Fire department a trustee priority
- Published: November 2, 2017
The anticipated new fire station and the continuing health of the local fire and rescue squad, which serves village as well as Miami Township residents, were leading concerns expressed during the Oct. 19 James A. McKee Association-sponsored candidates forum by township trustee incumbents Mark Crockett and Lamar Spracklen and challenger Don Hollister, who are vying for two open seats on the three-person board.
Each candidate was given five minutes to present a personal introduction and answer two previously provided questions: what are the two most important issues that a newly elected township trustee would need to address, and what are the candidates’ ideas for addressing those issues?
Four-term incumbent Crockett, the retired co-owner of former longtime local shop Rita Caz, highlighted the years he has served in office. He said he originally sought the trustee’s seat 16 years ago because of his interest in the fire department, on which his children were volunteers. And the department remains a priority, he said, particularly with the passage last spring of a 2.4-mill levy to build a new fire station on Xenia Avenue, on the south end of town. The projected cost for the facility is $5.75 million and will increase property taxes by an estimated $84 per $100,000 of property value for the next 30 years.
“As far as serious issues [facing] the township, I think you have a whole series of constant issues,” Crockett said. “Maintaining the roads or the cemeteries. Or trying to build a new fire station. The real trick is trying to keep everything within budget.”
And he said the trustees have been successful financial stewards. “We’ve had to constantly watch our resources. Everything keeps going up. So far, we’ve been able to stay in the black.”
Challenger Don Hollister, who has served on a variety of local governmental and nonprofit boards, agreed with Crockett about the importance of the local fire department. “The volunteer nature of it for me is the precious thing to promote,” he said. “My No. 1 issue is to serve the volunteer fire and rescue department.”
He noted the unquantifiable benefits of familiar faces serving the community as well as the quantifiable financial gains of a volunteer squad.
“Every day, there are roughly three ambulance runs,” Hollister said. “If that was full-time, three shifts a day, that would be very expensive.”
Making his third run for township office, Hollister said he “never viewed it as running against a particular trustee,” but as representing his desire to serve the community — “managing two cemeteries, 13 miles of rural roads and zoning.”
If he had any critique, he said it would be about the public discussion around building the new fire house. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong,” he said. “But I think it ought to be more of a community process.”
More open discussion gives a “sense of ownership, a sense of engagement. People might be more inclined to volunteer.”
In addition to advocating for more “open communications and outreach,” Hollister said he is dedicated to “promoting the agricultural sense of the township.”
The rural nature and health of the township is one of the principle concerns of incumbent Lamar Spracklen as well.
A life-long farmer, Spracklen has served as a trustee for 16 of the last 17 years, and he noted that each winter he goes to Columbus for a three-day trustee conference.
Like his fellow candidates, he too pointed to the fire house as a main issue for incoming trustees. He noted that the levy to fund the station carried by 73 percent. “The next morning [after the election], I realized we’d just been given the duty to build a fire station,” he said. Spracklen emphansized that he takes that duty very seriously.
He also said that he felt the process had been open. “We hired an architect, a bondsman, other people to help us out with this thing. Every meeting we had, a decision was made about this. Every decision was public.”
Continuing the theme of communication, a question from the audience asked how the candidates “will do outreach to the community the next time you put a levy on the ballot.”
“I think it will be a while before there is another township levy vote — at least for construction,” Hollister said, adding that “I would make sure that we didn’t show up the same month” as requests from other taxing authorities.
Crockett described the timing of the township levy coinciding with school board discussions about aging school buildings as unfortunate, but he noted that the township has “been talking about a new fire station for 10 years.”
In general, communication methods depend on circumstances, he said. “It truly does vary from instant to instant.”
Spracklen said he thought communication had been adequate. “I would do it like we did,” he said. “We had two open houses, we advertised it in the paper. I have confidence this community is astute enough and intelligent enough to read the paper. I don’t know what else we could have done.”
While none of the candidates foresees imminent changes to the zoning codes in the township, they agreed that the cost of farming will likely prompt a growth in new agricultural-based business ventures.
“Although I’m not a farmer, the history of farming has seen many changes,” Hollister said. “I think we may be seeing an agricultural shift to more agriculture business in the agriculture zones.”
Crockett agreed. “You’re going to see more creative solutions to old problems,” he said. “The old problem is how do you pay the bills. And what you do to pay the bills is what separates man from machines. When it comes to solving a problem, it’s what people do best.”
For Spracklen, changing with the environment is a given. “On my farm, when something isn’t working, I change the management, I change the system.”
He called for wider Wi-Fi service. “If people can’t get fast-service on their Internet, they’re not going to come to this community.”
Hollister agreed. “We need better cable; let’s support fiber optics.”
Meeting attendance and times
The frequently sparse public turnout at trustee meetings raised a question from the audience about why that’s so.
“I think they’re boring,” Crocket said, to audience laughter. “It depends on whether there is a community problem or not, and mostly there’s not,” he added. “You can stay home, have a drink and watch the show on TV. It’s pretty boring.”
Hollister agreed that videotaping the meetings aids community access. And while he knows that the public is welcome, he noted that there is negative “symbolism that the [meeting room] door is locked.” He said he recognized that there is a security issue given the office’s location at the fire station, and “if you knock on the door, someone will open it,” but a locked door is an impediment to openness.
Spracklen said that there often isn’t much to see. “The only time we have anybody there is when we have something controversial. We do our routine business, and we take care of it. We are financially solvent, and we don’t have serious problems. If anything important’s going on, it will be in the newspaper. It will get around.”
The fact that township trustees and Village Council meet on the same day and time came up.
Crockett and Hollister both said they were willing to change the trustees’ meeting date.
As for Spracklen: “I guess the question is: who’s going to change?” he said.