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Council and Trustees meet— Strategic planning considered

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At a special joint meeting between Village Council and the Miami Township Trustees on March 30, leaders discussed how best to step up strategic planning for the Village and Township, in order to coordinate initiatives to reflect local values and goals.

Villager Richard Lapedes encouraged the leaders to do more strategic planning so that initiatives already underway move ahead in a coordinated manner, rather than change the village in unintended ways. For instance, he said, the public schools are improving to an extent that more people might move here, and the proposed Antioch College Village, if it succeeds, could put more pressure on housing prices, with the result an unintended gentrification of the village. Also, the Village and Township, as small entities, face pressure from larger towns to change in ways that don’t reflect local values.

“We have a good chance of being overwhelmed by regional or county planning and that’s scary stuff,” said Lapedes. “Is there the time and space to put together a mega plan?”

The most obvious planning mechanism is a task force to implement the 2010 Visioning Plan, according to Council President Karen Wintrow. While the plan included such a task force to oversee visioning initiatives, the group was never set up. However, Wintrow pointed out that 29 out of 70 visioning recommendations are finished or being addressed, even without the task force. But she agreed that current local initiatives call for greater coordination.

“There are some big things in place,” she said, referring to the public school district’s shift to project-based learning and the Antioch College housing initiative. “This creates the need for a task force to go to the next step.”

Council members Brian Housh and Marianne MacQueen agreed that seating the visioning task force is timely. MacQueen pointed to the Oberlin Project in Oberlin as an example of a group that has successfully coordinated local efforts to reflect an overarching vision.

A task force, or an individual tasked with the planning responsibility, could help long-range planning because Council  members and the Trustees already have too much on their plates running their respective entities, Lapedes said.

“You need to have a champion, someone who gets up every day thinking about it,” he said.

In other Council and Township business:

• Several Trustees shared their concerns over increasing pressures on Miami Township farmers.

The pressures are mainly financial, according to Trustee Lamar Spracklen. A recent state change in the formula used to determine the value of agricultural land led to a doubling of property tax on farmland, he said, and with declining prices for corn and soybeans, “It’s not sustainable. It’s not good. People are going to be more likely to sell their land.”

Also, more farmland is disappearing due to annexation and housing developments, according to Township zoning administrator Richard Zopf. And while the Trustees made preserving agricultural land a priority in their recently completed Comprehensive Plan, development forces are working against that goal.

Part of the problem is that larger municipalities are pulling out of regional planning groups to establish their own planning groups, according to Trustee Chair Chris Mucher, who said that consequently, villages and townships have less opportunity to advocate for the preservation of farmland.

“To me, this is a concern,” Wintrow said. “The future of our agricultural land is the responsibility of those for whom agriculture is not a priority.”

Trustee Mark Crockett and Councilor Lori Askeland encouraged citizens to write Governor Kasich, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and state legislators to protest the increases in property taxes for farmers.

“The more noise we can make, the better,” Crockett said.

• Miami Township Fire Chief Colin Altman reported that the department had a record year in terms of the number of calls responded to. In 2014, the rescue squad and fire department responded to 1,181 calls, compared to 966 the year before. In 82 percent of the calls, the ambulance arrived on the scene in five minutes or less, Altman said, a response time “comparable to that of big cities.”

However, the department also faces a multitude of challenges, according to Altman. Those challenges include the need for a new fire station, the need to recruit and train more volunteers and to maintain adequate paid staff, and affordability concerns for young volunteers.

Regarding the need for a new fire department, the possibility that the department will be able to build on the former site of the Wright State University Physicians is “deadish,” according to Altman, because WSU trustees plan to sell the land for an amount that is unaffordable for the department. The current fire department on Corry Street is too small for its current staffing and needs.

Also, the mainly-volunteer department is in need of volunteers, Altman said. Currently, the department has 43 members, with 12 of those full- or part-time paid staff and 31 volunteers. However, the department could use about 60 members.

“We have a real problem getting people to volunteer,” he said.

Because a lack of affordability in the village and township sometimes adds to that difficulty, the department last year created the Workforce Housing Assistance Program, which helps to subsidize the rent of volunteers so they can live in the area. Last year, the program spent $8,000 on the subsidies, which saved about $17,000 in paid staff costs had volunteers not been available, creating a total savings of about $7,000 for the department, Altman said.

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