City council approves sign plan

Tiffin City Council approved a program Monday night that city officials believe could have positive economic ramifications for downtown businesses.

Council established the Downtown Sign Enhancement Program, which sets aside $10,000 to assist businesses in improving signage.

The program offers a 50-percent reimbursement grant, up to $1,000, for signage perpendicular to downtown businesses.

Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. Downtown Main Street Manager Amy Reinhart said new signs typically cost $800-$1,000.

The program is to begin accepting applications Jan. 1 and preference is to be given to owners who have completed Facade Enhancement Grant Program projects.

Legislation establishing the program was introduced during a committee meeting in October before it was tabled in November because of a change in the way the sign code is enforced in the city.

City officials credited Reinhart for helping make the program viable after some seemed unsure if the city should move forward.

In October, Reinhart said the program would supplement the Downtown Facade Enhancement Program, which is a 50-percent reimbursement grant of up to $10,000 for businesses to improve structure exteriors. The facade program was introduced in 2014.

Mayor Aaron Montz states in a SIEDC release that the sign program is a natural companion for the facade program.

He said the facade program has helped downtown building and business owners make “drastic changes” to the look of buildings.

The city has invested $350,000 in the program, resulting in $1.4 million in renovations.

“With the sign program, we are able to take the transformation one step further,” Montz said.

“We think this could help take downtown to the next level.”

Reinhart said similar programs in other communities have led to major success, including a company in Cleveland that upgraded its sign and saw a 20-percent increase in business.

In other business, council agreed to contract with Seneca County Prosecutor’s Office for municipal court prosecution services.

Law Director Brent Howard said the contract begins Jan. 1 and will cost the city $182,000 annually. The rate can be renegotiated each year.

Howard said furniture and computers are to be moved to the county prosecutor’s office and city employees in the prosecutor’s office are to become county employees.

He said the contract offers several advantages.

Howard said the decision was driven by office location. Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court is to move to the Seneca County Justice Center when that facility opens, expected to be this spring.

He said the proposal, which is supported by Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court Judge Mark Repp, likely would give the city and county a small cost saving.

Howard also said cross-training of attorneys would provide more people ready to prosecute cases in municipal court.

“If someone is on vacation or sick … someone can step in and provide the same quality of service,” he said.

Council President Mark Hayes said the contract is a good example of cooperation between the city and county.

“If it wasn’t for the joint justice center, we wouldn’t have this,” Howard said.

He called the move a “natural progression” after the city and county worked together to construct the Seneca County Justice Center. He said it’s a way to provide better services to taxpayers.

Also during the meeting, Montz said dedication of Bernard J. Hohman Bridge, formerly the Rebecca Street Bridge, is to occur at 4 p.m. Dec. 28.

Montz said Hohman, who served the city for 43 years in several capacities, has been diagnosed with a serious illness. Hohman had been city council president and mayor.