Oregon Mayor Mike Seferian and challenger Tom Susor on Wednesday debated issues ranging from how to lure new businesses, reduce crime, and enhance economic development efforts to how to improve drainage, attract tourism, and make the city a more desirable place to live in their bid to become the next mayor.
Seferian, seeking re-election to a second term, and Susor, who is council president, appeared before a crowd of about 70 in the auditorium at Mercy St. Charles Hospital in the scheduled debate.
Seferian, elected mayor in 2008, listed the accomplishments of his first term, while Susor, elected to council in 2011, noted what he called “missed opportunities in the last four years.
“I want the city to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to invest in the future of our community,” said Susor, who also served on council from 1983-1991. “Over the last 20 years, we’ve missed some `once in a lifetime’ opportunities to make the city more attractive to quality development.”
For example, he said the city should have had more foresight to move a waterline from the middle of State Route 2, when it was being widened in 2004, to the sides of the road to prevent costly water taps of new businesses.
“To this day, if a business comes to town, we still have to dig up Route 2 to get to the water line. To me, that’s a missed opportunity,” he said.
He also said the city in 2002 should have welcomed the development of Home Depot, which was opposed by many people living near the proposed site on Navarre Avenue.
“I don’t have to go into detail what the city would look like now if we would have welcomed Home Depot instead of restricting development. That, my friends, is truly a missed opportunity,” said Susor.
Not widening Wheeling Street to four lanes, he added, was also shortsighted.
“Just recently, we shut down Wheeling Street for months. We widened the road, but we didn’t make the road four lanes at this time, even though it fronts a 90 plus acre development. How could you market better an empty 90 acre site between two major hospitals? Would it be easier with four lane access or two lane access? That, my friends, is another missed opportunity.”
Seferian noted a series of major projects that were completed during his first term.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished over the last four years,” said Seferian. “I believe we’ve accomplished what we have because we’ve taken a conservative approach to spending while developing innovative solutions to the challenges we’ve faced. When I came to office four years ago, our residents, businesses and city were all struggling to deal with the deepest recession our city has ever seen. Tax revenue and funding from the state were both falling to the lowest level in years. We worked cooperatively with our work force to reduce the cost of our operation, balance our budget, positioned Oregon well for the future.”
Seferian added that the city cut more than $1 million annually from the cost of operations.
“Over that same period of time, we developed three innovative work agreements with local partners to build a foundation for Oregon’s future. First was our funding agreement with BP-Husky, our largest industrial partner. In this agreement, BP and Oregon shared in the cost of ditch and road realignment to help fight flooding in the western parts of Oregon while opening up new land for industrial development,” he said.
“I’m most proud of our partnership with the new Oregon Clean Energy project, an $850 million gas fired power plant that is the largest new industrial project in northwest Ohio in a generation” he continued. “One of the things that made it possible was a ground breaking raw water delivery system that we negotiated with their team. This will provide about $1 million in new revenue to our waste and sewer system that will keep our water rates the lowest in the area.”
The project will also provide the Oregon school system with about $1 million annually over the next 15 years. After the15 years, that number will go up, he said.
The city also completed an agreement with the University of Toledo for a newly engineered wetlands along Wolf Creek near the state park that can help protect Maumee Bay from future algae blooms.
“It’s the sort of agreement and approach that we hope will lead other communities along the lake to take similar action so we can make real progress against fighting the algae,” said Seferian.
“We were also able to secure a $2.4 million safety beautification grant for the Navarre Avenue corridor in the heart of our business district. This is an essential step toward attracting the sort of retail this community has been waiting for for decades,” he said.
New bike trails, and a concession stand and shelter house at the recreation complex also occurred during his first term, he said.
Moderator Steve Jackson, of WTOL-TV, also asked candidates a series of questions, such as how to overcome obstacles to attract small businesses to the city.
Susor, who works as an electrical contractor for TAS, Inc., Electrical Contractors, a family business in East Toledo, said owning a small business is difficult, especially in the current economy.
“The traits of cooperation, involvement and helping business owners when they come to town are the essential traits we need to improve on to be more friendly to businesses. We’re working on it, but it needs to be intensified. We’re not as business friendly as we need to be and I think we can do better. I think we’re implementing some of those things now and we’ll just continue in the future,” said Susor.
Seferian, a mechanic and owner of an auto repair shop in East Toledo, said Oregon has made it easier to attract new businesses to Oregon by making changes in the sign and building codes.
He has worked with James Gilmore, the city’s building and zoning inspector, to find ways to work with businesses in an effort to comply with zoning, building and sign codes, he said.
“Let’s try and give them an alternative. They can achieve the same thing in a different way. Instead of sending them away, we increase their desire to stay here,” said Seferian. “We’re trying to develop a newer building code for smaller buildings. It sounds easy, but it took us about three months just to change our sign code. Making changes in codes doesn’t happen over night. But we address those issues every day. I know we can do better.”
On what they will do to encourage regional collaboration to enhance economic development efforts, Seferian said the city supports the efforts of the Oregon Economic Development Foundation when it comes forth with projects.
“We do whatever we can do to support those projects if they seem a good fit for the city. We have so many projects going on right now that our engineering staff is just overwhelmed. We just recently hired a new engineer because we couldn’t get all the work done that was a coming through the city,” said Seferian.
Susor said regional collaboration between governments “is an essential piece of governing.”
“When you get together with other government entities, and discuss problems, directions, pitfalls and solutions, it only enhances your ability to govern your community. Having the Economic Development Foundation is a wonderful tool. We need to do more to help with their development. Empowering them with more capital and definitely with more direction will only enhance development for our community. Mutual collaboration with surrounding partners is never out of the question and always should be explored to its furthest extent,” said Susor.
Candidates were asked if it would be a good idea for Oregon to have a comprehensive “shop local” program in place.
“Shop local keeps your money in town, and should be the foundation of what we do,” said Susor. “I’ve been sitting on council for two years, and I probably should have brought some of that legislation forward. That is something I swung at and missed. But under my administration, we would be bringing legislation for council to look at that gives priority points to our big projects for local involvement. Any time we can take a tax dollar, do an improvement, and keep that dollar in town, it’s a ten time fold back into the community. It helps our community grow and prosper. I don’t relish taking our tax dollars and sending them out of town.”
Seferian said his administration shops local “every opportunity we have.”
“We have a bid process we have to adhere to. But we always take into consideration our local providers of service. Just recently, we had the opportunity to build a new concession stand and restroom facilities in our recreation complex. One of the bidders was a local company, A.A. Boos. We awarded the bid accordingly. We did determine them to be the best bid and we were pleased to award that bid to them. Susor, on the other hand, was leaning to award the bid to an alternative company that wasn’t local. I don’t understand that. It was higher in bid and it wasn’t local,” said Seferian.
Susor countered by saying council’s vote to award the bid to A.A. Boos was unanimous.
Candidates were also asked whether tourism is important to the area, and what they will do to attract more out of town visitors to come to Oregon.
Seferian said one of the city’s biggest attractions are the thousands of birders who come annually to the city and surrounding communities to watch birds migrate to the area.
“I didn’t realize the magnitude of these people and the dollars they spend. It’s overwhelming,” said Seferian. “People are actually coming to Oregon to visit. We have taken advantage of the birders who come here. We put banners out, and did other advertising to let them know we take them seriously and we appreciate their business. Little by little, we are becoming a community where people come to visit. Through the birders, we’ll expand on that and take advantage of any opportunity we see coming down the pike.”
Susor said the city hasn’t done enough to attract tourism.
“It’s true the birders are coming to our community. We need to embrace that and accentuate that,” he said.
Also, the city needs to promote its amenities, such as the recently completed bike trail, he said.
“We just completed a bikeway project from Wheeling to Maumee Bay State Park. It’s a long beautiful bike trail. We don’t market our assets. We need to actively market the things we have,” said Susor. “We have the bike trail, a state park, a metro park, and many, many wonderful amenities in our community. We also have a recreation department we have allowed to stagnate on the weekends. We finally this year put together a nice piece of investment in our soccer fields. But those facilities should be used every weekend. We need to take every opportunity to bring teams and tourists in. We need to expand our recreation programs and turn those into the economic tool they need to be.”
The candidates were also asked to name just one service they would like to improve for residents.
Seferian said he would like to improve the recreational facility.
“We are improving that right now. People can come to the recreation complex with their kids. It’s just a very full day there. Our new facility there will make life much easier for them. Our programs are being expanded,” he said.
Susor said he could not name just one service to improve.
“We need to improve each and every service we have. Most assuredly we need to improve recreation, as I touched on earlier, and we are in the process of doing that. That initiative was brought forward by this council, and will continue to be fostered by council,” said Susor.
He also wants to “intensify our community policing.”
“We need to make our streets as safe and viable as we possibly can,” he said. “As the criminal element slips farther in our direction, it makes us less safe in our homes. And that’s a feeling I don’t want to experience.”
Candidates were asked what more can be done to reduce crime, such as burglaries, break-ins and vandalism, in the subdivisions.
“Our police department not only is very good, but they solve crimes,” said Seferian. “No community is immune to criminals coming in. If you look at the crime reports, shortly thereafter, those crimes are solved. We keep our police department very well equipped, and recently we added a police dog to our force, another tool we have to help solve crime.”
Susor said the police department is “unparalleled in our ability to solve crimes.”
“That position will not change with me. Besides intensifying our community policing, we can intensify our neighborhood watch groups, we can do a better job of neighbors watching other neighbors. There’s always room to help each other,” said Susor.
Candidates were also asked what could be done to improve drainage in the city.
Susor said he had a master drainage plan that included a concrete ditch to the lake when he left council 20 years ago. “Some of that has been implemented, some hasn’t. I do plan to see if we can find aerial flyovers, or do new flyovers, and look for ways to improve drainage,” said Susor.
Seferian said the city no longer has aerial flyovers but has daily satellite access to see what is going on with elevations in the city.
“Three of our major thoroughfares that go out to the lake have been improved,” said Seferian. “Each is working as treatment facilities where they enter Lake Erie. So not only are they improving drainage, but reducing sediment as it goes out into the lake. So we’re doing our share to not only improve drainage, but we’re reducing the sediments and phosphates going out to the lake to address the algae issue.”
The debate was sponsored by the Eastern Maumee Bay Chamber of Commerce, the Oregon Economic Development Foundation and The Press Newspapers.