Voters will decide contested races for Gahanna City Council in two of the city's four wards Nov. 7.
In Ward 1, the candidates are challengers Malcolm M. Glasgow and Stephanie Kromer and incumbent Stephen A. Renner.
In Ward 2, incumbent Michael Schnetzer is unopposed, as is incumbent Brian D. Larick in Ward 3.
In Ward 4, the candidates include incumbent Jamie Leeseberg and challenger Paul Winstead.
ThisWeek Rocky Fork Enterprise posed four questions to the candidates in the contested races. Their responses appear below.
A performance audit recently recommended the city consider whether maintaining two city pools is the best use of financial resources, noting that a shift for all programs to one pool could save $199,000 annually over 10 years. Would you support closing one of the pools or maintaining what the city has now? Explain.
Glasgow: The city should adhere to the findings of the audit, unless they are able to find an alternative source of non-tax funding. They need to implement a financial and economic development plan that prepares for the repair of our infrastructure for our parks and recreation programs.
Kromer: Gahanna's pools are some of the best recreational assets to our community. In my opinion, it is not worth $199,000 in savings annually over a 10-year span to close either one of the pools. I think there are other expenditures that the city can cut that would not have as negative of an impact on our community. The city should exhaust every scenario possible before considering closing the pools. Privatization should be considered as an option. On the west side of Gahanna, there are not very many attractions for our youth and if we close our pools, this would be detrimental.
Leeseberg: The auditor's report was presented to council just a little over a month ago and needs to be evaluated further. With that being said, I'm not convinced, at this time, closing the Gahanna Swim Club is a good idea. There are one-time costs associated with closing a pool and some of the maintenance costs would still be required, mowing, landscaping, etc. The proposed $199,000 savings amounts to a 0.30 percent savings of the entire 2017 budget and 4.5 percent savings of the parks and rec budget. While $199,000 is a significant amount, the report assumes that if GSC were to close 46.2 percent of the people who utilize the pools would not get a membership. That amounts to roughly 18,120 less trips to the pool. Considering the GSC pools are almost three times the size of the Hunters Ridge pool I feel the number of people not buying a membership might be larger. The subsidy the city provides to run the pools amounts to $1.39/participant.
Renner: I do not support closing the pools. It is a service that should be maintained for all the families and children in our community. The performance audit was requested by City Council in 2016 to understand where there may be inefficiencies within the city's workflow processes. The report is very detailed and in its analysis it provided 13 recommendations, with only four of those recommendations having a cost savings associated for a total of $651,340 in projected savings. The analysis of the pools did not try to measure the value of the pools to our residents. For instance, per the report, there were 39,217 visits in 2016 to our two pools, of which 18,355 visits were to our only Olympic-sized pool. What would be the impact to our residents of closing this pool and forcing memberships to a pool that is only half the size? Also, the report did not include the costs of actual closure, including demolition, clean-up of the site, and associated maintenance if we did in fact close the pool. It's important to note that overall, the city's parks and recreation fee structure had an overall cost recovery of 93.7 percent over the timeframe within the performance audit. So, while it is important to focus on expenses and capital needs of the pools, we should also continue to view the parks and recreation program from a holistic approach to close the 6.3 percent gap. While I firmly believe the performance audit is a good report, I also believe that it is a tool in our overall budget discussions as both the city administration and council analyzes further choices that are appropriate for our community.
Winstead: I view pools as an asset to the city and feel there are cuts that can be made that won't have harmful impacts on our community. While I value the recommendations of the performance audit, I have to question why there was no mention of the $16 million lawsuit facing Gahanna for over taxation. The total of $199,000 is nothing to sneeze at, but the city is racking up $600,000 annually in eventual interest charges from this lawsuit. Compare that to $199,000. Obviously the lawsuit is a bigger threat to our financial well-being than our community pools. Eventually, when this lawsuit is behind us, I would like to explore reinvesting in our pools and finding private management options.
Gahanna is working to rebrand its image. What do you feel is the city's biggest selling point that should be incorporated into the new brand?
Glasgow: The city's best selling point is its proximity to downtown Columbus, the John Glenn International Airport, and the amenities and retail businesses of Easton Town Center. Gahanna's centralized location serves as a driving force and an opportunity for the city. The brand should reflect this aspect and incorporate regional location when consideration is given to attributes for the community and its branding.
Kromer: Like many young professionals, I came to central Ohio for a job, but I chose Gahanna to be my home. Many communities that surround big cities tend to emulate them and lose their identity because they believe this will attract new, young families. However, this could not be further from the truth. Many young professionals like my husband and I moved to Gahanna because of their low income-tax rate, great schools, parks and hometown feel. I believe it is imperative to emphasize our city's landmarks, traditions and assets that set us apart from Columbus and other suburbs. Gahanna is a refuge to those of us who want to escape hustle and bustle of Columbus. This is why I believe our rebranding campaign should focus on our natural assets such as the creek and our "tree-city" status. In 2007, we were recognized by Ohio Magazine as one of Ohio's "Best Hometowns"; therefore, I need think we refocus our branding on those aspects that won us that title.
Leeseberg: Gahanna is a community that has many wonderful assets and resources. That being said, Gahanna lacks a singular clear identity -- as noted by our own residents in the recent GoForward Gahanna campaign as well as in the Economic Development Study that was conducted in 2015. We have a strong Convention & Visitors Bureau that does a great job of marketing and promoting our city to visitors despite the absence of an identified brand, building upon our status as Ohio's Herb Capital to establish Gahanna as a respected resource for "all things herbal" and to engage and attract visitors. At the same time, our Economic Development Department highlights the sense of community that exists among our residents when recruiting new businesses to town. Yet we must collectively understand and identify what Gahanna "is" -- that is, how others view Gahanna -- in order to attract potential new businesses, residents and visitors and compete successfully with surrounding communities.
Renner: The quality of life, and our wonderful school system are important selling points of our community. We need to work with all our partners within the city to include those qualities within our new brand. This includes our schools, businesses, as well as our residents. As you may recall, we have started a dialogue within the city in a way to answer a singular question: who are we and what will the community look like in 20 years and beyond? The strategic planning initiative, Go Forward Gahanna, was the first step, generating and identifying real results through driven goals. The branding project is another brick in these foundational discussions to further identify a common rallying theme to help encourage greater economic development as well as making Gahanna a place to either visit or reside. This is all key to our success as a sustainable city living within our means.
Winstead: This rebranding is long overdue. I feel how we choose to brand ourselves going forward will define how we grow. I believe we should focus on Hometown Gahanna. Our tight-knit community, renowned school system and hometown feel are what make Gahanna special to my family and many others. We must highlight this in our branding, but also work to protect Hometown Gahanna by implementing policies to curb high density growth. Unfortunately, our politicians have crafted plans over the past several years calling for more high density. We must elect new leaders who will stand up and fight for Hometown Gahanna.
What do you see as the city's most pressing issue and how should it be addressed?
Glasgow: The city of Gahanna should focus on basic necessities such as capital projects and infrastructure within the budget and move into quality of life improvements that we all expect and support in our community.
Kromer: I believe the most pressing issue that faces Gahanna is the over-taxation lawsuit. This has the potential to cripple our city economically. I believe this pending lawsuit has contributed to the lack of new businesses moving to Gahanna. The mishandling of this lawsuit has put an even greater unnecessary burden on taxpayers. However, I believe there is a multitude of issues facing the west wide including lack of infrastructure investment, business development and crime. The west side needs a councilman who will not be complacent on these issues and bring a strong, fresh perspective to the table.
Leeseberg: When I ran for office four years ago, I was concerned with cuts to capital improvement and infrastructure projects. Working together, we established dedicated funds for roadway and bridge projects. Our budget model differentiates between ongoing expenses and one-time projects. We will continue to push for the maintenance and repair of our roads, bridges and other infrastructure in Gahanna. The city does an outstanding job assessing the needs of the community and identifying external funding sources. We need to continue to take full advantage of these programs.
Renner: The city's most pressing issue continues to be maintenance and replacement of our infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and street lighting. We issued $10,030,000 bonds in 2015 to help pay for some of these projects. Furthermore, council has approved approximately $1 million in the 2017 approved budget (and recent years) to help. Yet, that only provides for some design and overlay costs for roughly 2.5 miles of roads. In a city where we have approximately 325 lane miles of streets, it will be a challenge keeping up with the demand in repairs and replacements.
Winstead: I believe the most pressing issue facing Gahanna is the over taxation lawsuit facing our city. It's unfortunate that this has been mishandled and drawn out. Had the city addressed the issue and changed the code when the lawsuit was first brought, two years of damages would have been removed from the eventual payout. This could end up being a multi-million dollar mistake. Each month that goes by, $50,000 in interest charges are added on to the eventual payout. I'm seeing no sense of urgency from the city. With a $16 million lawsuit hanging over our heads, it is undoubtedly making it more difficult for the city to attract businesses to Gahanna until the final result is known. This lawsuit could set Gahanna back five to 10 years. I believe we need new voices on City Council to press our administration to put this lawsuit behind us so we can focus on the future and attracting new businesses to Gahanna. The city has stalled long enough, it's time to put this behind us.
Why should residents vote for you?
Glasgow: Gahanna is a diverse community with great values and an excellent school district that will continue to grow with common sense leadership. I have 25-plus years of experience with businesses that provided products to a Fortune 100 company and I proudly served six years in the U.S. Air Force. I have worked with others at the local level as a member of the Community Reinvestment Area Housing Council and with the youth and Veterans of Gahanna through services and programs of the American Legion. I have the experience, leadership and communication skills to serve the residents of the city of Gahanna.
Kromer: I understand the issues that voters on the west side care about and I am the only candidate who will speak up. For years politicians have claimed they will work to revitalize the west side; however there has been a lot of talk and little action. I will not be afraid to stand up to my colleagues and do what I have been sent to council to do, which is represent the west side. If voters are looking for another member of the good-old boys club, I'm not the candidate for them. However, if they are looking for a fiscal conservative who is ready and willing to stand up and fight for the west side, I'm the only candidate who fits the bill. The west side has elected too many yes-men who have followed the company line which has resulted in neglected infrastructure, non-existent business development and multiple financial blunders. The west side has been ignored for long enough. It is time they make themselves heard at City Hall. I hope voters join me Nov. 7 so we can begin restoring Gahanna.
Leeseberg: I've had the honor of representing the residents of Gahanna on city council since 2014. During that time, I served as vice president and chair of the Service and Safety Committee. I've also served on the CVB Board and as a trustee for the CIC. I am a licensed civil engineer and surveyor with over 24 years of experience managing multi-million dollar public and private projects. I look forward to serving the people of Gahanna in the future and appreciate your support in November.
Renner: Public service is a calling that is much larger than myself. I want to ensure that both the west side of Gahanna and the entire city have access to the resources available to help make it sustainable. There are many suburbs in the central Ohio region, and we choose to live here because it is unique. We choose to stay here for the higher quality of living, closeness of a community, and ready access to those services the city and township provide. When we have questions about water, potholes, or park programs, we get personable and timely service. We choose to live, build, raise a family, or retire here it because it is not only a place we call home, but also where we live as a community. For these reasons, this is why we call Gahanna our home. I am the most experienced candidate in the role of service. I was selected by council to serve on Gahanna's Civil Service Commission from 2008-11. I learned a great deal about the city during that time and gained experience about the city's governance. I attended many council meetings before I ran for office so that I could have an in-depth understanding of the city's issues. I have served Gahanna residents on council since 2012, and was president of council both in 2013 and 2016. I am a graduate of the Leadership Columbus program, class of 2014. I serve many residents of Franklin County through my day job as the director of the Department of Sanitary Engineering, which provides water and sewer services to unincorporated areas of the county. Melissa (my best friend and wife of 24 years) and I moved to Gahanna in 1998. We have two sons in the Gahanna school system.
Winstead: If voters want a city council member who will be a champion for homeowners, they should vote for me. I'm the only candidate for Ward 4 who is willing to stand up to developers and other politicians who want Gahanna to build new apartments, create a "more urban environment," and sell out our school district. I believe we are in this together and will work tirelessly with school officials to craft a plan to prevent future high density developments that increase traffic, crowd our schools and put a strain on city resources.