SIDNEY — Three incumbents and a newcomer are seeking three at-large seats on Sidney City Council in the Nov. 3 election.
Voters will choose from among incumbents Mike Barhorst, Janet Born and Rufus “Rick” Sims, and newcomer Joseph S. Ratermann.
The candidates have responded to questions posed by the Sidney Daily News.
1. Why are you seeking a Sidney City Council seat? What do you feel you can contribute? What experience and qualities will you bring to council?
Barhorst: I served four terms as a member of City Council from 1977 until 1989. I was elected again in 2006, and have subsequently served two additional terms. I am seeking an additional four-year term in an attempt to complete some of the projects that we have underway — notably the development of the water source and the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant — to continue making progress on other initiatives that are not as far along including downtown revitalization and the bicycle/hiking trail.
I will continue to provide leadership, ideas and drive, all essential ingredients in moving Sidney and for that matter, any community, forward.
I grew up on a farm and bring that experience, worked in an industry for a half-dozen years and have that experience, spent 40 years as an educator and have that experience, and have 20 years of experience in local government. With respect to qualities, a sense of humor is essential. In addition, I try to bring integrity, compassion, discipline and respect to the office.
Born: Because I was appointed the first time and I have learned so much during this time. I’m hoping my past experience will be an asset to the council. By listening to the issues that come before council and asking questions I hope I can make informed decisions.
Ratermann: I am seeking a seat on the Sidney City Council because I wish to serve the city and be an integral part of an era of significant growth and economic development in our community. Based upon my experiences living in Europe, Africa and Asia for over a decade; and working and traveling through over 60 countries and all 50 states for 30 years, I believe that I can share a unique perspective with council members. Additionally, I have served in our country’s armed forces for almost 23 years, and have been an adviser or member of numerous board and staff groups. I submit that these experiences will enable me to share with the council additional insight into tactical, operational and strategic level planning.
Sims: I’m am hoping to continue my commitment to be involved in the community I live in. With over 14 years on council, six years as vice mayor, I have the knowledge and experience to represent the residents of Sidney.
2. What do you believe your relationship should be with the city manager and senior department heads if you were elected to City Council?
Sims: It is so important that council has a good relationship with the city manager and staff. They provide council with information that allows council to make important decisions. Without that relationship our job would be impossible.
Barhorst: My current relationship is one of mutual respect, and I would not envision that relationship changing. Council’s role is to provide direction. The manager’s role is to carry out that direction. Sometimes that’s a difficult distinction, but one that must remain inviolate. At the same time, I do not hesitate to express displeasure when things don’t go quite the way they were initially envisioned.
Born: Listen to their comments and concerns, be attentive, cooperative, and help in any way I can.
Ratermann: I believe that the City Council should set policy and the overall direction while the city manager and senior department heads provide advice and implement council policy and oversee the daily operations of our city.
3. What are the most pressing issues facing Sidney and how would you address them?
Ratermann: The most pressing issue facing Sidney today is heroin. In the short term, I believe that vigorous law enforcement for users and distributors is essential. One major obstacle, however, is that we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of this problem. To address the problem in the long term, I believe that schools, families, churches, sports teams and community groups must continue their excellent efforts, and may, perhaps, coordinate and expand efforts to keep children supervised and busy from sun up until the lights go out at night.
An additional issue is one that is currently out of sight. This issue is found under the streets. Sidney’s infrastructure, specifically the sewer and water system that run under our streets, is eroding as a viable, comprehensive system. As we address this issue, the City Council must ensure that the public is fully aware of the issue in the early (and all) stages. Additionally, council must ensure that our community is fully aware of options; and, the council must ensure that the community has the opportunity to be heard on the issue.
Sims: Repairing deteriorating infrastructure. I will give all credit to the residents for passing the levy to repair our roads. As you can see we’ve been able to start repairing some of the streets. Staff also plays an important part by acquiring grants to help with repairs.
Barhorst: The most pressing issues include: 1) the completion of the water source project; 2) the completion of the EPA-mandated upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant; 3) removing blighted properties (most notably the former Wagner Manufacturing Plant and the Ohio Building) by either tearing them down or returning them to a useful purpose; 4) continuing to work to advance quality-of-life amenities to attract and keep families in the community; 5) revitalization of the downtown core; 6) funding essential infrastructure needs; 7) the continued deterioration of older residential neighborhoods; 8) workforce development; 9) continuing to focus on economic growth in the area; and, 10) combating drug use and poverty.
Ground has been broken for the installation of the transmission line that will carry the water from the well field to the water treatment plant, and ground will be broken for the improvements to the wastewater treatment plant in early November. Both of those projects need to be completed. Lest people believe that the projects are too far along to be stopped, consider the subway system in Cincinnati under construction from 1920 through 1927 and never completed.
Blighted properties (items 3 and 7), whether they are homes in neighborhoods or major structures like the abandoned Wagner Manufacturing Plant, need to be addressed. Obviously funding is a major obstacle, but some of the properties (including rentals and owner-occupied dwellings) can be addressed through building codes.
Quality-of-life amenities that will attract and keep families in the community can range from fixed assets (including neighborhood parks, bicycle/hiking paths, skateboard parks) to special events (the Field of Valor, the Farmer’s Market, and the Winter Wonderland Parade). We need to continue to work to develop both kinds of amenities.
We need to continue to build on the progress that has been made downtown by private property owners (Murphy on the Square, the Brookhart Building, etc.), the County Commissioners’ $5.2 million investment in the courthouse, and the investment being made in the Historic Sidney Theatre so that downtown can once again be the vibrant center of life that it once was. The Downtown Revitalization Task Force is hard at work, and I have no doubt that they will be successful.
Funding essential infrastructure needs will continue to be an issue. The city has 22 bridges, many of them 75 or more years old. In addition, we have 111 miles of streets, 18 miles of alleyways, 123 miles of water lines, 126 miles of sanitary sewer lines, and 77 miles of storm sewers, all of which have to be maintained. Residents gave the community a boost by passing the street levy, but the funding of other major projects will remain a challenge.
The city of Sidney has worked closely with other governmental entities and the private sector to tackle workforce development and continued economic growth through the Sidney-Shelby County Economic Partnership. Many neighboring communities have economic development staff; council will need to continue to look at both these areas to ensure that Sidney is being served well through the existing partnership.
Finally, drugs and poverty can best be attacked with a multi-pronged effort. Providing meaningful work for those who want to work, limiting assistance to those who truly need aid, and providing addiction services for those who want to escape addiction can help to stem the tide.
Born: Getting and using funds to maintain the city and its citizens; also, infrastructure and water sources.
4. With the reduction in state funding and other decreases or elimination in municipal income sources, what actions should council undertake to promote revenues of sufficient amounts to meet the needs of the residents of Sidney?
Born: The council has already taken steps to promote sufficient funds to keep the city functioning by cutting staff and getting grants.
Ratermann: I believe that the city has implemented several good and necessary programs to promote revenue resources and diminish spending. I believe, however, that the city has not yet fully explored several additional methods to increase revenues. For example, Sidney should set the conditions for successful entrepreneurship which encourages the formation of entities involved in innovation and growth which in the strategic, long-term perspective, will expand the city’s revenue base.
Sims: With 70 percent of our revenue being income tax-generated, we need to continue to work with business to expand and hopefully locate here.
Barhorst: Unfortunately, the General Assembly assumed that all taxing entities wasted money the way they did. As a result, they believed that we could share services and save significant dollars. The fact is, locally we have shared services for years in more than 35 different areas!
Today, Sidney operates with 50-plus fewer employees than we did a half-dozen years ago — yet citizens expect the same services they have always received. While revenues continue to improve, inflation has also impacted operations. We will continue to struggle to find the necessary resources to pay for services. There is no silver bullet — I wish there were. The General Assembly has basically said — if local residents want local services — they can pay for them with higher taxes — but we are going to look like heroes by cutting state taxes.
5. What should be the city’s role in dealing with deteriorating buildings and absentee owners of such properties?
Barhorst: Cities such as Sandusky have initiated successful programs that have reduced vacancies in their downtown. I’m not certain that we need to reinvent the wheel, but simply look at best practices elsewhere and adopt those that we believe would have applicability in Sidney.
Born: The city is trying to get some funding to help eliminate some of the deteriorating properties and trying to find absentee owners.
Ratermann: The city has an ample building code already enacted. It is time for robust enforcement. If the citizens of our city want a revitalized community … and if our citizens want an All-American City … then, citizens should loudly tell their councilors that they support legally sound measures which ensure that local property is used for an economic benefit greater than the current absent, negligent stagnation which we see too often in our community.
Sims: We currently receive some grant money to address a small portion of these issues. This has been an ongoing issue that I feel will increase in the coming years. Keep enforcing code enforcement violations.
6. What should be the city’s role in downtown revitalization?
Sims: This has been an ongoing topic since I came on council and to date I haven’t seen a lot change with the exception of the streetscape project. The city can help in a leadership role but not spending taxpayer money.
Barhorst: First and foremost, we need to encourage private-sector investment in the downtown. Council needs to be cheerleaders for downtown development. At the same time, the city should not be afraid to invest in the downtown. Rather than invest in a new roof for the Taylor Hardware Building, the city spent far more to tear down a historically significant structure and we now have an empty lot. We can’t save every building but need to determine which structures are historically significant and concentrate our efforts on those buildings.
Born: Support them in any way that is feasible.
Ratermann: City Council can improve its efforts to aid Amy Breinich’s outstanding ideas. The city and City Council can do this by setting the conditions for her and the Downtown Sidney Business Association (DSBA) so that the DSBA may realize fewer obstacles as it continues and expands upon their already existing excellent ideas. Furthermore, the city asked the Downtown Revitalization Task Force to make proposals to revitalize the downtown. Now it is time for City Council to fully support both organizations, through ordinances, and by coordinating and cooperating with county and state officials to make “Downtown Sidney Alive!”
The writer may be contacted at 937-538-4823 and on Twitter @MikeSeffrinSDN.