The death of Osama bin Laden and the Japanese tsunami were the top news stories of the year, according to an Associated Press poll of 247 editors and broadcast news directors. Closer to home, here’s my Top Ten from the pages of The Press.
10) Turning Green: As 2011 faded, students at Eisenhower Middle School signed the blades for two wind turbines to be erected on school grounds this spring. The turbines are expected to save Oregon Schools $2 to $4 million in utility costs over a 20 year period. Other green initiatives included the energy-saving LEED certification system in the new Genoa Elementary School and the national switch from incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving fluorescent bulbs and LED lighting. The Village of Elmore and American Municipal Power also hosted a green energy summit.
9) Closed but not forgotten: Six local school districts shuttered seven elementary schools affecting 1,737 students. All the closings were designed to balance tight budgets due to a cut in state aid. In Genoa, a new school replaces two that were closed, but in the other five districts, students were assimilated into existing schools. Expect more. Benton-Carroll-Salem officials may close two other schools this year.
8) The cost of one life: Northwood resident Ellen Mix called 9-1-1 three times and waited 28 minutes for the fire department to arrive to administer aid to her husband struggling to breathe. He died, she sued and The Press did a series of stories investigating the shortcomings of the current life support system. In response, Mayor Mark Stoner proposed and council passed an ordinance for a new 24/7 Basic Life Support System with an estimated annual cost of $139,222.
7) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Reiter Automotive in Oregon will invest $18 to $20 million in an expansion project that will add 150 union jobs. Reiter provides acoustic and thermal products for the American auto industry which is undergoing a mini-boom to meet pent-up demand from the Big Recession. Harbinger for other area parts suppliers?
6) Home values drop: Property values in Wood County dropped 10 percent based on the first reappraisal done since the Big Recession, according to Michael Sibbersen, county auditor. The drop reflects market conditions not seen since the early 1980s. In East Toledo, demolition, not renovation, has become the dominant strategy in bolstering home values, according to David Mann of the Lucas County Land Bank. The City of Toledo set a city-wide record of 410 demolitions, up from 352 in 2010. Mann said there are 600 properties on the demolition list and another 2,000 to 3,000 homes that will not be viable again. These lower values affect the amount you can sell your home for or borrow for major expenditures like a new roof or a college education.
5) Another one bites the dust: The Woodville Mall, once our community’s town square, was condemned and is now closed. It joins Southwyck and North Towne on the dead mall list. Woodville was Northwest Ohio’s first mall when it opened in 1969. Since then, changing demographics, shrewd expansion moves by the owners of the Westfield Franklin Park Mall and the emergence of lifestyle centers like Levis Commons all played a part in its demise. The mall will be missed more as a gathering place than a retail center.
4) A sign of arrogance?: In April, Dr. Michael Zalar, Oregon schools superintendent, painted a bleak future for the district due to cuts in state funding. In October, Jane Fruth, treasurer, said the district will face a three percent cut in revenue due to a drop in state funding, property tax revenue and electric deregulation. Despite the dire forecast, the board of education approved a two-percent stealth raise for teachers and pay hikes for 12 administrators. The latter move sparked an outrage from parents upset with the loss of bus service. The unrest swept P. J. Kapfhammer, an opponent of the raises, into an open board seat in the November election.
3) Four up, four down: Four local school districts--Lake, Genoa, Woodmore and Oak Harbor--placed levies on November’s ballot. All failed. Tim Krugh, Lake board member, castigated voters saying, “We are discouraged, disheartened and even dismayed at the lack of gratitude and support from our voters.” Come on, Mr. Krugh, lack of gratitude? These voters are beyond giving up a Snickers-a-day for the kids. Median household income in the U.S. dropped 3.2 percent during the Big Recession and 6.7 percent since 2009.
2) The new immigrant: Dashing Pacific, a group of Chinese investors, purchased Marina District land in East Toledo for $3.8 million. Plans are to build an International Village, a retail-residential development that will be marketed to Chinese residents and other investors who want to live in the United States. If successful, this will add to Toledo’s population and new money from an outside source will spur other development.
1) Issue 2: The biggest issue statewide was also the biggest issue locally. Gov. John Kasich sought to restrict collective bargaining rights of public employees while giving local government and school boards more options in containing rising wages and benefits at a time of shrinking federal and state aid. Voters soundly defeated the issue in November, but the public discussion is having an effect on contract negotiations. Just last week, the Lake Township Police Department agreed to waive a 2 percent wage increase for the first half of 2012.