As lawmakers in Columbus consider new legislation that affects the lives of all Ohioans, several mayors in the 12th Senate District have come together to try to ensure that the concerns of their communities are heard by state Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima).
Urbana Mayor Bill Bean, Lima Mayor David Berger, Bellefontaine Mayor Ben Stahler, Celina Mayor Jeff Hazel, Greenville Mayor Steve Willman, New Bremen Mayor Jeff Pape and Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst have formed a legislative advocacy association, with plans to meet on an as-needed basis to provide Huffman with a local municipal perspective on issues in Columbus.
“It’s important to consider the unfunded mandates that have been passed along to our communities,” Bean said. “From storm water management to prevailing wages to increased training for emergency responders, the list continues to grow. The new budget provides still additional examples.”
“As a result of the rapid pace of legislative activity in Columbus combined with the complexities of legislation being introduced in the General Assembly, we have mutually agreed that we can no longer trust that our elected representatives will make decisions that are beneficial to cities and villages without our input,” Hazel said.
One major area of concern, according to Berger, is local government funding.
“Critical infrastructure — bridges, roads, sewers and water lines – need to be upgraded,” he said. “Our needs are growing, not shrinking. But we have been told repeatedly by Columbus that we have to do more with less. For a number of years, we have managed with less. We are now at the point where we can only do less with less.”
Other mayors also voiced concerns over budgetary issues.
“Each of our communities have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue every year,” Stahler said. “The cumulative impact has resulted in essential projects that have gone unfunded in each of our communities.”
“We want to work to build a stronger Ohio,” said Barhorst, chosen to lead the group. “The economic forces that have challenged the state have destabilized Ohio’s municipal sector and represent our largest single hurdle.”
Villages may join the group
“We’ll be reaching out to all the villages within the district to invite their mayors to join future round table discussions,” Pape said. “Concerns of smaller municipalities are sometimes different than their bigger brothers and sisters, but there is a lot of common ground, and it is important that their voices are heard.”
“There is no question that we should have undertaken this initiative long ago,” Barhorst stated. “Each of our communities has attempted to work with our elected officials, but there is no question that there is strength in numbers.”
Willman said the group hopes to meet with Huffman periodically to provide a local municipal perspective on funding and legislative issues.
Huffman voiced support for the initiative, hoping that the mayors’ input will prove invaluable in helping to shape public policy.
“I think it’s great the mayors are doing it,” he said. “The times I have met with them has been very informative.”