciting week of Council and Committee meetings. Action was taken on the G-1, while intense discussions were had about fluoridation and CVB funding. I am eagerly awaiting next Thursday’s Council budget workshop to see what information is presented and how discussions go. If you are passionate about Council pursuing a certain revenue source, I hope you will come and make your voice heard.

Clinton County Election Review

A quick review of the 2016 Primary Election Results for Clinton County

County Commissioner-Open Seat

Winner: Brenda Woods

Mrs. Woods ended up winning with almost one-third of the vote, with Mike McCarty and Terry Habermehl finishing second and third, respectively. Woods ran an impressive campaign, with well-designed signage and campaign literature. Additionally, she received broad support from community leaders, including current Commissioner Mike Curry and President of Wilmington City Council Randy Riley. Woods performed well in precincts throughout the county, including some in areas that figured to be strongholds for other candidates. She will bring years of experience in both county and city government to her new post.

 

County Commissioner-Kerry Steed’s seat

Winner: Kerry Steed, Incumbent

Steed won a very close race with Fife. Steed ran a strong campaign with good social media presence and advertising. Fife kept this race close, despite an apparent lack of campaigning beyond his statements to the Wilmington News Journal and his participation in the candidate forums. Steed will have to get by Dean Feldmeyer in the General Election, where he will need to answer questions about transparency with the usage of the hospital money.

Republican Presidential Primary

 

CC Winner: Trump
Ohio Winner: Kasich

Neither result is really surprising. Trump was strong in a place that has seen difficult financial times and is overwhelmingly white, doing particularly well outside of the city of Wilmington. Kasich did take the state, however, slowing the apparent Trump juggernaut.

Democratic Presidential Primary

CC Winner: Sanders
Ohio Winner: Clinton

Clinton winning Ohio after her loss in Michigan wasn’t a surprise, but it was certainly a disappointment to those who still think Bernie Sanders has a chance of winning the Democratic Primary. Sanders winning Clinton County, however, was interesting to me at first glance. I do wonder if it has to do with the strong pacifist Quaker community here and Mr. Sanders’ history of strongly pacifist rhetoric. Either way, Ohio was part of a fantastic night for Clinton, and it would be a shock for her to not get the nomination at this point.

 

Conversation with the Candidate-Terry Habermehl

A couple of days ago, I sat down with current County Auditor and commissioner candidate Terry Habermehl for a conversation about the race and his ideas for Clinton County. Mr. Habermehl is running against Scott Holmer, Brenda Woods, Mike McCarty, and Greg Grove in the Republican Primary.

On the senior services levy…

After the forum at the senior center, senior-specific issues have been on the candidates mind. Mr. Habermehl, having just come off of a talk at the senior center, was no different. Habermehl countered some of the information that has been discussed about the contract with the Council on Aging. While some have talked about the amount of money spent on administration of the levy that is paid to the CoA, he has said that their administrative costs may well be lower than if the county tried to administer the grant themselves. He said that when he first came on as county auditor a few years ago, there were discussions between Job and Family Services and the county about the grant being locally administered(Community Action had also inquired about this). According to Habermehl, they decided that there would be too many new positions that would need to be created in order to fulfill the expertise that would be needed to administer such a levy.

However, Habermehl did say that there were some things he would like to see done regarding the levy. He said that there is not enough input from seniors right now that is shared with the Council on Aging, which could include independent surveys. Additionally, he said that he would like to keep the administration local if it were a feasible option, which would need to be researched more.

On the 0.5% sales tax rolloff

Habermehl said that he is cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a sales tax rolloff. He believes that the rolloff should happen because it was passed as a temporary tax to begin with, and from the data from the last few years it would be fiscally acceptable. Mr. Habermehl added that the county has actually seen a rise in sales tax revenue over the last few years, with each of the last 3 years showing an increase from the previous year. According to Habermehl, as commissioner, his focus would be to continually explore long-term reports for revenue and expenditures to work to avoid re-adding the sales tax.

On moving from auditor to commissioner…

One of the questions I had for Mr. Habermehl was what inspired him to run for commissioner after spending the last several years as auditor. He said that he desires to work more closely with the people of Clinton County, which is not afforded to him as often in his role as auditor. He added that as auditor his role is providing information, but that in the commissioner’s role he could help people solve problems.

On the “hospital money”…

As with every candidate, the money from the sale of Clinton Memorial Hospital is an important consideration for Habermehl in the campaign. In his opinion, long-term planning is the most vital piece for using that money. He believes that money should be spent on infrastructure where possible, especially where it increases productivity in county offices and helps save money. With much of the rest of rest of the money, Mr. Habermehl believes that a legacy fund through the Clinton County Foundation should award grants with the interest earned on the money.

On efficiency in county government…

One of Habermehl’s passions for county government is increasing efficiency and collective action among the individual departments in the county. One of his interests is increasing the information technology infrastructure of the county government, which he claims is inadequate right now. There is currently no full-time IT person for the county, and most individual departments are responsible for their technology needs. Habermehl believes that this is an area where the government could be more efficient and save money, because departments would be purchasing items and services together rather than separately and could therefore increase their bargaining power.

On the possibility of a community center…

Mr. Habermehl said that one question that is not answered in specifics is “what is the definition of a community center?” He stated that this needs to be answered before anyone moves forward with it, because the services it provides will affect the support of it. One thing Habermehl said he may explore is the possibility of putting it to a vote, perhaps with the additional piece of a levy for operating costs. The operating costs, he said, were his biggest concerns in the long run.

 

This was another interesting conversation with a commissioner candidate. Thank you for reading, and I hope to talk to more candidates before the primary on March 15th.

Conversation with the Candidate-Dean Feldmeyer

In my second conversation with a commissioner’s candidate, I sat down with Dean Feldmeyer to talk about his campaign. Mr. Feldmeyer is the Senior Pastor at the Wilmington United Methodist Church. He is the only Democrat running for County Commissioner, and will face the winner of the Steed/Fife primary in the General Election. Here is a synopsis of our conversation:

On county services:

Mr. Feldmeyer said that he believes county services mostly fall into two categories: protecting and enabling citizens. In the first category, he includes infrastructure such as bridges and roads, and emergency services. He stated that in his he is also concerned with the amount of area the Sheriff’s office has to cover with the manpower they currently have and that we need to be assured that they can cover it. Dean was also adamant about protecting Caesar’s Creek Lake, the main source of water for the county. He proposed a study of the areas up to one mile from the lake to assure there were not any sources of contaminants for the lake for the foreseeable future.

As far as the duty of county services to enable residents, Mr. Feldmeyer placed an emphasis on providing health services for the people of Clinton County. Included in this is increasing funding for county trails and parks and providing nutrition and exercise programs for residents, especially those who could not otherwise access them.

On the Council on Aging and seniors services in Clinton County…

This is undoubtedly a major (if not the major) issue of Mr. Feldmeyer’s campaign-his concerns about how the money is being spent from the senior services tax levy. His interest in working closely with seniors comes from his experience with Clinton County Community Action, where he is currently the Board Chairman. He has worked with the group for around ten years, he said, and has seen an increase in needs for services for the growing senior population in Clinton County.

This levy is administered by the Council on Aging, a group based in Cincinnati. Mr. Feldmeyer had an issue with this on its face, because “we are giving money to a group from outside the county so they can tell us how to spend our tax dollars.” During our conversation, Dean expressed three main concerns: the decrease in funds from the levy geared towards recreation and fitness, the carryover of the monies from year to year, and the amount going to administrative expenses. With the first concern, Mr. Feldmeyer believes that seniors need more access to recreation and fitness opportunities, not fewer, for both social and health reasons. His concerns about the carryover of money from the levy stems from his belief that there are immediate needs not being addressed, and that “the levy is not there to create a savings account” but to provide services. As far as the amount going to administrative expenses, Dean says this runs about $80,000 per year, which again stems from his initial hesitation to pay an organization from outside of the county to spend this money.

According to Mr. Feldmeyer, these issues can be resolved by the creation of a local agency to administer these funds. That way, there is a direct link between taxpayers, those receiving the services, and those administering the services. He claims that there is no current system for oversight, even though there is supposed to be a citizens’ advisory committee for the money to work with the Council on Aging.

Feldmeyer continued about his desire to see increased access to services for senior citizens by discussing the current issues with Meals on Wheels. Feldmeyer claims that dozens of seniors have been cut off from services due to changes in certain criteria for the program. He believes that many of the seniors who have been cut off from the services still truly need them. According to Mr. Feldmeyer, these issues could have been potentially avoided with more local controls of the levy money. Instead, Community Action has had to pick up some of the costs from the decrease in funding for the program in order to continue to provide services for those seniors.

On being a Democrat in Clinton County…

Considering the Republican dominance in Clinton County politics, I wanted to know how Dean planned to get voters to look past the fact that he is running as a Democrat. Mr. Feldmeyer said he was focused on targeting issues and values that are universal to all people, and he stated his belief that people will support him. His platform of governing with responsibility, strength, and compassion are what he sees as something a wide variety of people can get behind.

On the hospital money and a community center…

Mr. Feldmeyer views a community center as not a goal, but as a tool to achieve goals. During our conversation, he said that the question that needs to be answered is “how would a community center meet the needs of the community?” Before he would commit to something like the center, he said he wanted to truly see if it was something that would be fiscally responsible and a true community need. Dean pointed out that it could be worth doing an exploratory committee to assess the needs of Clinton County, as well as the short-term and long-term costs. He pointed out that a concern with the center would be operating costs, which it would be difficult to guarantee from the county’s standpoint over the long-term.

With the hospital money, Mr. Feldmeyer noted the importance of the restrictions on its use. His focus would be on health and safety of Clinton County residents. He wants to invest in recreation and fitness opportunities for all people, including parks. Additionally, Dean stated that he believed the county needs to find programs to support the efforts of Judge Rudduck’s drug court. He said that exploring the possibility of a drug and alcohol treatment center in Clinton County could provide a lot of support to residents struggling with those issues and allow their families to provide more support to them while in treatment.

Finally, Mr. Feldmeyer emphasized that we should be using the money we have to address current needs. While he supports the creation of an endowed fund, he said that the county needs to address immediate needs while looking at the long-term. He believes that there are many needs in relation to health and safety throughout Clinton County that the money could be used for right now.

 

As I did after my last conversation with the candidate, I invite all other candidates for a one-on-one conversation about the issues currently facing Clinton County. If you (or a candidate you know) is interested, please let me know!