By JOY BROWN
Few would argue that it has been a challenging two years for Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik.
Halfway through her first term, the Republican has had to make controversial cutbacks; steered the city through several floods, record-setting cold snaps, and a destructive windstorm; dealt with a large downtown fire; and faced frequent criticism from more-conservative members within her own party.
But, things appear to be looking up, with the city budgeting a $1.4 million general fund surplus and planning to spend more on capital improvements this year.
Will public service, the brighter economic forecast, and optimism provide enough encouragement for a re-election campaign in 2015?
The Courier asked her to reflect on her job so far and her political aspirations. Here are her condensed responses:
Q: What has been the biggest surprise to you so far about being mayor?
A: I would say the amount of weather-related emergencies that we’ve had to deal with in just a 24-month period has been unreal. I never would’ve thought that we’d be dealing with blizzards and windstorms and major flooding events all in such a short period of time. But the good news is we’re really prepared to respond to those incidents and we’re getting really good at it.
Q: What’s been your greatest political accomplishment since taking office?
A: I joked, around toward the end of October, that who would’ve thought the most important piece of public policy that I had to decide on was whether or not to have Halloween on Halloween.
The accomplishment of going from a $4 million deficit to this year having a substantial planned surplus in the budget in just 24 months I would say is our biggest accomplishment. We’ve done it all as a team together.
A lot of it had to do with health insurance, but also some personnel changes that we made, and of course, renegotiating contracts. We’re expecting a lot more revenue but we’ve been pretty smart about the way that we spend our tax dollars in the last 24 months, and I feel like we’ve set ourselves up properly.
Q: What is the primary goal you hope to reach during these next two years?
A: To try to get the (Army Corps of Engineers) chief’s report completed for our flood-mitigation efforts. That is what I would like to accomplish and hopefully it’s done in 2014. I think this is something that has lagged on for way too long for whatever reason, be it time, money, process. I think we need to come up with a better solution. We’ve got to find a way to push the corps because at this point it’s just unacceptable to be where we’re at.
Q: What has frustrated you the most?
A: With each and every flood that we deal with, I become more and more frustrated with the process that we’re required to follow with the corps in order to come up with a solution. This past flood, right before Christmas, truly highlighted my frustration with the lack of movement, so much so that I think it’s time that we try and find some alternate methods of funding. We’ve got to continue to push but that’s probably the most frustrating part. Everyone can sit in a room and say that we’re all working together and we’re making progress, but at the end of the day when we keep having these massive floods once or twice a year, it’s just not acceptable. I think our economic success as a community, our success overall is dependent upon us getting this problem fixed.
Q: Was there ever a time when you felt like throwing in the towel?
A: Absolutely not. I would go back and say that going into this job, I knew that we had some major challenges that we had to face. There were a lot of things that were left untouched for a few years prior to 2012. So I knew that there would be some frustrations and some challenges in 2012 to 2013. And of course, we still have a few in the next couple of years, but it never crossed my mind that we couldn’t get the job done and that fighting for the city wasn’t worth it. I never thought about throwing in the towel. It’s just not an option.
Q: What keeps you motivated?
A: People. The people that we work with on a daily basis. The people that I hear from every week that are proud of the progress that we’ve made. This city is a beautiful place. It’s got a lot of great people, a lot of great community organizations, wonderful business and private sector presence, and it is truly a shining star in the state of Ohio. It makes me proud to be able to be mayor during a time where not only have we had our challenges, but we’ve been prosperous as well. I look forward to the next couple of years.
Q: Where have you found inspiration?
A: When I get to ride in a plow truck, or get to ride in a fire truck, or get to have the opportunity to see our folks in action, and they continue to provide public service every day with a smile on their face, regardless of what the environment is, that’s what keeps me motivated and inspired, because if they can do it, this job can be done. I think that after everything that’s been said over the last few years, we do a pretty darn good job of providing public service to our residents and that’s inspirational to me.
Q: Are Findlay’s bad financial times behind it for now?
A: I would say that we’ve made great strides in addressing our financial issues. Our issues were a product of poor planning and overspending. And I feel like we’ve put plans in place to be able to adjust better to the changing economic times. And I feel as though we’re on much more stable footing than what we were a couple years ago. The economy has improved, our financial situation has improved through a combination of both savings and also our revenue. I would say that we’re cautiously optimistic about the future.
Q: Name three positive things you think the city as a whole will benefit from this year.
A: Economic growth. New and exciting recreational tournaments. Improved infrastructure. We’ll have a larger street (repaving and repair) program, and increased focus on our water and sewer utilities. We’ll have the ability to plan for large transportation projects. Having an improved financial situation means that we are more able to respond to the needs of our infrastructure. We’re putting our best foot forward this year with our proposed spending in our capital plan and it should kick-start a renewed focus on capital improvements.
Q: Will you run for re-election?
A: At this point, yes, I’m planning on it. Absolutely.