Wauseon Mayor Kathy Huner said the city saw advancement in 2018, and her priority is to make the same true for the new year.
One of those priorities, Huner concedes, is to reinvigorate Wauseon’s slumping income tax revenue. And she’s proposing the establishment of a city administrator.
The mayor said Wauseon’s biggest accomplishment last year was the opening June 4 of a $1.4 million municipal pool in Reighard Park. Financed through a five-year, 2.6-mill levy approved by voters in 2015, it replaced a World War II-era city pool forced to close almost 10 years ago due to deterioration.
Huner said construction of a new pool was all the more meaningful because the project was pushed relentlessly by city residents.
“It’s something they could see being created,” she said. “Everybody watched this project come to life, and it was exciting. I was happy to see it finished. It was something they wanted, and something they got. Their voice was answered.”
Conversely, Huner sees the pool’s delayed opening as last year’s biggest disappointment. A Memorial Day debut was scrapped due to the completion of finishing touches, an overdue green light by the state health department, and cool temperatures.
“There were just a lot of things that were against us. But we had a great summer for our first swim,” Huner said.
Second on her list of noted accomplishments was the city’s completion of a nearly year-long, $1 million-plus biosolids handling system at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Mandated by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the system began operation in December.
“It was a big project, and that was a huge achievement,” Huner said.
She also praised the city’s renovation and resurfacing of Superior Street, a project begun in 2017.
What especially pleases the mayor is the opening the past year of several small businesses. They will be joined this year by D & K Asset Management, a Michigan-based company that purchased the long-vacant German Village Products plant at 715 W. Linfoot St. for $400,000.
“It’s very beneficial to see that happen in such a short time,” she said of the openings. “We’re actually getting more people on the Chamber (of Commerce).”
It’s a boon for the city, which saw a 2.8 percent decline in income tax revenue in 2018. Huner attributed the drop to industry layoffs and setbacks that affected local parts providers like IAC and Wauseon Machine.
“The auto industry has hurt our industry. It’s going to tap us a bit,” she said. “(But) we’re finally seeing it start to plateau. Hopefully, we can get those people back on the jobs.”
Despite the income loss, Wauseon is, in fact, progressing Huner said. She cited the 150,000 square-foot expansion of Haas Door on Krieger Street and the increased availability of employment.
“I think there are a lot of things happening,” she said. “Things are looking good, people are buying. But it’s like the rest of the country – keeping people working. If people want to work, Wauseon has jobs.”
With a 2019 budget totaling $14,775,092, Huner said the city is not struggling financially. Street and sidewalk projects not possible in the past have received budgeting, and no city employees are in danger of layoff.
However, Huner sees a need to spend more frugally and to budget wisely for infrastructure improvements and other upcoming projects. “We need to make sure we can take care of our capital,” she said.
Given Wauseon’s growth, she would like to see the future appointment of a city administrator. She said adding that position should come before any other government change.
“The city is big enough now that, when it comes to economic growth, an administrator is someone who can help with that,” Huner said. “I think it’s a necessity. There’s a lot going on in the city.”
An administrator could prevent Wauseon from missing prospective economic opportunities from outside the city, she said. But she admits that establishing one won’t be a quick process.
“An administrator would benefit the City of Wauseon, but it’s going to take time,” she said.
Residents’ major concerns have included improving the city’s infrastructure and zoning issues. Huner said they’re not as concerned with crime, something the police department has addressed vigilantly.
City Council President Jeff Stiriz said he’s “very pleased” with the work the panel has accomplished the past year.
“I feel we’re getting everything done like we should be,” he said. “As long as we know about it, we get it taken care of.”
There is always room for improvement, Stiriz said, but Council members are elected by the citizens, “and we do what the people want. I don’t think any of us has our own personal goals.”
Now serving her fifth year as mayor, Huner plans to run for reelection this November. She also plans to retire from teaching preschool after 32 years, allowing for more time to oversee her civic duties.
“You’re in it to serve, and you take the good with the bad. I’m very pleased to be able to serve this community,” she said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.