The Decade in Review: Village Council
- Published: January 2, 2020
A greater amount of turnover than usual characterized Village leadership over the decade, with four Village managers and four police chiefs.
Village managers included Mark Cundiff (2008–12), Laura Curliss (2012–13), Patti Bates (2014–2019) and Josué Salmerón (2019–). Following Police Chief John Grote’s 2012 retirement, the Village hired Anthony Pettiford (2012–2015), David Hale (2015–2017) and Brian Carlson (2017–).
Council members serving over the decade were Lori Askeland, John Booth, Judith Hempfling, Brian Housh, Lisa Kreeger, Marianne MacQueen, Kineta Sanford, Gerry Simms, Kevin Stokes, Rick Walkey and Karen Wintrow.
After 13 consecutive terms, Mayor Dave Foubert did not run for re-election in 2017, and Pam Conine became the next mayor of Yellow Springs.
A new water plant
In 2013, Council began to wrestle with how best to address the Village’s 50-year-old water plant — whether to build a new plant, refurbish the old, or purchase water from Springfield. Council evaluated consultant reports, cost estimates and villager opinions, who mostly expressed the desire to maintain local control of water. In 2014, Council decided to build a new plant, with the capacity to remove manganese and iron and partially soften water, at an estimated cost of $3.5 million. The final price tag eventually more than doubled to $7.2 million, and the plant was completed in 2017.
Green energy commitments
A year after voting against signing onto a new coal plant, the Village started looking for greener sources of electricity in 2010. Commitments to wind, solar and especially hydroelectric projects followed. It took several years and iterations, but the Village finally erected a one-megawatt municipal solar array in 2017. By 2019, the Village’s electricity portfolio was 83% renewables, the greenest of its 139-member municipal electric supplier; the Village was also paying higher costs than many towns.
Policing was a major focus of Council in the later half of the 2010s. In 2015, Council decided to end the Village’s membership in the Greene County ACE Task Force, a special police unit focused on drug-related crime. In 2016, a Justice System Task Force, or JSTF, was formed to examine the policies and practices of the local department. At the start of 2017, more than 250 villagers packed the John Bryan Center gym to express concerns about what many perceived as overly aggressive and hostile actions by local police to disperse the crowd after the annual New Year’s Eve celebrations downtown. The JSTF went on to recommend a series of changes to local policing that were acted on, including the hiring of a community outreach specialist (Florence Randolph), new policies on Taser and surveillance technology use and the increased use of the Mayor’s Court, which had been seeing fewer cases.
Business park controversy
The question of whether Village government should fund the infrastructure for a local business park dominated Council business throughout much of 2014. After a request from the park’s owner, Community Resources, Council agreed to fund the infrastructure at the 35-acre Center for Business and Education, or CBE, at a cost of $1 million. The next November, a citizen referendum brought the matter to a close when villagers voted two to one against the public funding of the park. In 2016, Community Resources gave the land to the Village in exchange for forgiveness of a $300,000 loan used to purchase the property. Later, Council extended utilities to the park’s entrance. In early 2017, a survey showed that nearly half of respondents wanted the parcel to be developed, while close to one-third preferred to keep it greenspace. Soon after, the Village was approached by Cresco Labs to site its medical marijuana production facility there, and by the end of the year, the company had broken ground.
Utility bill increases
After a series of discussions, Council in 2015 passed legislation that would lead to significantly higher rates for Village utilities. Water rates were raised 30% per year for three years, leading to an almost doubling of rates in that time. Sewer rates were increased 15% in each of the four years, rising 60% in that time period. The rate hikes were said to be necessary so those utility funds didn’t go into the red and were recommended by a consultant. The following year, the Village’s electric consultant recommended electricity rate hikes of 12%. The News reported that with the substantial hikes, the average local household was paying about $600 more yearly in 2018 compared with 2015. Council discussed how to provide relief to villagers burdened by local utility bills throughout 2018, ultimately setting up a utility roundup fund in which utility customers can donate money to other local customers struggling to pay theirs. Rate increases continued through 2019.
In other Village Council news—
• A plan for a dog park on municipal land was dropped in 2010 after both Ellis Park and Gaunt Park were nixed as locations.
• More than 300 villagers took part in the Yellow Springs and Miami Township visioning process in 2010. The top action steps were, 1) creating more affordable housing, 2) developing an economic plan and 3) creating a health fitness center.
• The Village decided to stop adding fluoride to its water in 2010 due to health and safety concerns. The Village had fluoridated its water for more than 50 years.
• In 2011, the Village took over the responsibility for paying for sidewalk repairs from homeowners and started to dedicate $50,000 annually for their upkeep. After an analysis showing that it would take 90 years to fix local sidewalks at that rate, Council considered a sidewalk levy to raise $4 million, but ultimately decided to continue the incremental strategy. A more cost-effective method of grinding down some sidewalk trip hazards began in 2018.
• In 2011, the Village gave Home, Inc. municipal land on Cemetery Street to build four affordable homes in the first public partnership with the land trust. The homes were completed in 2016.
• A Michigan oil company began seeking oil drilling contracts just north of the village in 2011, which led to a push to ban fracking for oil and gas locally. Council considered doing so, but ended up calling on the state to stop the practice of fracking instead. Council later banned injection wells within Village limits.
• A streetscape plan was proposed in 2012 that included the felling of the downtown Bradford pear trees along with new sidewalks and street lights. The measure sparked some controversy and discussion over whether the trees, an invasive species, would be spared. The trees were ultimately cut down and replaced with native species and the renovations were completed in 2014.
• The Village ushered in a more flexible zoning code in 2013, which allowed for greater density and infill development. An increase in permits to build on existing lots followed in subsequent years.
• Council voted themselves a pay raise in 2013, from $4,000 annually to $7,200. The measure was justified as a way to open Council to those of lesser means.
• In 2013, the Village crew accidentally applied an undiluted herbicide to the grounds around Gaunt Park pool, raising health concerns. Council immediately placed a moratorium on further pesticide spraying, and five years later, the Village reported it had changed some of its practices and was using eco-friendly sprays.
• In 2014, the Village dropped a multi-year lawsuit against the Streuwings after spending about $144,000 in legal fees. The Village was opposing the extension of utilities to the property, which is outside of local boundaries but had been granted an easement decades ago.
• The first federal Safe Routes to School grant was received in 2014, with $308,000 secured to improve local streets and sidewalks for pedestrians and bicyclists.
• Springs-Net was formed in 2014 to explore creating municipal broadband in the village. Efforts were thwarted in 2017 when a consultant reported to Council that creating a network in the village appeared financially risky, with substantial up-front costs and stiff competition.
• A street performer policy was passed by Council in 2014 after tensions arose between downtown shop owners and local buskers over the volume and repetitiveness of some music.
• The Village’s Public Art Commission initiated the Village Inspiration & Design Award, or VIDA, in 2015. Recipients have included Dave and Sharen Neuhardt for their sunflower field, the Women’s Park, artist Alan Macbeth for his Oten Gallery, the downtown muralists, local sculptors Beth Holyoke and Kaethi Seidl for their Springs sign, the Dharma Center and Tim and Kelley Callahan for their rock cairns.
• In 2017, Council approved a lodging tax. The 3% transient guest lodging tax, which applied to local hotels, B&Bs and transient guest lodging (such as AirBnBs), raised $53,000 in its first year in 2018.
• The Village commissioned a Housing Needs Assessment in 2018. It concluded that 40% of villagers are housing-cost burdened, and identified affordable housing as the most significant need. The report said the village could use 500 new housing units, half of which should be high-income for-sale homes and subsidized rentals. A Village Manager Housing Advisory Board was formed to implement housing goals.
• An Active Transportation Plan was released in 2018, which recommended ways to promote walking, cycling and mobility devices in the village, such as more bike racks, flashing beacons at crosswalks, curb exertions, raised crosswalks, new sidewalks and more. Using some of the plan’s recommendations, in 2019 a temporary traffic project was initiated downtown.