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Year in Review

Yellow Springs Year in Review: Village council

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2015 was a year of spirited discussions regarding whether the Village should continue its membership in the Greene County ACE Task Force, a special police unit that focuses on drug-related crime. Opponents of Task Force membership cited what they perceived as its participation in a failing War on Drugs that targets the poor and minorities, along with the financial cost to the Village; supporters cited their belief that the Task Force might cut down on drug trafficking in the village.

In December the majority of Council sided with the opponents, also stating that the financial cost was too high, and disproportionate to the size of the village. Council member Gerry Simms voted to stay on the force, and Karen Wintrow, Lori Askeland, Marianne MacQueen and Brian Housh voted to withdraw.

However, through the community conversations, a consensus seemed to emerge that drug addiction is a problem in the village, and that new, more village-wide ways of addressing addiction need to be found.

In January 2015 Council heard robust support for a community solar project proposed by the Village Energy Board. While at the time Village staff expressed concerns about the project’s viability, staff worked through those issues and at year’s end Council voiced support for a Village solar installation on the Glass Farm, which may include a community component.

Council spent several months in early 2015 addressing a proposed legislative change that would hold local landlords responsible for utility debts incurred by their tenants — previously, landlords were not held responsible. The change, proposed by Manager Bates and Finance Director Melissa Vanzant, sought to capture about $20,000 yearly lost to the Village by tenants who leave without paying, one of several small but together significant strategies for shoring up Village finances.

About seven local landlords gave a full-throated protest to the proposed change during several meetings, stating that they would have to pass on any increases to tenants and thus undermine village affordability. However, in the end the new legislation passed.

In April the Village Environmental Commission urged the Village to create a Climate Change Plan, identifying specific actions that villagers and Village government could take to lower emissions of greenhouse gasses. While Village government has already taken significant steps toward sustainability — and in 2018 the Village electric portfolio will be 80 percent renewables — there is more to be done, the EC members stated. Council tasked the EC with creating such a plan.

Throughout the year Council revisited the question of how best to fund village sidewalk repairs, an issue that has vexed Village Council for years. In a spring presentation, Streets Head Jason Hamby said it would take 90 years for the Village to repair sidewalks with its current allocation of $50,000 a year for the project, since the cost of replacing all sidewalks is about $4.8 million.

Council members continued to debate whether it’s best for Village government to pick up the whole tab, whether property owners should be held responsible (which hasn’t worked in the past) or whether a specific levy for sidewalks should be put on the ballot.

At year’s end Council had not moved ahead with the  issue, stating that the time was not right yet for a sidewalk levy.

Council continued to move toward the construction of the new Village water plant, Earlier in the year Council chose the engineering firm HNTB Corp. as the criteria engineer to oversee the project, and also approved a plan to include a pellet water softening component into the plant, recommended by HNTB.

Council in December chose Shook Construction and Jones and Henry Engineers as the companies to design and construct the plant, beginning in summer 2016. .

Several significant infrastructure improvements were made in 2015, including the long awaited loop completion and bottleneck elimination projects in the south end of town, designed to improve water flow to those areas. Also, two phases of stormwater improvements on Davis Street were completed by the streets crew. The skatepark was also upgraded in the summer.

On the job for only nine months, Assistant Village Manager John Yung presented a proposal for strengthening the local economy before he left in September. Yung advised the Village to “play to its strengths,” and, specifically, to further strengthen downtown, to identify available space for development, to implement job creation tax incentives and to revisit and update the Revolving Economic Development Loan, which had once been used to support small businesses.

In October several discussions on the creation of a new wetlands area on about 8 acres of the Glass Farm culminated in Council approving an application for a state grant to upgrade the area. The grant, if it’s received, would fund new low-impact pathways, signage and bird blinds.

In November, incumbents Marianne MacQueen and Gerry Simms were re-elected to Council, and former Council President Judith Hempfling also won a four-year term. The Council race sparked controversy in August, after three young newcomers to the race — Talis X, Shane Creepingbear and Adam Abraham — were deemed ineligible by the Greene County Board of Elections due to petition irregularities. Some villagers expressed concerns that there are too many roadblocks keeping new, young and minority office-seekers from public office.

In November, after a series of discussions, Council passed legislation that will lead to significantly higher rates for Village utilities, starting in 2016. Water rates will raise 30 percent yearly in the next three years, leading to an almost 100 percent increase in that time. Sewer rates will increase about 15 percent in each of the next four years, so that after that time users will pay 60 percent more than currently. The increases are necessary to keep those funds from going further into the red, Village staff said, and were recommended after a study by the Ohio Rural Community Assistance Program, or RCAP.

Increases in the electric rate were also proposed, but not acted on this year.

In December Council approved a resolution stating support for any local attempts to relocate Syrian refugees to the village. The resolution passed unanimously.

In December Council praised Manager Patti Bates for her performance during her first 18 months on the job, and unanimously approved a 5 percent raise in her salary.

In December Council approved making 888 Dayton Street, the former home of Antioch Publishing, an Enterprise Zone if the building is purchased by Dayton Mailing Services, a Dayton printing business. The business aims to purchase the building, probably by mid January 2016, bring its current 74 employees to town and hire about 15 new employees in the next two years.

At the end of December, Patrolman Dennis Nipper, a 43-year veteran of the Yellow Springs Police Department, was placed on administrative leave pending completion of asn investigation. Village leaders declined to comment on the nature of the investigation, which is being conducted by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, or BCI, an arm of the state attorney general’s office.


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