Swearing in of New Police Chief Highlights a Busy Council Meeting

by Ron Geiser   Three ordinances, four resolutions, swearing in of the new police chief and a variety of other items were discussed and approved by Bluffton Village Council at its final November meeting Monday night.
   An ordinance authorizing a change in zoning as requested by Blanchard Valley Health Systems for property located at 565 Harmon Road from R-1 to R-2 passed its second reading.
   Hospital officials indicate that additional parking will be needed in conjunction with the Women’s Center project. Construction on the parking lot is expected to begin in the spring.
   Following two special budget meetings held Oct. 31 and Nov. 14, council approved first reading of the annual appropriations for 2017.  At one of the special meetings, Fiscal Officer Nancy Kindle had called it a “boring budget,” saying there were “no major surprises” in preparing the proposal. She also hoped there would be no decreases in revenue, as her major income projections include slight increases for the coming year. Anyone interested in reviewing 2017 appropriations can obtain a copy from village offices at Town Hall.
   First reading was given an ordinance setting the compensation rates for runs/calls for service for Bluffton’s fire department and EMS personnel.  Rates effective Jan. 1, 2017, will be $12/hour for the first hour and $10/ hour thereafter.
   Second reading was given a resolution declaring that the village pond be filled in as soon as possible with construction, demolition and other legal materials. In addition to liability concerns, local citizens have voiced a need for additional parking and/or ball diamonds at the Village Park.
   First reading was given a resolution authorizing the village administrator to execute agreements and contracts necessary for the village to participate in the Ohio Department of Transportation’s bridge inspection program services. A previous agreement is set to be extended, necessitating the need to continue with the program.
   Two other resolutions dealt with dirt or debris. First reading was given a resolution closing and prohibiting use of the village’s airport property for dumping of dirt and other debris. A second resolution “set forth the sense of council that any and all contracts for public improvement of the Village of Bluffton contain specific language addressing debris removal.”
   Council also took action to OK the planning commission’s approval of the final plat for the Parkview Subdivision Phase 1.
   Jamie Mehaffie, village administrator, noted that leaf pickup “continues in full swing.” He asked that leaves be placed on the street-side of the property and not along alleys, saying that current equipment is not designed to negotiate the tight spaces that alleys represent. Sticks and flowers also are not to be in the piles, as they can clog up the equipment, according to Mehaffie.
   Mayor Judy Augsburger took a break in the agenda so that Ryan Burkholder could be officially sworn in as police chief. He had been appointed Nov. 7 to replace long-time chief Rick Skilliter. Burkholder had been interim chief since Skilliter’s departure and has served 12 years in the department.
   Burkholder praised his staff, the council, mayor and the community, along with wife Kelli and family for their support of his life-long ambition. “It’s a great honor to serve Bluffton at this time,” he said.   
   Council approved EMS training for Emily Buckell, as recommended by Jan Basinger, EMS chief. She will attend training at the first of the year.
   Jesse Blackburn, assistant to the administrator, reported on the 2016 sidewalk program, which includes three projects – sidewalk and alley approach replacement (A), ADA curb ramp installation (A-1) and sidewalk cutting (B).
   “With $75,000 budgeted for sidewalks over the past two years,” he noted, “$58,349 has been spent. Budgeted funds were exceeded in A-1 and B and with the amount already encumbered to Steve Niese of Decorative Concrete, the program is underfunded by about $5,000.”
   Blackburn was pleased that 65 tripping hazards caused by public items have been eliminated, as have 138 tripping hazards by village residents. Niese will begin work in the spring to meet a deadline of May 31 to have all village work completed, Blackburn said.
   This marked the first meeting where Councilman Sean Burrell participated by cell phone. Council earlier had agreed to permit his participation (by electronic means) in the meetings while confined in bed at his home, although he cannot vote. His voice was heard regarding one item of discussion.
   Council adjourned to discuss personnel matters in executive session, with no public action to be enacted, according to Mayor Judy Augsburger.
   Next council meeting is 8 p.m., Dec. 5, on the third floor, Town Hall.