Candidates for three seats on Grove City Council are on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Ward 1 Councilman Ted Berry is facing a challenge from Ed Fleming.
Ward 3 Councilman Steve Bennett is running against Christine Houk.
At-large Councilman Steve Robinette is running unopposed.
ThisWeek Grove City Record asked each candidate in the contested races why they are running and what they consider to be the top issues facing the city in 2018.
Below are their responses.
Why are you running for council?
Berry: I am the only candidate who has balanced city, state and private sector budgets. I created, sponsored and passed a loan and matching grants program that has brought new life to our Town Center and the new Grove City Higher Education program that gives residents $1,000 each semester to obtain advanced education just by living in the city. These programs must be continued. My goals include adding additional police to the streets, a new recreation center, adult pool, increase parkland and natural areas and make sure our seniors are getting the best services possible. I will continue to work with the administration and council to fight the expansion of the landfill and address traffic issues that plaque residents getting to and from Columbus. Our city has one of the highest bond ratings in Ohio; we reduced taxes twice, in spite of the state cutting funds to Grove City. Experience does count in local government. I enjoy working on behalf of the residents and will continue my yearly ward meetings, surveys and door to door as I have done every year to get your thoughts and opinions.
Fleming: A supervisor once told me "No one pitches harder for you than you." That resounded with me and has carried with me. When I look at our city, I have a lot of warm memories about growing up in Grove City that are good. I believe we need to have a come to the mountain moment and think about how we want Grove City to grow. There seems to be a pattern where we wait for developers to come to us with ideas rather than promote the kind of development we want to see. I want to help encourage the right type of development in Grove City.
Bennett: Grove City has attracted a huge amount of attention far and wide. It is important to have experience and understanding regarding upcoming development and it's impact on our citizens. We have been named Best Hometown Ohio twice in the last four years by Ohio Magazine. I am proud of that and wish to continue trying to keep the upcoming growth balanced and maintain the hometown feel. As a business owner in Grove City, I have a perspective some others may not have. I know what attracts and keeps business to our city and with them come jobs. We have a diverse job market and housing suiting just about anyone and with an expanded park system to allow our citizens safe places to recreate, it's a great place to live. There continues to be a lot of work ahead. I am willing and able to keep Grove City a Best Hometown!
Houk: I am running for council because I believe that it is time for a change. Strong leadership teams are built by recognizing that each individual brings with them a specific set of life experiences -- personal, educational and professional. As a resident and business owner in Grove City, I want to see council leadership that reflects that diversity. Effective leadership also involves recognition of the value of passing the baton. In my experience, a fresh perspective often leads to creative problem-solving that is not limited by the constraints of history.
What are the top two issues facing the city in 2018 and how would you deal with them?
Berry: One major issue facing Grove City in 2018 will be the development of Beulah Park and its impact on the Town Center and our city. I have a good working relationship with the developer and thanks to my ward meetings and outreach with the residents the developer has heard their concerns and is modifying his plans because of it. I will make sure the site is a positive development for Grove City with residents' continued input. So far, because of my outreach to residents, the percentage of parkland is up to 32 percent of the total project, number of residential and apartments units are is down and a roundabout is being proposed for Southwest Boulevard/Demorest to prevent truck traffic and another one on Park Street to calm traffic. Additional connection points to Westgrove to the Central Park are also being looked at. The developer is committed to no warehouses and is looking at bringing in a natural foods grocery store and new downtown dining and stores in a proposed plaza. The plans are evolving, and I will as always need your feedback as we move forward. We have attracted two new medical centers, a veterans' clinic and more than 1,200 new medical jobs. Our challenge is to plan our growth accordingly and meet the needs of our current residents as well as our new ones. Grove City is becoming a medical and high-tech hub. This is where my experience as a business development professional in the private sector has and continues to make a significant impact. Our mayor and council have worked together to create a plan that maintains our hometown feel, expands parkland and natural areas by close to 100 acres while meeting the additional needs of the new high-end employers and residents that want to be in our city.
Fleming: I'm concerned that the city went from having about $20 million in cash reserves at the beginning of 2016 to around $8.5 million or so now. We made a decision as a city to change the approach, invest in some programs and aim for a cash reserve totaling about 25 percent of annual expenditures. That puts us at a razor's edge. Especially when 100 percent of our income tax revenue goes toward the budget and we may be looking at a loss of $1 million annually from the elimination of the throwback rule. If we're bringing in, say, $30 million in income tax revenue, we need to look at spending and make sure we have a couple of millions of that revenue we can put back into the cash reserve. The 800-pound gorilla in the city is the Beulah Park redevelopment. We'll only get to do this redevelopment once and we need to do it the right way. Which way are we going to go with this? Do we punch Columbus Street all the way or not? If not, do we close Grant and what would be the impact? We have to figure out how all of this fit into the Town Center. I believe Beulah Park should tie the Town Center to West Grove and other neighborhoods and allow it to be all one community that benefits from the project. You talk to residents in West Grove and they feel like they are being forgotten.
Bennett: I think the two biggest issues facing Grove City is growth and safety. One of the biggest immediate issues we are facing is responsible growth. Maintaining a good balance of housing, retail shopping, restaurants, park land, city services and jobs for our citizens is important. The central Ohio area has seen a great deal of expansion and that will continue for years to come. We must be as diligent as we can to control expansion in a way that will enhance our city. Sometimes, less is more. I would like to attract stores like a Trader Joe's or a Whole Foods (I suggested these for the site recently approved for apartments on Stringtown Road), perhaps a Costco. We also must keep ahead of crime and our police do a fantastic job with that. Keeping a safe place to live, work and play is important and I am up to the challenge.
Houk: Managing rapid growth will be our greatest challenge. Grove City has recently experienced an explosion of development. As the largest suburb located wholly within Franklin County, our city will need to closely adhere to a strategic plan as we move forward. I believe that the plan generated by GroveCity2050 will serve as a blueprint for our vision, but we will also need to place special emphasis on maintenance and expansion of infrastructure to support future development. Recent discussions regarding the city's budget for 2018 make it clear that there will need to be careful consideration of spending outside of the dollars tied to essential city services. I strongly believe that capital projects must be weighed according to criteria including the project's significance to the community, the length of time to recoup the city's investment, and the project's impact on the resources of other entities within the community when considering potential financing mechanisms. I believe that my financial background and my work with a myriad of businesses will lend themselves to responsible fiscal policy-making.