All four of Delaware City Council's ward seats are up for grabs Nov. 5.
Incumbent Lisa Keller and challengers Mike Rush and Stephen Tackett are candidates for the 2nd Ward seat.
In the 3rd Ward, Cory Hoffman and George McNab will face off. Incumbent Jim Browning is not seeking reelection.
Drew Farrell and Sarah JanTausch will seek to replace incumbent Kyle Rohrer in the 4th Ward.
1st Ward councilman Chris Jones will get a free pass as the only candidate for his seat.
ThisWeek Delaware News asked the candidates in the contested races to answer three questions relating to the city. Here are their responses:
What is the biggest issue facing the city of Delaware right now, and how would you resolve it?
Keller: Too many of our families must leave Delaware every day for quality, high-paying employment opportunities. I believe our focus should be on job creation right here in our community while we strive to grow our business sector rather than continued focus on residential development.
Since taking office in 2008, I have worked to double the capacity of our city economic development office to attract new businesses to Delaware. We partnered with and added two new entrepreneur centers to foster new business growth. Sawmill Parkway was extended as a new and attractive corridor for business.
We need to continue actively growing our economic base to provide more quality employment opportunities for our residents. Our policies need to be closely examined to ensure our city is business-friendly and attractive to job-producing companies.
Growth in the city's business sector will provide the necessary revenue to add much-needed road connections, properly care for residential streets, and increase downtown parking without passing that burden on to taxpayers.
Rush: Lack of workforce housing is the biggest issue. I would like to expand on data collected and presented to City Council by organizations such as MORPC on the need of workforce housing; this is a national issue, not just Delaware.
I would like to have that data be part of every development project; not every development needs to have $250,000 to $400,000 homes as a focal point. Delaware has an abundance of service and small-business workers who would benefit with more workforce housing availability in the city. You cannot deny what data suggests that the closer the employee lives to where they work, the higher their tenure, higher the attendance rate for the employees, and lower turnover rate for the employer.
The city would benefit from the extra income-tax revenue that it would receive from people that work and live in Delaware.
Tackett: I think the biggest issue right now is the YMCA having control of our recreational program. It's going to be tough, but the city needs to take back the program and give the people an accountable program.
Hoffman: The biggest challenge is managing the city's inevitable growth so as to ensure that the prosperity that comes with it is broadly shared throughout our community and maintaining the small-town charm that makes Delaware such a great place to live.
McNab: I believe that the greatest challenge facing Delaware is balancing city traditions with smart economic development.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Delaware County is the fastest-growing county in the state. While this is a wonderful thing, I want the city of Delaware to remain an affordable place to live and work. In order to grow and develop as a city, I believe that Delaware needs to continue to seize opportunities to engage new businesses and housing developments, all while supporting organizations that have been part of making the city what it is today.
If the city can balance growth with tradition, this will allow Delaware to generate needed revenues, all while holding down taxes on existing businesses and citizens. By working for the state of Ohio for more than 13 years, I have learned a great deal about building productive relationships and working through complicated and highly sensitive issues. I would like to bring this expertise into the development conversation.
Farrell: Delaware's greatest issue is the double-edged sword of growth, which is impacting all residents in the city. Growth brings challenges in the form of traffic and infrastructure problems. It also brings the potential for great opportunities for the area by helping lead economic transformations in our downtown and drawing events and people to the area that support our local economy. Balancing that growth is essential to making sure that the demands on the city for traffic management, maintenance and infrastructure don't get compounded by growth.
Delaware needs to focus on limiting sprawl, which raises the costs of city services, and work to promote smart, inclusive development that keeps the small-town aesthetic of our city.
If elected, I feel that tax incentives that promote infill of vacant areas within city limits is preferable to outward expansion. Heavy users of infrastructure that receive tax abatements should be required to pay for wear and tear as part of these deals.
Finally, transportation fixes and innovations need to be prioritized so that traffic can be reduced where possible and residents without ready access to a car have regular options for travelling in the area. Delaware County Transit is leading the charge here, but making sure options evolve with growth is essential.
JanTausch: Delaware's greatest challenge is balancing our history dating back to our founding in 1808 with our growth.
Delaware County has grown at a rate of 92% since 2000, compared to 2.8% for the entire state of Ohio. The city of Delaware is uniquely positioned between several major state routes and in a key part of Ohio.
With those factors, we have become a city with many opportunities, but as a result of our growth, we also have challenges that need addressed. As your next City Council member for Delaware's 4th Ward, I plan to work hard to balance our respect for history and preservation with the growth opportunities that are coming to Delaware. These challenges and opportunities will allow us to make decisions about how to best serve our families in Delaware and promote our community.
Once elected, I will work hard for the residents of Delaware to ensure that our community is promoted, protected and prosperous. Through respect for the history and tradition of Delaware combined with thoughtful, strategic and proactive policy-making, I believe Delaware can be one of the best towns in the Midwest.
Are city leaders on the right path when it comes to managing the city's growth? If not, what would you do differently?
Keller: We are experiencing a period of massive growth in our city that brings many challenges and opportunities. Unfettered growth and development strains our services, adds to congestion on our roads and eats up our green spaces. Once decisions are made, the development becomes part of the community forever.
For this reason, it is imperative development decisions are always made in the best interest of the community and not influenced by outside interests.
I have held the line against requests to make our streets more narrow, our tree-preservation requirements less stringent and densities higher, as these decisions impact quality of life in our neighborhoods. In my 11 years on council, I have adamantly refused donations from big developers, their lobbyists or their attorneys. I have stood alongside residents as their advocate, staunchly opposing high-density projects in their neighborhoods.
If reelected, I will continue to be a strong voice for my constituents at City Hall as we work together to preserve the small-town feel of our community.
Rush: I do believe they are, but I think there could be some improvements. There are always opportunities for improvements.
The city of Delaware is going to grow. Development is going to happen. What I would like to see, and what I will push for if elected, is city leadership take in consideration working toward responsible development; the type of development that includes multifamily and workforce housing. Another improvement would be to increase economic development. According to resent census data, the average Delaware citizen travels 26 minutes to work; the rest of the state averages 20 minutes. That says people live here but do not work here. They like the $250,000 to $400,000 homes I mentioned in Question 1, but the city does not have the jobs, in my opinion, to fit the salary needs to afford those homes.
If economic development were to reach out to companies to build or relocate to the city, it would bring more blue- and white-collar jobs to those who travel the 26 minutes to work. Look at Sawmill Parkway; the city has already buried fiber-optic cable out there, really need to find a way to develop that land for industrial/commercial needs.
Tackett: I think we're just a step or two off the path. We were just voted one of the top places to live, but we need to be mindful of our development to ensure we have a decent flow through the city and not create any choke points like the Point.
Hoffman: I believe the city has done a good job in managing the city's growth and that there is always room for improvement. For example, currently, the way new development projects happen -- city leaders are often playing a reactive roll. A developer obtains financing for a proposed development project and takes that to the city for approval and city leadership evaluates whether or not the project is in accord with the city plan, etc.
I believe it is possible for the city to take a more proactive approach with something like a Delaware Development Bank. This way, the people of Delaware could look to finance the sort of vibrant, diverse and exciting development that they want. The people of Delaware could have a greater and more proactive hand in the future destiny of our city rather than picking and choosing in a reactive way to the development proposals that happen to come along.
McNab: I believe that the management of growth is the city's biggest issue currently. Managing such a task requires a great deal of time and effort.
While I think it is being approached thoughtfully, I am concerned that other city services have started to lack the attention they need. In speaking with citizens, business owners and associations in the 3rd Ward since we moved to the city in 2015, I have been hearing more and more complaints concerning interactions with the city. The stories of frustration I hear are typically specific to trash collection, permitting and tax payments. While managing growth has to occur, that should not be at the detriment to the services of current taxpayers.
I would also like to see more deliberate conversations being had specific to customer expectations and experience across all departments and services. Then, I would like to see the city become more involved improving the efficiency and effectiveness of services as I believe the employees and citizens would benefit from such work.
Farrell: Overall, I think the city is doing a good job trying to manage growth, but there is always room for improvement.
The city's development master plan was last revised in 2008 prior to the Great Recession. The changes in the economy and pace of growth over the past decade have been numerous and the old plan has not been able to keep up.
A huge credit to the city is that they are currently revising the plan with citizen input on what is needed in the future, but if growth continues at its current pace, we will need to make some important choices about land use and density before significant further development occurs.
Current trends in development are focused on creating mixed-use development where people can live, work and play versus the traditional subdivision where driving is the only way to access work and entertainment.
Part of Delaware's appeal is that the city has a vibrant downtown and walkable neighborhoods. As the city grows, the trend has been to build traditional subdivisions. I would like to encourage growth that mirrors our downtown and older neighborhoods by offering tax incentives only to developers with plans that match this.
JanTausch: Delaware's leaders have been looking into solutions for managing the city's growth for a while. There is currently a comprehensive plan going on, but what our city needs is a leader who can bring thoughtful, strategic and proactive policy-making to Delaware. I have that experience from working in policy at the state level.
We need to look comprehensively into the future at all of our solutions to identify the ones that are the best for Delaware. My vision as your next City Council member involves working with constituents, businesses, community leaders and nonprofit organizations to implement thoughtful and meaningful city policy when it comes to growth.
Traffic and congestion have also increased in Delaware and this should be a key focus while talking about our city's growth in order to ensure that we can balance the growth with our history and tradition, as well as our resources.
Are you on board with the details of the city's plans to fix the Point? Why or why not?
Keller: Anyone who has ever experienced the traffic congestion caused by the Point can agree something must be done to make entering and leaving town less time consuming and frustrating. The current plan aims to reduce congestion under the railroad bridge by essentially doubling the travel lanes. This will reduce the likelihood of accidents, relieve congestion (especially during peak hours) and improve safety.
The anticipated cost of this project is $30 million. The city has done an excellent job leveraging outside funding for this project from Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, State TRAC and Safety Programs, and the Berkshire JEDD with only a very small percentage of the project utilizing local funding. This makes the project the most cost-effective, practical and immediate solution.
I have heard a bypass suggested by many residents as an alternative. While a bypass remains part of the city's overall transportation plan, the Point is more time-sensitive solution. A bypass would require the acquisition of over 300 acres of private property, pose numerous eminent domain issues, cost over $250 million and 20 years to plan, design and complete. It would be impractical to delay other priority transportation improvements, especially considering our limited transportation resources.
Rush: I am very much on board with the details of the plans to fix the Point; this has been an issue for such a long time. As the population of the city has grown, so has the headache that Delaware citizens call the Point. I cannot say enough about the patience that the city and its citizens have shown while city leaders and other stakeholders work out details of the the Point project.
The city was able to leverage their investment in the Point by applying for and receiving funding from MORPC. This has reduced the taxpayers share of the project to 20% of the overall cost.
During my 51 years here in Delaware, the city has made significant changes to that area in the past with the resources it had in order to create more traffic flow in that section of town. I, like many of other Delaware citizens, am looking forward to the completion of this major project.
Tackett: I'm absolutely on board with the changes coming to the Point. Trying to get in or out during rush hour is a nightmare. There's still a large funding gap, so I'm concerned about that, but excited for the changes to come.
Hoffman: I support the city's plans to fix the Point. The challenge is, will it be enough in the long run? I believe something like a Delaware Development Bank could help ensure that the plans put in place to fix things like the Point can be improved over time as induced demand from such infrastructure programs inevitably materializes.
McNab: The city has road-improvement project needs that outweigh the current budgeted resources to fund them. The Point is one of those projects and while voters indicated during the 2016 general election that they do not wish to pay higher taxes, infrastructure needs do not go away. This includes the Point. In my opinion, no action is not an option!
In August, I went to the open house at Conger Elementary to learn more about the city's plan for the Point. While it is a complicated project that will negatively impact citizens and businesses temporarily, in the long-term it appears as if the city's current plan should result in improvements in traffic flow and safety.
I believe that the city needs to continue these projects and look for funding opportunities from the state and federal government, as well as other organizations, all while thinking through current city budget funding allocations, rather than increasing income taxes.
I would also advise all citizens who have an interest in this project to review the information provided on the city's website and take advantage of the opportunities that the city has set up to provide input or receive information via email or Facebook.
Farrell: The repairs to William Street and Central Avenue are long overdue, but they won't solve the root issue. The only two east-west routes through Delaware and connection between I-71 and U.S. Route 23 involve taking one of these two streets that were designed for residential traffic, not heavy truck and through traffic. This leads to major backups and heavy damage to road surfaces.
The reality is that the current plan for the point is a Band-aid to a larger issue. While a bypass is most likely not financially feasible, the plans to extend Glenn Parkway to meet 23 would provide an alternative route for through traffic to transition from I-71 to 23.
Additionally, companies that make heavy use of the Point and are a significant contributor to wear and tear on the roads should help to pay for the upkeep. They directly benefit from easy access to highways and the infrastructure we maintain, yet many companies pay no taxes as part of various abatements they were granted when developing the properties. There should be a process for collecting a bare minimum payment in return for the city offering tax-free property and open use of our infrastructure.
JanTausch: The city of Delaware is geographically positioned at the intersection of Routes 36/37, U.S. Route 23, U.S. 42 and near I-71. We have many businesses who also need and use our roads. After the last road levy failed, the city has worked diligently to find ways to access other funding sources outside of raising taxes.
I feel that we need to continue to look comprehensively at solutions to ensure that we are preparing our roads and infrastructure for the innovations and advances that are coming as well as ensuring safety for our residents and businesses. This means that we need to focus on maintaining our existing roads and seeking solutions to improving traffic movement throughout and around the city. I plan to continue on the work that has already underway to improve our traffic and congestion and be proactive in vetting additional ideas and solutions to our traffic and road problems while staying dedicated to using your tax dollars wisely.