Long Discussion of Single Issue Ensues at Council’s First Meeting of the Year

    The first council meeting of the new year on Monday, Jan. 9, at 8 p.m. in the Town Hall turned out to be a long one, with the bulk of the nearly two hours of proceedings being monopolized by a single issue.
   After the opening routine, Roger Warren nominated Rich Johnson as council president, and that was approved.
   Then, three pieces of legislation were passed without any discussion. First, an ordinance establishing a tuition reimbursement program for employees of the village of Bluffton was passed on emergency (without the need for future readings). Ordinance 2-17, also approved under emergency, allowed for the appropriation of funds to the Water/Sewer Improvement Fund.
   Likewise, a resolution was approved to be a member of the Lima-Allen County Regional Planning Commission (LACRPC) as the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Allen County, as appointed by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). The purpose of this organization, as defined in section 3 of the resolution, is to be involved in the “transportation planning process and actively support the public involvement process as it relates to the development and adoption of the MPOs Long Range Transportation Plan, the  Transportation Improvement Program, the Annual Unified Planning Work Program and the publication of the Annual Report.”
   When the last resolution was brought up, however, the vote ended in a tie. Beth Clark from ODOT was invited to make a presentation concerning resolution 02-17 regarding a State bicycle route through the village of Bluffton. According to Clark, ODOT is in the process of designating a bike path to link points of interest within the state of Ohio. Tours such as this one exist in other states, including Michigan and Iowa. The bike route going through Bluffton has been named U.S. Bike Route 25 and runs north and south. The main east-west bike route is named U.S. 40, going through Mansfield and Lima. In order for 25 to become a new bike route, 1200 districts must agree to the resolution that stands before the Bluffton Council now. ODOT will provide the signs for the route. All the State asks is that the village maintain these signs and contact the State when they need to be replaced. Since 103 is a straight shot through Bluffton, she anticipates maybe three signs, one at each end of town and one in between. She provided council members with a map of the possible route, as well as examples of the signs that would be used to direct cyclists to the path.
   Clark says, “One of the best places to stop through would be Bluffton.” She emphasized that there was no cost to the community. The bike path uses state and federal routes and is funded federally.
   Councilman Roger Warren was concerned. Given the issue of the Main/College intersection where the village lost what it believed was a crucial stoplight, his concern was “If we agree to this bicycle route, will we lose something later on?”
   Another concern that Councilman Warren had was that Main Street might not be a safe venue for bicyclists because it is so busy. He suggested that bike traffic be routed down Harmon Road and other streets just a block off Main to prevent mishaps.
   Clark suggested that the pathway be viewed as an economic generator.  She elaborated that the pathways are targeted for “hard core bicyclists.” She added that originally, the pathway was intended to go up Phillips Road to State Route 12, bypassing Bluffton, but the LACRPC adjusted it to run through Bluffton. If the town is not on board with the resolution, the path could be relegated to that route.
Dick Ramseyer was also asked by Mayor Augsburger to speak regarding the issue because of his membership on the Bluffton Bike and Pedestrian Pathway Board. He indicated that he supports the State bike path. The final goal of the Bluffton Bike and Pedestrian Pathway Board is to create a pathway that circles the town. At this point, Council took a vote. There was a tie with Warren, Johnson and Ralph Miller voting no and Phill Talavinia, Joe Sehlhorst and Sean Burrell voting yes. This was just the first of three readings, but the issue must be settled by Feb. 15.
   Mayor Augsburger then moved on to the administrator’s report. Jamie Mehaffie said that the water/sewer project has gotten bogged down somewhat because of a gas line that was not where it was marked on the map.
   Next, Mayor Augsburger indicated that they had neglected at the last meeting to make a motion promoting Tyler Hochstetler to sergeant.  This council did, making it retroactive to Jan. 1.
   Police Chief Ryan Burkholder spoke first as part of Safety Services, reporting that the department has nothing new to report.
   Fire Chief  Jon Kinn said that everything last year was comparable to the year before. For instance, runs requiring mutual aid and non-structural fires were up, but alarm calls were down. The good news was that the ladders passed all of the tests. He added that they were working on getting pagers but that making any decisions on pagers was at least 30 to 60 days out.
   Jan Basinger, head of EMS, said that there was just an increase of eight runs. The department received its new heart monitors just today and will have training with them this coming Tuesday.
   At last it was time for Mayor Augsburger to address those in attendance about their concerns.
   Jennifer Wilson, president of the swim team and manager of the pool, spoke to express her gratitude to the council for the pool heater that was installed last year. She wanted the council to know how beneficial the heater had been for both the swim team and the community. Wilson also announced that she had a donation of $1,000 made out to the village, and that the team planned to do more fund-raising next season.
   Once the floor was open to the public, there were many people who weighed in on the State bike pathway issue. Fred Steiner, the former Chamber director, expressed his excitement for the bike path. He said that the possibility of more traffic through Main Street would be beneficial for businesses in town by indicating he had seen bikers frequently at Common Grounds, The Food Store, Book ReViews, and the Farmers’ Market, as well as CG ProBikes, bringing money to the community. He also mentioned that other towns would be envious of this opportunity.
   Councilmen Warren took the floor again to clarify that he wasn’t against the bikers, but that he was worried about the safety ramifications for the bikers going through downtown.
   Jonathan Andreas, a Bluffton resident and avid biker, stood to describe how bike paths function in other states. He explained that the paths are more of a general guideline for the cyclists, instead of strict directions. He mentioned that if Main Street appeared to be too busy or unsafe, then the bikers could simply go around on side streets. Another Bluffton citizen voicing her support for Resolution No. 02-17 was Shelly Miller. Miller has a job in Lima and gave a testimony of the positive impacts bikers have had in the city.
   Steiner joined the conversation again to say that the State had funded 80 percent of the 103 project because 103 is a State route. According to Mehaffie, the entire project was in the two to three million dollar range. He continued that the bump outs were not forced on us. Those were chosen as one means of slowing traffic. He said that the signal at the Main/College intersection was removed because the traffic there did not warrant a signal as defined by Ohio code.
   Warren reiterated that he is not against the bike path; he just doesn’t think Main Street is the best option. “What if in 10-15 years, ODOT wants to widen Main Street?” Steiner attempted to drag Mayor Augsburger into the fray by wanting to know how she plans to vote. She said that more investigation was warranted before she made a decision. Then, Warren and Steiner began a heated discussion which Mayor Augsburger halted. She reminded the public that there will be two more readings and that we should be appreciative of what ODOT has done for Bluffton previously.
   The last item addressed was moving the meeting dates to the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 8 p.m. in the Town Hall.   Mayor Augsburger pointed out that a change would need to be made in December, but council gave tacit approval of dealing with that meeting at that time.
   The next meeting will be Monday, Jan. 23, at 8 p.m. at the Town Hall.