SIDNEY — From state ballot issues to the national political scene to local concerns, speakers at a gathering Tuesday morning covered a broad range of topics.
Called a “Breakfast Briefing with Our Elected Officials,” the event featured U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, state Sen. Keith Faber, Shelby County Commissioner Tony Bornhorst and Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst. It was sponsored by the Sidney-Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and held at the Oaks Club.
Faber, R-Celina, 12th District, who also is president of the Ohio Senate, focused on the three statewide issues on the Nov. 3 ballot. He urged voters to say “yes” to issues 1 and 2 and “no” to 3.
Issue 1 is a bipartisan effort that would change the way district lines are drawn for the state Legislature. Issue 2 would amend the state constitution to require voter approval of citizen initiatives to establish economic monopolies. Lawmakers crafted it in response to Issue 3, which would create 10 facilities with exclusive rights to commercially grow marijuana.
Faber said he is against legalization of marijuana, but Issue 3 also involves the broader issue of monopolies. He said if Issue 3 passes, it would allow 1,100 pot shops to be established in Ohio. “That’s more than we have Starbucks or McDonalds in Ohio,” he said. He said medical marijuana is “a different discussion,” although he opposes that, too.
Faber discussed the state Legislature’s efforts in tax reform that have resulted in the lowest tax rates since 1982 and a tax rate for small businesses that is competitive with neighboring states.
Faber also talked about the Legislature’s work to reduce the cost of higher education, including a Senate challenge to reduce the cost of a college degree by 5 percent. Colleges were allowed to decide how to implement the reductions, resulting in some innovative programs. The Legislature also increased funding to colleges with the stipulation that they not increase tuition for two years.
Among audience questions of Faber, one dealt with whether the front license plate currently required in Ohio should be eliminated. Faber said he had always opposed the front plate because of the costs associated with it; however, he said law enforcement agencies have offered good arguments over the years about the benefits of a front plate.
Jordan, R-Urbana, 4th District, said we are living in an “interesting time,” with Russia firing on U.S.-trained troops in Syria, President Obama’s normalization of relations with Cuba “without any real debate” in the legislative branch of government, and a “scary” nuclear deal with Iran. He also mentioned domestic issues involving Planned Parenthood, Obamacare, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Jordan talked about the turmoil in politics, noting the top three Republican presidential candidates have never been elected to political office, and the resignation of John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives. He said he believes it’s the first time a sitting speaker has stepped down in the middle of a term without a health issue or scandal.
Jordan said a recent poll found that “60 percent of Republicans feel Republican leaders in Congress have betrayed them.”
Jordan said it’s time to return to the fundamentals. “If the whole world were like west-central Ohio, we’d be just fine,” he said.
Stressing the need for welfare reform at the corporate and personal levels, Jordan said “the welfare structure is just wrong. … Big corporations cozying up to big government getting special deals with your tax dollars.”
He said numerous business owners have told him of their problems in finding workers. Jordan said there is a “disincentive to leave the social welfare system.” He said a work requirement for able-bodied people is needed in the regulations.
Responding to questions from the audience, Jordan said “the only remedy is a new president” concerning how the EPA can be reined in. In regard to Boehner’s possible replacement, Jordan said a forum was to be held that night at which candidates for the job would speak. He said how the House operates needs to be reformed; there’s too much “top-down” control.
Jordan said he’s often asked by the news media why “you conservatives want to shut down the government.” He answers that they don’t; they voted to fund the government at the levels the president, the Democrats and everyone agreed to. “We simply said take the money from the organizations that did bad things and give it to the organizations that didn’t do the bad things,” he said.
Jordan urged reform of the federal tax code, which he called “both broken and stupid.”
Asked about Obamacare, Jordan said its repeal can happen if a Republican president is elected and then the issue goes to the Congress for the reconciliation process.
Bornhorst provided a “state of the county” report, saying revenues are above projections and expenditures are below 2001 levels. He said the Sheriff’s Office revenues are “extremely above” 2014, due in part to money generated by housing federal prisoners and prisoners from other counties. Prisoners also are able to work outside the jail for public agencies and “realize there’s a different way of life.”
The heroin epidemic has affected the county. Bornhorst said Children Services reports that 60 percent of children removed from homes are removed because of heroin addiction by the parents. “It will be a serious hit on the budget,” he said.
Bornhorst discussed various improvement projects, including the $5.2 million project at the courthouse. The work will enable the courthouse, built in 1881, “to continue on for another hundred years or more,” he said.
Barhorst spoke about the many items on the city’s agenda, including the development of a new well field in Washington Township. The groundbreaking for the water transmission line will take place Oct. 14. He said the new water source is crucial for the city because should there be a drought affecting surface water, it could be disastrous for the many industries in town, as well as residents. “The water project may be the most important infrastructure investment the city has ever made,” he said.
Another major project involves Ohio EPA-mandated improvements to the wastewater treatment plant. During the question-and-answer session with Faber earlier, Barhorst publicly thanked the senator for his efforts in negotiations with the EPA that resulted in a reduction in the project cost that saved the city $62.5 million. Barhorst repeated that comment during his address. The total cost now is about $12.5 million.
Voters approved an addition to the city income tax in November 2014, with the revenue earmarked for street improvements. Barhorst said people have asked why street work had not been done earlier this year. He explained that collection of the tax did not begin until January and the city had to wait until enough revenue had been accumulated before projects could proceed.
Updating of the city’s comprehensive plan, a recent change to an automated trash-pickup service, and an energy aggregation program to reduce residents’ gas and electric bills were among many other items discussed by Barhorst.
The only question the mayor got from the audience dealt with the long-discussed possibility of a north-end fire station. Barhorst said personnel costs are the problem. “Personnel costs would be over a million dollars a year,” he said. “We continue to struggle with that.”