Mayor Marge Brown, who is seeking a third term, and her challenger, long-time Councilman Mike Seferian, sparred for about an hour in a debate before about 150 people in St. Charles-Mercy Hospital’s auditorium Wednesday evening.
The debate was sponsored by the Eastern Maumee Bay Chamber of Commerce, The Press, WRSCradio.com and Channel 13. Jeff Smith from Channel 13 served as moderator.
Brown and Seferian answered questions on a variety of issues, including economic regionalism, a new senior center, the need for a full-time fire department, how to improve drainage, how to maximize the city’s greatest assets, Lake Erie and Maumee Bay State Park, and what can be done to help existing small businesses.
On economic regionalism, Brown, who had been chairman of the executive board of The Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG), said sitting down and networking with area communities is important.
“You need to be involved in the region. You can’t go back to isolationism. We need to stay connected. I have a good relationship with the mayors in Perrysburg, Sylvania and Maumee. We cannot do this alone. You have to be part of it. Oregon will be able to “work very hard” with whoever is mayor of Toledo, she said.
Seferian noted that he knows how to work with the public after working in his family business for 40 years, since he was 12-years-old.
“I can work with anyone. I’m very comfortable to work out the details of any project that comes to Oregon,” he said.
On the matter of whether the city would get a new senior center, Seferian said he would push to have one built in two years on city owned property next to the municipal complex.
“I, a long time ago, figured a site for a new senior center would be at our municipal complex,” he said, because police, parking, maintenance and security are nearby. “If I’m mayor, there will be a new senior center. It won’t be the Taj Mahal,” he said, but something that would be financially feasible and “well within our budget.”
Brown said she also supports a new senior center at the same site. Funding, she added, would have to come from sources other than an operating levy.
To improve the city’s drainage system, Brown said Oregon’s Public Service Director Paul Roman was looking at multiple options, such as using the pond at Menards, trying to clean out ditches, and installing new sewers.
“In January alone, the city has $35 million in projects, with a majority of them having to do with some form of drainage,” she said.
“Years ago, we had problems with Wolf Creek,” said Seferian. “We still do. It was difficult to clean up Wolf Creek because people wouldn’t give us access to their property to clean it up.” Seferian said he was able to address the issue by talking to people to get access to clean out the creek.
“We were told it couldn’t be done for years, but in a three month period, we got access to the land. We got in there and rolled up our sleeves. That’s the way to get things done. It’s not about surveys, or creating committees to find out what the problem is. We know what the problem is,” he said. He disputed the mayor’s claim that a majority of the $35 million projects are for drainage improvements. “Very few of them have to do with drainage,” he said.
How would Brown and Seferian maximize attractions to two of the city’s greatest assets, Lake Erie and Maumee Bay State Park?
Seferian said he would work with the Oregon Economic Development Foundation and “get them to promote Maumee Bay State Park a little more successfully.”
He would also seek grants to fund the relocation of Bay Shore Road to the south “so we could see more property that would be on the Bay.”
“Maybe we could get some small shops there, we could have a little showcase piece of our own. It’s going to be a fairly expensive project. But there could be possible funding sources,” he said.
Brown said her administration has already considered putting in small shops by the lake.
“Another thing we talked about is bringing in something like a Putt-Putt by the lake to bring people to that area. We need to draw people to Oregon. There has to be something for them to do once they’re there,” she said. “There is the possibility that we can expand in that area to bring people to Oregon.”
To help existing small businesses in the city, Seferian said he would relax the city’s “very stringent” sign code. Business costs “are enough to stop a project before it gets started,” he said. The building code, he added, should also be relaxed.
Brown said council has had several years to relax the sign and building codes, but have not done so. She also wants the codes “tweaked.”
“Bring us your plans and we’ll take them to council, but council has had six or seven years to change them,” she said.
Neither supported the expansion of TARTA bus service into Oregon that would be funded by a sales tax instead of the current property tax.
“It would not benefit all of the city of Oregon,” said Brown. “That has been my argument from day one. Once you join TARTA, you never get out.”
Seferian said he’s always been opposed to TARTA. Mayor Brown, he said, has invited TARTA supporters to address council before because she was undecided on bringing it into the city. “I had my mind made up before they got there,” he said.
What should be done to improve the relationship between the city government and the Oregon City Schools District?
Seferian said he didn’t think the relationship between the city government and the school board was poor.
The government and the school district, he said, are separate entities.
“I think we communicate well with them,” he said.
The state legislature “dropped the ball” on coming up with a better solution to school funding, he said.
“That ball is really in their court. We need to keep the city attractive and acquire new businesses” he said, so there is more revenue.
“Revenue for us is revenue for the schools,” he said.
Brown said the school system is lacking communication with residents to “show them what they are doing.”
She said she has met with Superintendent Mike Zalar several times. “I’ve given him ideas. They even suggested a sales tax countywide to subsidize the schools. We suggested maybe taking some of the levies already on the tax duplicate and putting some together just to see how much money a renewal would bring from that. We have a good relationship with the schools. So we do sit down and we do talk. We need to support schools, not financially, but whatever they’re doing. We need to get behind them, because when a business comes into Oregon, the first words out of their mouths are, `How good are your schools?’”
What is the strategy to bring in new businesses to Oregon?
“When a business wants to come into Oregon, they want to talk to the mayor and want to see what the mayor has to say about his or her city,” said Brown. “We talk about `What can we do for you?’” The city walks them through the building and zoning process, “and all the other issues, and we stay with them,” she said.
“I sent a letter to Menards way back when, and I said, `Look at Oregon. And, now we have Menards. I know I shot down Home Depot in Oregon. But we got Menards,” she said.
Seferian said he will work with anyone interested in coming to Oregon.
“If you see hurdles, I’ll work with you. Any problem you are having, I’ll get it straightened out, if I can,” he said. “We can’t solve every problem. But the answer businesses need to know is, `What will you do for me?’ Tell me what it is, tell me where you’re having a problem, and we’ll do whatever we can to facilitate that.”
The candidates split over whether the city should have a full-time fire department to replace its volunteer department.
Brown said there would eventually be a full-time fire department, but not in her lifetime.
“Perhaps 10, 15, 20 years from now. Down the road, we will see Oregon with a full-time fire station,” she said.
“We have 86 volunteer firemen. We have 10 full-time paramedics. Every station is equipped to be full-time. During the day, we don’t have shift work. During the day, it’s difficult for some firemen to answer calls. I proposed we use part-time firemen to staff stations during the day on their days off.”
Seferian said he is opposed to a full-time fire department. “People come from other cities to see how our fire department is operating,” he said, because they want the same for their communities.
The debate is archived and can be heard by going to www.WRSCradio.com or viewed at www.oregonmayordebate.com. It will also be broadcast on Buckeye Cable System’s Channel 58.