Collaboration cited by mayor, commissioner

Collaboration was the key point emphasized by Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz and Seneca County Commissioner Holly Stacy as they reviewed 2018 and looked ahead to this year.

Business leaders gathered at The Chandelier Tuesday morning at the Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Services Legislative Breakfast to hear updates on local government.

“Something special is happening in Tiffin,” Montz said during his presentation. “We’ve had ribbon cuttings and new business openings galore. One of them is this very building,” he said. A few of the others he mentioned were Planet Fitness, Kiku Japanese Fusion Steakhouse & Sushi Restaurant, Panda Express and Trilogy Health Services.

“Already, Trilogy is nearing completion of their facility,” he said.

Montz said the area where Trilogy is located has an additional 60 acres available for development.

“The city thought outside the box,” he said. “It’s helping to pay for itself as it goes forward.”

A few of the other businesses he noted were a new roller-skating venue, Tiffin Pedal Co., The Laird Arcade Brewery and Washington Street Outfitters, which recently moved out of Laird Arcade into another building which tripled its size, he said.

He also said Jolly’s owner Diane Hassinger was willing to look forward after she closed her drive-in restaurant.

“I’m so glad Diane and the Jolly’s crew decided to reinvent themselves,” Montz said. “She moved downtown and now we’re able to continue to enjoy Jolly’s. You just can’t enjoy it in your car.”

Montz said an alley beautification project across from The Ritz Theatre has “really made a difference,” and the Sarah Street project is ready to move forward after a delay.

“A small piece of the city’s road was actually on railroad property,” he said. “We were finally able to get the railroad to sign off on this.”

He said it’s a goal to make the greater downtown area more “walkable,” including the East Green area.

“This year, we’re coming back and we’re doing the rest of Market Street to Heidelberg,” he said. “We want people to go out and explore. Walking is a good thing for us.”

Montz said the East Green has its second summer concert series in the works as well as the opening of the splash pad.

Montz said another highlight was the opening of an apartment building for multi-family living behind McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s in the western part of the city.

“They’re planning another unit for a total of 110 units by the end of next year,” he said. “They already have a waiting list for units there.”

Montz noted other projects are in the development stages within the next few years.

Two of those are riverfront development projects by former Heidelberg University student Eduardo Hernando, which would include a hotel, restaurant, apartments, technology center and a river walk near the site of the former Stalsworth Hotel.

“One point I want to hammer home is there will be presale,” he said. “If he’s unable to sell those units at a certain percentage level, he won’t go ahead with the projects.”

Citywide, Montz said Tiffin is working on rail crossings and other safety enhancements that would enable the city to a “quiet zone” where train whistles wouldn’t sound.

“We, on average, have a train whistle blowing once every 3.3 minutes,” he said. The new enhancements would mean whistles would blow only in unusual circumstances.

Montz pointed out a few other highlights.

He said Tiffin is “pushing 40 years now” as a Tree City USA, which is a program dedicated to city beautification through tree planting and care.

He said the rating of Tiffin Fire and Rescue Service recently was upgraded.

“We had a level 4 ISO rating, and we were finally able bump ours up to level 3,” he said, “which put Tiffin in the top 10 percent. We think the next rating we might be able to push for a 2, which would put us in the top 4 percent.”

Along with being identified as an excellent fire department, he said the rating is important because property insurance costs depend on the department’s rating.

Montz said the collaborative Seneca County branding makes Tiffin and the county stand out.

He said the consultant who led the project found a notable difference from other communities they worked with.

“They were hearing the intangibles,” he said. “People talked about connection, family and friendship.”

“We’re proud of the things we’ve been able to accomplish,” Montz said. “We’re already working on projects for 2020 and 2021.”

During her address, Stacy said an example of that collaboration has been the Justice Center downtown.

In that ongoing effort, she said landscaping the Justice Center grounds in the works for spring.

The outdoor beautification will be added to such joint projects as the ribbon cutting last spring, courts moving into the building and creation of the time capsule that uses a bookcase from the 1884 Courthouse.

She said the addition of cupola lighting has been another means of joining the county together.

“This has been a phenomenal thing for the building itself, for downtown Tiffin, and it’s been a great connector of this building to the community,” she said. “We can light it in different colors to be symbolic of whatever the cause is.”

Stacy said another accomplishment in 2018 was the Seneca County Land Bank, which has been using a $4 million grant to rid the county of abandoned properties and urban blight.

One example of the program has been the razing of the former Attica Eagles building, making room for a veterans memorial in Attica.

“The funding is used to fix abandoned property and unsightly buildings to make them safer and better,” she said.

The program also moves the properties into ownership of people who pay property taxes, she said.

Budgeting has been another priority for the county, Stacy said. The commissioners have been thinking long term and have been maintaining a Budget Stabilization Fund to set aside money for the county’s future. The fund now contains $375,000.

“This is so key and important to all that we do this as the county commissioners,” she said. “Each year, we get less financial support from the state.”

In addition, she said nearly $900,000 from the state was set aside after the commissioners learned the state would no longer be receiving as much money in Medicaid reimbursement.

She said the top expenses in the county are the jail, the sheriff’s office, insurance and pensions, maintenance, the youth center, the prosecutor’s office and juvenile court.

Stacy said the county has started a new media and public outreach program and has formally contracted with Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership and Fostoria Economic Development Corp., even though the commissioners have been working with both organizations for many years.

Other highlights she mentioned include Community Development Block Grant funds that have been used for a homelessness prevention program, fair housing, Clinton Township Fire Department equipment, and in New Riegel for sewer and sidewalk upgrades.

She also said the county board of elections is training to have new equipment ready for use in the May election and the county has a facilities master plan program under way to make sure county buildings are maintained in the future.

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