By DENISE GRANT
Findlay’s Republican candidates for City Council are feeling the pressure of a contested election in November.
At-Large Councilman Tom Shindledecker said Friday the Democratic Party was “emboldened” by a spring primary, when five Democrats competed for their party’s nomination for three open at-large seats on City Council.
It was the first primary in Hancock County for the Democratic Party in several years, and Shindledecker said “one, maybe two” of the three remaining Democratic candidates appear to be formidable opponents in November.
Shindledecker and the two other at-large members of council, Republicans Jeff Wobser and Grant Russel, spoke Friday at the GOP’s First Friday lunch.
Shindledecker named flood control, workplace development and blight as the city’s most pressing issues heading into 2018.
He said fixing the workforce shortage in Hancock County will also mean addressing the lack of affordable housing in the area. He said one of the Democrats has made affordable housing a focus of her campaign for City Council.
“And I have to say, I agree with her,” he said.
Shindledecker retired from WFIN, WKXA and The Fox as news director in May 2011. He is serving his second term as an at-large councilman.
Shindledecker, Wobser and Russel are being challenged by Democrats Mary Harshfield, Barb Lockard and Heidi Mercer in the Nov. 7 general election. Independent Scott Klingler Sr. has withdrawn from the race.
The three highest vote-getters in November, regardless of party affiliation, will take the council seats next January.
Russel also spoke about the opposition on Friday. He said the “Republican way of government” has served Findlay well.
Russel was first elected to council in November 2013. Earlier, he was appointed to fill an unexpired term, representing the 3rd Ward, starting in June 2013. He is a systems analyst for Marathon Petroleum Corp.
He said City Council hasn’t engaged itself in the issues that have proven divisive on the national level, like gun control and sanctuary cities. Council members instead must focus on the “bread and butter” issues, like infrastructure and public safety, he said.
“I don’t hear the Democrats talking about bread and butter issues,” he said.
Russel said Findlay’s finances are solid right now, due mostly to city administrators and City Council working to break the “see it/spend it” cycle.
He said city departments have confidence in the administration and council to properly fund their budgets each year. Departments now work to beat their budget and return unspent money to the city each year.
“That’s something we need to protect,” he said.
Wobser also described the council race as tough.
“It’s the first time we have had opposition in a very long time,” Wobser said.
But, he said, Findlay is “deeply rooted in conservative ideals.”
Wobser, who advocated for City Council to form a strategic planning committee this year, said the first goal should be to get councilman “back out” in their wards and talking to constituents.
He said right now, the city administration is setting the goals for Findlay.
“Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but we need a long-term strategy,” he said.
Wobser said City Council also needs to be more involved with managing Findlay’s finances.
Wobser has served on council since Dec. 1, 2015, when he was appointed to fill an unexpired term as at-large councilman. He is an advanced senior business development representative in the Brand Division at Marathon Petroleum.
Court and sheriff’s office representatives also discussed the need for a larger Hancock County jail at Friday’s luncheon. The Hancock County commissioners have placed a sales tax increase on the November ballot to pay for the construction of a jail expansion and a county government building.
Officials said a change in Ohio law, designed to cut the state’s prison population, is putting more pressure on jail space at the county level. Couple the new rules with Findlay’s drug problem, and they said the current jail, built in 1989, is now constantly operating beyond its capacity of 98 beds.
In 2016, it cost Hancock County about $400,000 to house prisoners in other counties, not counting added expenses like travel.
Over the summer, Hancock County found itself in a fix when some neighboring counties refused to take more prisoners, and the Hancock jail was packed well beyond capacity at 145 prisoners.
Officials said the overcrowding creates problems with both the operation of the jail and the courts.
Hancock County Sheriff Michael Heldman said a jail addition with a 150-bed capacity is needed. Modern jails also provide separate housing for detox, and prisoners with mental illness.
The Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention estimates that a jail addition will cost about $80,000 to $100,000 per bed to construct. A jail addition with a capacity of 150 beds would then cost between $12 million and $15 million.
Heldman said a state study will be required to design the jail. The goal, he said, will be to locate the new building near the current jail and sheriff’s office at 200 W. Crawford St. The buildings could then share the current kitchen, laundry and medical facilities, which should cut costs.