Two Republican candidates will face off in the May primary for a chance to be the party nominee in November for Reynoldsburg City Council's Ward 4 seat.
Joe Bizjak, 26, and Steven W. Hicks, 32, are running for the seat held by longtime council member Mel Clemens, who is not seeking re-election.
The winner of the May 7 primary will face Democrat Meredith Lawson-Rowe in the November general election.
The candidates answered the following questions posed by ThisWeek Reynoldsburg News:
What is the most important issue facing Reynoldsburg and how would you address it?
Bizjak: The need to support and continue to improve our infrastructure is paramount. Not only to insure the safety, efficiency and convenience of our residents, but to demonstrate to our surrounding communities and those who regularly pass through Reynoldsburg that we are on our game and ahead of the curve. Good infrastructure promotes business growth and helps to attract future residents. The confidence demonstrated by the taxpayers by approving Issue 11 was not lost on me. I will work diligently to explore grant-based and state funding options to stretch our tax dollars and to continue to identify and complete future infrastructure improvement projects.
Hicks: I believe Reynoldsburg has five pressing issues that must be addressed. That is why I developed a simple five-point plan that, if elected, I would implement during my four-year term. The first point is public safety. The No. 1 job of all government is protecting life. We must continue the progress made at the police department and ensure that our officers are well-trained, supplied and courteous. We also need to continue to promote officer/community engagement. The second critical point is economic development. Reynoldsburg has too many vacant retail buildings. We need to bring jobs and redevelopment to Main Street and the Brice/Livingston areas. The third point is traffic. It will continue to get worse as central Ohio grows. The solution is smart intersections that use A.I. to manage traffic. Other cities have seen a 25% reduction in traffic congestion by upgrading existing traffic signals. The fourth point is capital improvements. We need to refocus the city budget to capital projects like paving, sidewalks and amenities. The final point is Olde Reynoldsburg. We need to make this area the heart of the community to help build our identity.
What is the greatest issue/need for Ward 4 residents specifically and how would you address it?
Bizjak: Irresponsible absentee landlord ownership is a significant concern for Ward 4 residents. As I talk with the folks who have invested in their homes throughout Huber and other areas of Ward 4, I hear their concerns about rental properties that are improperly maintained. This can negatively impact property values throughout our community. Having single-family home rentals in our community is not inherently a negative, and if managed properly, can promote positive investment activity. Investors who purchase distressed properties, make repairs and resell properties are a positive force in our community. Likewise, an investor who repairs and properly maintains a rental property can be a good neighbor as well. Code enforcement is the key. Our current code enforcement team is overburdened. I would support adding personnel to ratchet up code enforcement and reduce the time lag between code violation notification and the enforcement of penalties for noncompliance.
Hicks: We must address the vacant retail commercial buildings along Main Street and the Brice/Livingston neighborhoods. Considering the impact of online retailers like Amazon, these commercial areas are outdated and their values have declined. We need to get creative to attract investment and redevelopment in these areas, while also raising the bar on property maintenance code enforcement. There are many properties in Ward 4 that consistently violate our property maintenance standards and are impacting the quality of life and property values of their neighbors. By following my five-point plan, I think we can reverse the slow declining trend in these commercial areas, attracting new development and jobs, and increase the value of properties in Ward 4.
We also need to continue to support the Division of Police. We need to continue to encourage police/community relationships and engagement. By ensuring that our streets are safe, and attracting entrepreneurs and redevelopment, we can breathe new life into an already great area.
Reynoldsburg City Council recently rejected two apartment complexes, yet the city's 2018 comprehensive plan calls for more multifamily housing. How would you advise the city promote growth and the revitalization of commercial areas while balancing the concerns of existing residents and property owners?
Bizjak: Reynoldsburg is a great place to live and work. Welcoming the private investment of residential and commercial properties is important to the future of our city. The sharing of project specifics, analyzing residential impact and negotiating compromises are critical when assessing development opportunities. What I would like to see happen, and would personally implement as your Ward 4 councilman, are town-hall meetings where members of council would go out into the community and solicit the input of residents on upcoming legislation and development projects. We can more effectively negotiate solutions to the concerns of residents while showing investors and new business owners that Reynoldsburg is a great partner for their businesses. Once again, the approval of Issue 11 helps to provide funds in support of our growth. The city's decision to invest some of those funds in the development of our own branch of the YMCA is a perfect illustration. I have the experience to explore potential state-sourced funding avenues that may be available to minimize the city's financial burden of infrastructure costs that are often required to embrace new economic activity.
Hicks: Central Ohio has changed dramatically in the last five years, and experts predict the number of jobs, development and population will continue to grow. It is in the best interest of Reynoldsburg residents to be prepared and better control the development process. We need to attract high-quality private investment that creates jobs while providing a diversity of housing options that increases our existing property values. One of the barriers to achieving these goals is our existing patchwork zoning code and inconsistent development process. I am already working to address this issue in 2019, as I serve on the Zoning Code Rewrite Steering Committee and Planning Commission. My goal will be to simplify the zoning code and streamline the development process while implementing much-needed design standards that require high-quality materials and designs from developers.
One of the other concerns raised by residents is our existing failing infrastructure and traffic. Many areas in the city already experience high levels of traffic congestion and fail to provide safe pedestrian access. Point 3 of my five-point plan is to address traffic with smart intersection technology. Also, by utilizing economic development tools provided to us by state government, we can increase our capital improvement budget (Point 4). These additional funds can increase the number of public projects to add bike paths, sidewalks and crossings which increase safety and quality of life.