This is the best time of the year to be a mayor with two ears. There are festivals, Third Thursdays, weddings to perform, graduations, picnics, Safety Town and other social events. And people love to give me an earful about city issues (and sometimes, me.) Here are few of the topics you brought up.
Q. Do you have a Constitutional right to shoot your eye out this 4th of July?
A. Walking around Festival of the Fish, near the beer tent, a guy defiantly told me the 2nd Amendment guarantees him the right to shoot off fireworks. NOT!!! (I hope Sue didn’t’ have him in school.) I think our genius confused “firearms” and “fireworks.” Discharging either inside city limits is illegal. Our population density is too great. Some are outraged over the fireworks law. They believe our founding fathers gave them the right to express their patriotism by blowing their hands off and traumatizing neighbors’ pets.
A CITY OF VERMILION ORDINANCE PROHIBITS PRIVATE FIREWORKS IN THE CITY LIMITS. I know, it gets noisy anyway. It’s a busy weekend for the VPD and occasionally, Life Care Ambulance. The State Legislature passed a more liberal fireworks law. But the City of Vermilion and some surrounding communities opted out of State Law and reinstated our own. Yes, that was allowed. Alcohol, pyrotechnics, and bone-headed judgement are just a bad combination. And it’s not a private matter. If your neighbors report you and you are caught (or if you’re on somebody’s video) you may get a citation and fine. Assuming you still have all your fingers to hold your copy of the citation.
Fly the flag. Thank a Veteran. Read the Constitution. Come to the professional fireworks display on the break wall on September 3. But neighborhood dogs and certain combat veterans will appreciate your compliance with Vermilion’s NO FIREWORKS ordinance. Thank you.
Q. Hey, don’t we get to vote on taxes?
A. Yes, the people voted already. Several people have asked about the income tax forgiveness removal intended to fund a new police station and road maintenance. Here’s the answer.
In 2014, voters went to the polls and approved a tax on Vermilion residents who work outside of the city. Previous administrations and councils decided to not to collect all of that tax (forgiveness.) This year I asked council to fund a new police station as one of the three capital projects that we just can’t put off. The funding method we recommended was to collect the remaining portion of that voter approved but uncollected income tax. In addition to a new police station, a portion of this additional income tax collected must be allocated to street maintenance.
Certain residents chose to protest a big economic development project on Baumhart Rd. This project would have broadened our tax base significantly, created jobs and helped fund necessary capital projects. Our community’s capital needs did not go away when the family filed suit. Without an economic partner that can meet the approval of certain special interest groups in the city, our only recourse is to find funding elsewhere. Including uncollected taxes that the voters have already approved.
It’s necessary. I know it hurts some of you. You know who you can talk to.
Q. Anything new on the Baumhart Rd. project? (I get this one a lot!)
A. Yes. No. Yes.
-YES: The legal challenge was removed by the family that filed a lawsuit. The land can now be developed for light industrial use with no legal encumbrance.
-NO: The economy has changed in the last six months while we were negotiating the suit. The most promising occupants who were ready to build on the 119 acres at Baumhart and Route 2 early this year are “re-assessing their positions” nationwide in light of economic gyrations.
-YES again: The blue-chip developer is marketing the industrial property HARD despite the uncertain economy. There is genuine interest. I have received serious inquiries directly through a county agency.
Hold onto your hats, kids. We’re not done with this one yet!
Q. What’s going on with the Vermilion Fire Department?
A. “Historic” is an overused term in media these days. But I think it fits in this case.
Chief Bill Brown, the first full-time fire chief in the history of the Vermilion Fire Department. He took command of the venerable fire company on June 13. With 31 years of firefighting experience and a great reputation as assistant chief in Wellington, Brown is a real find for Vermilion. He’s instantly likeable, quietly knowledgeable, and a quick study. On day-one I handed Chief Brown six objectives focused on positioning the VFD for the future. I told him that ALL ideas are worth discussion. The full-time fire chief position was a goal of mine from before I took office as your Mayor and Safety Director. The whole purpose of a full-time chief is to get at the many details and opportunities that are just unreasonable to expect of a volunteer chief who is already overloaded. The VFD has an honorable history. The full-time chief will help shape its future.
Chief Brown’s office is in the newly built Station 1 on Douglas Street. He’s putting in long days and has a bunk with his name on it. I like him already.
Sixteen-year Fire Chief Chris Stempowski chose to decline the full-time fire chief position when I presented the idea over a year ago. With his long career and important position at the Ford’s Ohio Assembly Plant, plus family commitments, and being a top-notch firefighter, it just wasn’t the right time for Chris Stempowski.
The VFD owes a tremendous amount to Stempowski. He modernized the department and drove it to achieve a 3/3Y ISO rating which is better than some full-time fire departments. Only 19% of the communities in Ohio are Class 3 or higher. (ISO is the rating of a fire services’ readiness and capabilities that help determine YOUR homeowner’s insurance rates.) And talk about respect. When talking to fire chiefs in fire departments around the region, I got nothing but praise for Stempowski. Many of us witnessed the chiefs of NINE local fire departments come to attention and salute Chris Stempowski at the Father’s Day Parade June 19.
Deputy Chief Stempowski will work between stations 1 & 2 under the direction of Chief Brown.
Q. Is Vermilion getting a windfall in gas taxes?
A. No. I wish. Let’s review.
The City of Vermilion receives less than $ .00043 for each gallon of gas pumped in Ohio. It’s our little slice of the State gas tax. It doesn’t matter if the gallon costs $2.00 or $8.00 (please no!) Our piece of the tax is still only $ .00043 and it’s earmarked by the State for our city’s Road Fund. In 2021, the City of Vermilion received $662,096 as our allocation of all the total gas pumped in Ohio. It has helped shore up our overstretched Road Fund and helped repair more of our streets. One angry Vermilion guy told me he goes to Lorain to fill up and avoid the Vermilion gas tax. Pay attention. It’s part of a STATE tax. It doesn’t matter if you fill up in Vermilion or Cincinnati. Vermilion’s Streets Fund still gets a piece of that gallon pumped.
Finance Director Hendricks texted me the other night concerned that President Biden’s proposed “gas holiday,” would be duplicated at the STATE level. If Ohio declared a State “gas tax holiday,” we’d lose this funding for our overworked Streets Fund in Vermilion. (See, late night texts about things like gas taxes is why Ms. Hendricks is an outstanding 24/7 Finance Director.) No worries, though. Governor DeWine has announced that he has no intention of suspending the State of Ohio gas tax. It’s needed to rebuild infrastructure, including the streets in Vermilion’s. It would be only a token reduction in the outrageous cost of gas at the pump anyway.