LIMA — The coronavirus pandemic forced everyone to adapt in 2020. But what will 2021 look like? And are local leaders prepared for the next round of challenges?
The Lima News reached out to the newest of the county’s elected officials to get their views on what next year will bring.
City of Lima
Two candidates for Lima City Council ended up replacing incumbents in 2020. After tight races in 2019, Peggy Ehora and Tony Wilkerson jumped into their new roles last January, and while their desks in city council chambers have been ready for them, they haven’t spent much time there. Instead, governing in 2020 has consisted primarily of online appearances.
“We only had three months of in-person council meetings before we moved to Zoom. So that hasn’t been normal in any stretch,” Ehora said.
Even so, acclimation to council has generally been an easy transition for both of them. The two commented positively on the respectful dynamic between councilors even when disagreements on different policies come to the forefront.
“If there’s a disagreement on one side or another, you get a good perspective of both sides of the issue which helps with my decision making on how I’m going to vote,” Wilkerson said. “Everybody’s trying to work best for the community.”
As for councilors’ agendas in 2021, Ehora and Wilkerson both put housing near the top of their lists. With Lima’s housing task force now moving forward, the group has begun the complicated job of parsing out solutions to improve the quality of Lima’s housing stock. Ehora, who co-chairs one of the subcommittees of the task force, said she’ll be working through Lima’s zoning codes to ensure that the 60-year-old laws still align with 21st century priorities in order to jump start the process.
“It’s keeping the community from moving forward and growing because we need to address the housing issues. With that comes code and code enforcement. I think that’s a big issue,” she said.
Ehora also mentioned Schoonover Pool as a primary issue of 2021. After years of degradation, the pool now needs replaced, and Ehora said the site has potential for any number of improvements — an ice rink, dog park, housing, another pool, skate park. etc. The new year will most likely include a community-wide discussion on what people want the most.
Wilkerson’s priorities for 2021 are a little more fundamental to Lima’s status as a Rust Belt city. Decades of inequality in opportunity and wages have perpetrated a hollowing out of the city center, and he would like to see a more substantial discussion about the underlying problems confronting city residents.
One potential program to do so, he said, is pushing some form of a mentorship program specifically for young men who may not have hope for their lives.
“I think a future Einstein lives in Lima, Ohio. A future president lives in Lima. Future professors live in Lima. We have to get them excited about their futures to get them to that point,” Wilkerson said.
Out of the three commissioners that will begin 2021, two began their new roles in 2020. Allen County Commissioner Beth Seibert had been appointed to the position after winning the Republican primary in May (she later won the general election), and Allen County Commissioner Brian Winegardner was appointed to Greg Sneary’s old seat after he retired this past fall.
Both have been learning about the job in more detail since taking up their new seats. Prior to gaining their positions, both have had to do business directly with office, but now that they are actually working as commissioners, they’ve recognized that there are some parts of the jobs they weren’t expecting. For example, Seibert has frequently jumped into the Ohio Revised Code to gauge the exact responsibilities of a commissioner. The job is strictly defined by state laws, and she said it’s been helpful to get the information from its primary source.
Similarly, Winegardner, whose experience comes from law enforcement, said he’s been learning more about ditches than he thought he would be. Such discussions rarely make the news, but they are a primary feature of the job to ensure the county doesn’t revert back to its natural swampy state.
As for next year’s priorities, top-of-the-list items are the county’s ongoing capital concerns and its budgets as well as dealing with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. More specifically, Winegardner mentioned a few capital projects, such as the need to replace the jail’s barely working elevators and an aging courthouse, as upcoming challenges in the next few years.
“I think one of the biggest things we need to look into right way is our courthouse. It’s getting to a point that we’ll need to do something pretty significant,” Winegardner said.
Next year will also bring a more in-depth conversation about the Birch Solar Farm project, Seibert said. Since the project was announced in the fall, those opposing the installation of the utility-scale 300MW solar farm in southwest Allen County have consistently approached commissioners to find out where they stand on it, and Seibert said she’ll need to spend more time weighing the pros and cons of a “payment in lieu of taxes” plan, or PILOT, proposed by development company Lightsource bp before she can state her position.
Meanwhile the group against the solar facility, organized as Against Birch Solar LLC, has obtained legal representation and increased support from the community. If the project is defeated, local governments are set to lose $2.7 million annually in additional tax revenues as well as the economic development gained from jobs associated with the project.
“Birch Solar is going to take a lot of study, individually and as a team,” Seibert said.
While the Ohio Power Siting Board is responsible for giving the governmental go-ahead on the project, the county could choose to deny the PILOT, which would make the project less financially stable for its investors. Currently, commissioners are waiting to see the actual state application — including many of the involved impact studies — created for it.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.