Wauseon Council meeting heats up over budget, repair

By David J. Coehrs - [email protected]

A lengthy Wauseon City Council meeting on Monday twice became heated – once with flared tempers – when Councilor Jeff Stiriz lodged disagreements over spending issues and fire vehicle repairs completed outside the city.

During the meeting held on Zoom, Stiriz cast Council’s sole negative vote toward the Finance Committee’s recommendation to accept the city’s 2021 budget. He specifically objected to considered purchases of a new ambulance and a new Public Works truck, saying vehicle purchases shouldn’t be on the table while the city experiences a financial downturn.

“I wouldn’t mind having a new pickup either, but maybe not this year. It might not be the year to do it,” he said.

When Stiriz questioned a suggested lease-to-buy or outright purchase of a new ambulance for $255,000, Fire Chief Rick Sluder said the city’s only ambulance is six years old and has tagged about 200,000 miles.

“A vehicle with a quarter-million miles on it is going to need maintenance and it’s going to need (to be) replaced, so we’re planning for the future here,” he said.

During a lengthy discussion Sluder said the current ambulance paid for itself through patient revenue. He said it could be replaced or possibly kept alongside a new purchase, which would increase city revenue and guarantee availibility. He said because the city has only one ambulance citizens are inconvenienced when it’s out of service.

Sluder emphasized that no new ambulance has been purchased or ordered.

Stiriz countered Sluder’s information by asking why two vehicles are necessary. “Maybe to make more money,” Sluder replied.

Mayor Kathy Huner also agreed the city ambulance service needs a revenue boost. She said during the pandemic a city ambulance may receive more transport calls, and by providing two vehicles “we possibly could be putting more money into it.” Huner said she doesn’t want issues with a single ambulance breaking down and leaving no available service.

Public Service Director Keith Torbet said the Public Works truck in question is about 17 years old and will cause repair bills costing more than the vehicle’s worth. He said his research shows the department could sell the truck for up to $60,000, and can lease a new truck for roughly $20,000-$30,000 less than buying new.

But Councilor Harold Stickley also expressed a reluctance for purchasing new vehicles, saying, “We really got to watch ourselves, Mayor, in the ‘21 fiscal year…We’re not out of the woods yet on (city businesses) shutting down.”

Later in the meeting, Stiriz again caused a stir when he railed against a city fire vehicle being towed to and repaired at Childress Collision in Delta rather than at a Wauseon auto body shop. He also expressed outrage at the $6,664 bill.

Addressing Huner, Stiriz said, “We got good body shops in Wauseon. And it just burns me up that we’re taking our vehicles out of town to have body work done. That doesn’t make no sense. (The vehicles) say ‘Wauseon’ on them. You’re our mayor…It burns the heck out me that we take them out of town to get fixed.”

Huner responded that, while the city prefers to use local businesses, “Unfortunately, in this situation there are reasons as to why (Childress) was called…I know what you’re saying about coming in and using local, but local is not always the best option for the citizens who are paying (for the repairs).”

When Stiriz accused her of suggesting Wauseon body shops are not on par with those in Delta, Huner said, “(F)or the best interest of the citizens of Wauseon who pay for these vehicles, sometimes we have to go out of town to get the best interests of the citizens…“(I)f you feel that everything should be purchased within Wauseon, I’m afraid that is not reasonable.”

Tempers between Stiriz and Huner flared as he continued questioning the decision, saying “I wasn’t born yesterday,” and that he knows the city must collect bids before choosing a body shop. He also demanded to know why Childress Collision towed the vehicle to its location when Wauseon has its own towing services.

When Huner deferred to Sluder for an answer, the fire chief objected to Stiriz’s line of questioning at a public meeting. He said he refused to reply until an investigation went through proper channels.

When Stiriz questioned why an investigation is necessry, Sluder said, “Apparently, Mr. Stiriz, we’re doing an investigation here in a public meeting, and, to me, the only time you ask questions like this is when you have a personal agenda against the fire department or it involves the interest of you and your family.”

Stiriz vowed to fight the decision to use a Delta towing service. When Sluder said no city policy mandates using a Wauseon service, Stiriz said, “Well then, the mayor’s not doing her job. The mayor’s your boss.”

Councilor Steve Schneider added, “I personally think that, if possible, we ought to use local people. Even if the price is moderately higher, I think it would be to our advantage to use local people, because they’re the ones that support the community.”

In other business, Council approved the Personnel Committee’s recommendation to accept the results of an evaluation of Clerk of Council Andrea Gerken. Councilor Patrick Griggs voted no and committee member Shane Chamberlin abstained.

The Finance Committee also reported that it pored over 54 pages of requests within next year’s city budget and discussed them with department heads.

Huner said all city departments are aware they’ll likely have to tighten their belts in 2021 following months of COVID-19.

“It’s going to be one of those years that we’re going to have to follow this budget pretty good…It wasn’t a Sears, Roebuck (wish list) year, by far,” she said.

Council members also approved a Buildings and Grounds Committee recommendation to allow the Fulton County OSU Extension office to install a driveway on 40 acres of city-owned property farmed by FFA members off of County Road 15. Eric Richer, a local Extension educator, requested the driveway so FFA trucks don’t have to park on the road.

Committee member Steve Schneider said the Extension office will pay for the project.

In department reports:

• Fire Chief Rick Sluder said the department continues to work toward an EMS contract for 2022.

He said COVID-related 911 calls have dramatically increased over the past month.

• Police Chief Kevin Chittenden reported the department received a $3,000 donation from the Delta Eagles organization, part of the proceeds of a fundraiser held in September. He said the money will help fund a public safety camera system.

Chittenden attributed an increase in city car accidents over the last seven to 10 days to last-minute holiday shopping, and asked motorists to take extra caution.

• Public Service Director Keith Torbet said a South Shoop Avenue water line project is near completion.

He said a downtown American Disabilities Act project has been awarded to Smith Paving of Norwalk, Ohio, with an anticipated completion date in May.

Torbet thanked Public Works employees for temporarily reconstructing the city’s iconic Christmas star display in South Park, which was partially destroyed during a recent car accident.

And he said the bidding process for a rehabilitation project on Shoop Avenue has been pushed back until at least March of 2021.

• Finance Director Jamie Giguere said longtime department employee Robin Schantz will retire in March.

• Law Director Tom McWatters III informed Council members of an anticipated $24,700 five-year loan through the city’s Revolving Loan Fund to permit Tony’s Pet Shop to expand its operation to include boarding and grooming pets. McWatters said the business has suffered financially due to the pandemic and online purchasing.

During a year-end legislative session, Council passed on emergency: an ordinance to approve and enact the 2020 replacement pages of the city’s codified ordinance, repeal conflicting ordinances, and publish enactment of new matter, and an ordinance to make appropriations for current expenses and other expenditures of the city during the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2021; a resolution to adjust the employee wage scale and approve wage increases for full-time non-union employees, and resolutions authorizing the mayor to enter into a Revolving Loan Fund agreement with Tony’s Pet Shop, an agreement with Pareto Captive Services, Sun Life Financial, and Lucent Health Services for health insurance, an agreement with Met Life for life insurance and voluntary dental and vision insurance for full-time employees, an agreement with Fulton County Commissioners for indigent defense services in county court, and an agreement for a county-wide Emergency Management Agency.

In other new business, Huner thanked the citizens of Wauseon for offering help to one another and the city during the pandemic, “and more or less just a thank-you for sticking with us.”

She also honored prominent citizens who died in 2020, including Joe Kolb and Judge James Barber.

By David J. Coehrs

[email protected]

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.