LIMA — Email correspondence between Allen Economic Development Group President/CEO Jeff Sprague and Miami Country Department of Development Director Richard Osgood obtained by The Lima News through a public records request show how far plans for a regional building department have moved with little public discussion in Allen County.
According to the emails, Sprague re-initiated contact with Osgood in the middle of August after meeting with commissioners and “several of the townships” about a potential expansion of Miami County’s building department into the region.
Since that time, the two officials have met multiple times (at least once at Kewpee), traveled to both Putnam and Van Wert counties to open discussions about a potential regional office and held a meeting in Lima involving potential stakeholders from Bluffton, Delphos, two of three Shawnee trustees and Allen County Commissioner Greg Sneary.
At this time, Osgood said he is preparing a feasibility analysis, draft legislation and “other documents necessary to submit building department certification requests with the Ohio Board of Building Standards.”
Sprague’s emails also show some insight into the relationship between county groups and the city, as well as the commitment of Sneary and Sprague to move the project forward.
In a Nov. 28 email sent by Sneary to Osgood, he requests electronic versions of some of the documents they had discussed during the Nov. 27 stakeholder meeting to ensure their availability “when the need arises.”
Sneary signed off: “Thanks for your help and we look forward to proceeding with this venture.”
Allen County Commissioners said earlier this week that no decisions have been made regarding Lima’s building department and that the county is just exploring its options as part of its “due diligence” in providing the best services to Allen County taxpayers.
Lima building department officials met with Allen County Commissioners Thursday to discuss rumors of a potential development of Miami County building department expansion. At that meeting, Public Work Director Howard Elstro said he had first heard of the moves Dec. 4 despite actions taken this past spring to shore up communication between the two entities.
Meanwhile, the City of Lima has been gathering the positive comments it has received over the last few months concerning major development projects throughout the county in order to communicate those comments to community leaders.
If the City of Lima would lose the contract with Allen County, it would lose $500,000 in revenue and be forced to cut six positions.
As for some of the complaints with the city, Sprague explained in a September email some of the economic development efforts allegedly hampered by the city’s administration. Sprague mentions a “$5 million market rate condo project … never endorsed by the city” — most likely the Metro Center project, alleged reluctance by Lima schools to approve a 10-year Community Reinvestment Area and the city allegedly telling Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center that “they had nothing that could help them improve the infrastructure around the hospital” despite the hospital’s recent moves to expand its medical residency program.
In a February email, Sprague explained: “Our developers continue to tell me they have to submit, or go through, numerous reviews and changes during the initial plan submission, once the project starts and then throughout construction. Many times the Lima department puts a stop to the project and a meeting is held in Columbus to get the state approval on variances. There appears to be a big disconnect between the developer and the Lima staff.”
Lima Finance Director Steve Cleaves had been set up this past April to act as a liaison between the county through Sprague and City of Lima to ease economic development efforts. Sprague said some issues were resolved with Cleaves, but due to continued complaints from some businesses — many of them located outside of city limits — he met with township trustees to begin to set the stage for an alternative to Lima’s building department.
“Township trustees told me overwhelmingly, ‘If this regional concept materializes, we’re interested. But if the current structure stays in place, we are not interested,’” Sprague said.
“Our role is to help businesses expand and facilitate new companies coming in. When there are problems that start to materialize, that’s how we got into the middle of this,” Sprague said. “The last thing we want is the public bickering. If companies want to settle here, we don’t want to put on the appearance that this is a bad place to do business.”
Copies of the email exchanges can be found online at limaohio.com.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.