Mayoral candidate profiles

James Forthofer – Mayoral Candidate

What prompted you to run for office?

Vermilion has a strong culture of volunteerism. The retirement of Mayor Bulan is an opportunity for me to step up and offer my career of executive experience and years on City Council, Boards and Committees to help Vermilion take its next step toward the future.

What specifically can local government do to promote economic development other than memberships in county groups which haven’t produced much for Vermilion?

We are on our own regarding economic development. Erie County has a robust economic development engine. But, most of our economic growth opportunities are east of downtown in Lorain County. No economic development help is available. Our next Mayor will need to be our own economic development agent. It is an aggressive outbound job. New business will not be found in a desk at City Hall.

We will need to make changes in our codes and lot definitions in order to position Vermilion to be seen as “business friendly” before the mayor can tell business that we a good place for them to do business.

Residents feel they are paying high water rates yet are putting up with main breaks, boil alerts, and expensive plant repairs. Where is this money going and is the water fund solvent?

Yes, the water fund is solvent.  EPA mandates concerning the Water Treatment Plant required the Administration to raise water rates in order to keep the fund solvent. Resuming our search for a less expensive water supply sources is an obligation of our City government.

Separately, the water mains are being addressed through a 25-year plan to replace the worst mains in our 54 mile system. Council has initiated borrowing $2.5 million to get a jump start on this project. Our challenge will be to aggressively advance the water main program and still keep our water fund flexible enough to respond to crisis involving the Treatment Plant and unrepaired mains. A wrap around State of the Water business plan is essential.

Residents and commercial are paying a storm water fee where the business cap will increase in 2018. Many are not happy. How is the city using this fee?

The Storm Water Committee has designated certain critical projects for an improved storm water service. One area that has long been a problem is Liberty Avenue. The storm water infrastructure did not keep pace with the past growth.

There’s a perception by some that Vermilion is a tough place to do business. Is this a myth or a fact?

We’ve got to GET OUT OF THE WAY of clean, law abiding, taxpaying businesses when they try to grow in Vermilion. The reality is that business owners tell me Vermilion is not business friendly. As mayor our default question will be “How can we make your project work?”  Outdated fees or regulations should not get in the way of projects to make Vermilion better.  When the request does not compromise safety or negatively impact others, we will do our best to help a business be successful so the City is successful.

It’s taken years, maybe decades, to have the streets and waterlines in today’s poor condition. Now, they are a catch-up priority. Why weren’t we addressing these issues?

I’ve wondered the same thing. It’s a question best asked of someone who has been in city government for years and was part of the slide.

Despite past neglect of infrastructure, my position is to deal with the reality of what we have today and focus on what we want Vermilion to be in the future.

We’ve had a street levy, city income tax increases, storm water fee increases, and water and sewer rate increases. Is there a stopping point and how can you balance the infrastructure needs with our town’s ability to pay? Many residents are on fixed incomes.

DIVERSIFY OUR TAX BASE! It is essential. 89% of all taxes are paid by residents and they are exhausted. At the same time we’ve had a cut back in federal, state, and county grants. Vermilion must have a bigger base of taxpaying, people employing, clean NEW BUSINESS.

EVERY PENNY COUNTS. We need wrap around business 10 year management plans to govern long term spending on our most costly initiatives. ”Need of the moment” spending on our infrastructure gets us nowhere.

Some would argue communications could be better between local government and the residents. What can you do?

I agree. Communication was my career. Good communication is inexpensive and an obligation of government.

Our challenge is two parts: (1) Open more channels of communication. Urgent information should find the residents not the reverse; (2) Get information into those channels faster. Residents should receive important communication at the same time as our safety departments. I will be personally involved in this priority.

We have a diverse age range in Vermilion. We need to understand how our residents get their information.

What are some of the issues, duties you are most eager to tackle going into office?

DIVERSIFY THE TAX BASE by adding new clean business. Vermilion’s Mayor has to be the Economic Development Bureau. The Mayor needs to personally get out, know the business owners, and get in front of the organizations and developers who can make a difference to Vermilion. I’ve been meeting with these businesses and organizations and find that they are willing to try.

BUSINESS FRIENDLY.  The Mayor sets the tone for the City and the City should be there to help business find ways to get around obstacles to growth…not create them.

INFRASTRUCTURE PRIORITY PLAN. Prioritize the most critical infrastructure needs. A comprehensive plan for infrastructure repair needs to guide spending. Professional analytical assessment rather than “need of the moment” spending should drive the spending of limited tax dollars.

What is your public service, work experience, education?

As for Public Service, I am a Councilman, Ward III; Chairman, Streets Committee; Vermilion Parks & Recreation Board; Roads Levy Committee; Main Street Vermilion’s Marketing Committee; President, Historic Design & Review Board; Museum Acquisition Committee; Wakefield Mansion Restoration Committee

My Community Involvement includes St. Mary’s Parish, Vermilion Rotary, Main Street Vermilion, Vermilion Fish and Game Club, Special Olympics, American Red Cross

I was a publishing executive, 35 years (retired); Group Publisher, ARCHI-TECH magazine, Forging magazine, 33 Metal Producing magazine, Welding Design & Fabrication magazine, Welding Distributor magazine, and American Machinist magazine.

I graduated from St. Edward High School, Syracuse University, Newhouse School, and Northwestern University’s Medill School

Fred Ostrander – Mayoral Candidate

What prompted you to run for office?

Being a 40-year resident, homeowner and dedicated advocate for city improvement throughout the years has led me to run for city council, council president and now mayor of Vermilion. Part of living here is wanting to see our city excel.  I have the experience, background, energy and desire to make Vermilion an even better place to live, work and play during the next four years.

What specifically can local government do to promote economic development other than memberships in county groups which haven’t produced much for Vermilion?

My administration and I will work with every source possible to bring real jobs and commerce into our city.  We have properly zoned industrial and commercial land with utilities on site that are begging to be taken advantage of.  The city website will be totally revamped to bring attention to the many benefits of doing business in Vermilion.   And no economic development phone call will roll to voice mail. Bridge to bridge is only the beginning.

Residents feel they are paying high water rates yet are putting up with main breaks, boil alerts, and expensive plant repairs. Where is this money going and is the water fund solvent?

The money has been going to repairs but under my administration we will be making enhancements incorporating the repairs. I am quite confident that with the last rate increase we can go a long ways towards making the upgrades we need to make without raising rates and keep the water fund solvent. I will task my new city engineer to find an expert in the area of water plant operations, water production and distribution for our first water plant project and then continue to use them for all related projects.

Residents and commercial are paying a storm water fee where the business cap will increase in 2018. Many are not happy. How is the city using this fee?

I am the only city council member who voted against the ordinance which created this fee structure.  I agree with these business owners and do not feel that the businesses are being charged fairly by it either.  Also we do not have a plan as to how these funds will be spent.  I will be bringing solutions as to how to address this early next year.

There’s a perception by some that Vermilion is a tough place to do business. Is this a myth or a fact?

Perception is reality.  I am disappointed to find this out as I campaign.  This will be a main focus of mine to change this misconception.   Vermilion is a good place to do business.

It has taken years, maybe decades, to have the streets and waterlines in today’s poor condition. Now, they are a catch-up priority. Why weren’t we addressing these issues?

These issues have not been ignored; the administration is doing the best they can with what they have to make living here as affordable as possible without raising taxes and water rates. The voters have dedicated tax dollars to upgrade our streets.  In order to use them more efficiently we will do multiyear projects to allow us to tackle some of the larger problem areas.  Low interest rates will allow us to use these roads now instead of years later.

I recently provided a report to city council which shows that our utility rates are quite similar to those of our neighboring communities.  Interest rates are low and whatever we do should last 50 to 100 years so we will be borrowing to make some big changes which should keep the water rates we pay where they are as progress is made.  Don’t be scared into thinking that all water lines need to be replaced, this is definitely not the case.

We’ve had a street levy, city income tax increases, storm water fee increases, and water and sewer rate increases. Is there a stopping point and how can you balance the infrastructure needs with our town’s ability to pay? Many residents are on fixed incomes.

The income tax is used to protect those on fixed incomes instead of real estate taxes which affect every property including those of people on fixed incomes. My intention going into office is to not raise any rates – utility, property, nor income.

Some would argue communications could be better between local government and the residents. What can you do?

I will maintain an open door and transparent office and will aggressively seek input from residents and business owners.  I will be available for open forums, coffee with the mayor and other similar large group and small group events. In addition the updated website will help get the message out.  The annual Mayor’s State of the City Address will also return.

What are some of the issues, duties you are most eager to tackle going into office?

I am absolutely prepared and ready to be mayor and eager to tackle many issues including but not limited to: (1) We’re going to focus on Economic Development as explained above; (2) Continue to make safe clean water without raising rates; (3) Under my administration we will be business friendly; (4) In 2016 across the United States there were 64,000 drug overdose deaths (3495 in Ohio).  As a father, as a grandfather and a close friend of someone who lost their young son to a drug overdose, I am ready to work with anyone and everyone on this war against drugs. As your Mayor I and my administration will work with our Health Departments, safety forces, local business owners, schools, ministerial association, hard-working advocates and support groups – everyone in this circle of care to do all in our collective power to help eradicate this disease; (5) Make sure the Museum/Main Street Beach area projects stay on course.  Attempt to get grant funding to add a handicap accessible fishing pier here.  Grant funding is also needed to upgrade the break wall at the mouth of the river on Lake Erie.  Enhance access for all to enjoy our lakefront and beaches; (6) Extend the Quiet Zone; (7) Speed up the cleanup up of blighted properties.

What is your public service, work experience, education?

Nancy and I will be married for 39 years next month.  We have lived in Vermilion this entire time.  Our son Jonathan grew up here too and I cannot imagine a better place to raise a family.

As to public service, now in my fifteenth year, I am the longest serving city councilman in Vermilion’s history.  I was the city council president for 6 years.  First year on city council was 1995. I have also been a member of and/or chairman of Vermilion’s Finance Committee, Legislative Committee, Streets, Utilities and Health & Safety Committees. In addition I have also been the city council representative to the Contractor’s Board of Examiners, Port Authority, Parks Board, Harbourtown Design & Review Board, Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals. In addition to city council I have served on the Vermilion Civil Service Commission and the Vermilion Stormwater Commission.   From my vast city government experience, I have come to know what works and doesn’t work well in city government.

I proudly served in the US Naval Air Reserves for 6 years where I was an Aircraft Electrician. I am a Vermilion High School graduate, as is our son Jonathan, and I have an Associate of Commerce Degree with a major in accounting. Employed for 30 years at our former local lighting fixture manufacturer Lithonia (formerly ITT/Wakefield) in Engineering, Business, Manufacturing, Operations and Marketing. Currently in my third year as the Facility Manager at Ritter Public Library. I am also an active Member of St Mary Parish, a life member of AMVETS Post 22, and an active boater – both power and sail.

 

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