Wauseon in 2018 will see the opening of a new community pool, the continued beautification of its downtown area, and the completion of major street renovations.
Under those circumstances, Mayor Kathy Huner can’t help but describe the city as progressive in the new year. She recently reviewed the city’s accomplishments and disappointments of last year and looked ahead to the coming months. She agreed with assessments from outside the city that Wauseon is waking up to its own potential.
Ticking off the upsides of the last 12 months, Huner noted construction beginning on the $1.4 million voter-driven city pool project 10 years after the city closed the original, aged community pool. Despite cost overruns that will limit intended pool features, and frigid winter temperatures that have delayed work, the facility is expected to open Memorial Day.
Huner also lauded Indian Hill Trails, a 1.23-mile, $32,000 Rotary Club project cut through a wooded area adjacent to Homecoming Park. The passive walking trails opened to fanfare Sept. 25 with a ribbon-cutting event and hosted a high school cross country meet the same day.
“I think it’s great that we have another walking trail,” the mayor said. “We have had cross country meets there, so with that you’ve got people from all over the place coming in and seeing it.”
What impressed Huner during the trails’ inaugural cross country meet was the number of community members who lined the route to watch the event.
“They sat out along the edges of the park and watched that meet. That’s something that they didn’t have over in the area before. Now (the teams) have people supporting them,” she said. “Word will spread about our trails.”
She’s confident as well that continued improvements to the downtown area will draw people there. New benches were positioned around downtown streets last year, and flower containers will be added this year.
“We’re trying to keep our downtown upbeat, and giving it a face lift. And that’s something we need to continue to budget for,” Huner said.
Other works in continuing progress are street and infrastructure renovations including a Superior Street remodel. And the city relocated its Parks and Recreation Department to Biddle Park so it can be onsite and more accessible to the public.
“I’m so confident in this administration,” Huner said. “I have no disappointments in the projects. I think we did really well trying to follow through.”
She said her only sense of discouragement came from the delay in an asphalting project begun last year in Biddle Park parking lots. A final section has yet to be completed.
If she has an agenda for 2018, it’s to follow through with projects already presented to council – such as new sidewalks on Leggett Street – and continually working on the downtown area.
“I think anything’s possible. If the citizens want it, they will support it. I truly believe in that,” she said.
Huner said downsides in 2017 were few. But a continuing issue is communication, within the city administration and with citizens.
“Communication is huge. We just need to communicate. Wauseon has a hard time with that,” she said. She added that the city constantly updates its website, and that many departments within the city have their own websites as well.
And unfortunately, like many other communities throughout the nation, Wauseon has experienced one critical stumbling block: the heroin epidemic. Huner said it’s the biggest issue the city has, and it has caused an increase in police and fire calls.
She said she appreciates Fulton County’s new Drug Court, specifically created last year to offer addicts a second chance. However, “to me, we also have to have education. All of our departments have to be aware of what’s out there,” she said.
The whole issue of the heroin epidemic just keeps evolving, Huner said.
“We can’t turn a blind eye to this. It’s everywhere, and it’s really affected our workforce in northwestern Ohio. It’s definitely something that everybody wants to continue to work toward – breaking this epidemic.”
Despite that problem seeping through the city, Huner believes Wauseon is still a safe haven.
“Accordingly, to all other communities in the surrounding area, yes,” she said. “I believe wholeheartedly in our police department. I’m very confident in our police officers.”
To that end, she said citizens who have questioned city administrators about why two police officers sometimes respond to a single call must understand it’s for their protection and safety.
“Today’s society is different. You don’t know what (they’re) going to pull up into,” Huner said. “I don’t want to make phone calls to the families. I want our police officers to go home safe at night.”
What the mayor would like to see inside city limits is more of everything.
“Not just restaurants, but more boutiques, and bistros, and more things that are are going to bring people downtown,” she said. “I just would like to see, more or less, things that will keep people shopping in Wauseon. ‘Lets go to Wauseon.’ That’s what I want to hear from people outside.
“To have a Sears Roebuck wish list of things that we want to get done, it would be amazing. I think anything’s possible. I’m always pleased with our community. They always come around.”
She relayed a conversation she had with a business owner who travels outside the county. When he told his contacts he hails from Wauseon, they gushed about the city and their delight in visiting.
“I see it happening. People are saying, ‘Wauseon is finally starting to wake up,’” Huner said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.