Oh nine was not fine, by anyone’s definition. The economy was in the tank, flooding again swamped us, and schools, government and businesses struggled to retain jobs and services.
Unemployment in our four counties at the end of 2009 ranged from 10.3 percent in Wood County to 14.6 in Ottawa County. Thus, home and new car sales were down again. However, on the bright side, the bottom is in sight and deals are plentiful. The biggest deal occurred in the fall when a New York businessman bought the Woodville Mall on the cheap for $700,000. The mall once served as this area’s town hall. Lately, management neglected it and its few remaining merchants had little to celebrate at the mall’s 40th birthday party. In fact, there was no party.
There wasn’t any party either at Spangler’s in Oak Harbor, or Eisenhour’s in Pemberville. Both were victims of contracting dealership networks. Spangler, founded in 1950, lost its Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep franchise and Eisenhour, founded in 1924, lost Chevrolet. Both, however, will continue selling and servicing used cars.
Meanwhile, a “clunkers” lifeline was thrown to the other five new car dealers in the Press circulation area. While new car sales for the first nine months were down 24 percent, sales during the government’s cash for clunkers program were up 31 percent.
Despite this gloom and doom there was a bloom, or two. The solar industry quietly has grown into one of the region’s largest employers. Five manufacturing plants and six system integration companies employ more than 6,000, according to the Regional Growth Partnership. On the housing front, a Cleveland firm built the first stage of a 110-unit luxury apartment-home complex across from Pearson park in Oregon.
Money too tight to fight crime
The economy, or lack of, forced government and schools to rethink how they deliver services. Police coverage was the biggest concern. The Lucas County Commissioners told Jerusalem Township to ante up $347,000 to continue road patrols. As the township’s annual budget is $1.7 million, no way that will happen without a levy and no way a levy will pass without an uptick in the economy.
The Villages of Genoa and Clay Center along with Allen and Clay Townships also see the graffiti on the wall. They commissioned a study on a combined police force to reduce operating expenses.
And, in Walbridge, Joanne Schiavone, a former council person, asked council to disband the village police force and contract with Lake Township. Township police chief Mark Hummer estimated savings at $100,000 a year. Walbridge Mayor Dan Wilczynski opposes the idea, but if the economy doesn’t pick up, he may have no choice.
Money was also tight at our schools. The Oregon Board of Education, cut 85 positions and more than $3 million in costs, but it still faces a $1 million shortfall in 2011. Despite this forecast, the board voted not to place a levy on November’s ballot.
Meanwhile, voters in the Eastwood and Woodmore districts turned down free millions from the state for construction of new elementary schools. In Eastwood’ s case it was $8.5 million and in Woodmore’s case, $6.4 million. Eastwood officials said more than $350,000 in annual costs could be saved by closing aging elementary schools. Unfortunately, voters can’t think about tomorrow when the fear of today blinds their vision.
Water, water, everywhere water
Three 100-year storms in 18 months brought together 40 representatives from communities in Lucas, Wood and Ottawa Counties to discuss how to keep water out of basements. The issue has become so dire, some homeowners can’t get insurance because their basements flood regularly and the City of Oregon announced it would fine residents who illegally divert storm water from sump pumps into the sanitary sewer.
The flooding issue will not go away as long as we continue to pave paradise, which is called economic development and which provides the funds to fix the problem it creates. Yossarian had a word for this—Catch 22.
Throw the bums out
A few political insiders have said voters, frustrated by the economy, turned their wrath on the incumbents this November. But, there were other issues at play. Jerusalem Township trustees Rodney Grafffis and Joe Gray didn’t play nice with trustee Joe Kiss and fiscal officer Julie VanNest, at least according to most voters who rudely showed them the door. Gray got only 181 votes and Graffis 125. Contrast this with the top voter getter, David Bench, at 974.
In Oregon, Mayor Marge Brown, a Democrat, who earlier in the year was honored by the YWCA with a Milestone Award given to women for their leadership and accomplishments, was defeated by long-time councilman Mike Seferian, an Independent. That’s life for a public servant: one day roses, the next day thorns.
In Genoa, all four incumbents were tossed in favor of two tavern owners and two of their supporters. These new community leaders were upset with what they perceive to be an over-aggressive police force whose biggest mistake was busting five establishments for serving alcohol to a minor during a sting dubbed Operation Flagship.