By DENISE GRANT
An election forum held Thursday drew a crowd of about 200 people to watch the Republican Party’s three primary election candidates for Findlay mayor speak about a range of issues affecting the city.
Replacing or upgrading city water meters was among the topics discussed. The candidates also offered ideas about how the mayor’s office can help address the opioid crisis.
Seeking the nomination are Holly Frische, who has represented the city’s 1st Ward on City Council since 2014; Hancock County Commissioner Brian Robertson, who is serving his second term; and Christina Muryn.
Muryn was appointed as the city’s interim mayor in February to serve out the term of former Mayor Lydia Mihalik, who resigned after she was named to a position in state government.
Findlay’s mayors serve four-year terms.
Candidates on Thursday were asked a series of questions posed to them by moderators Steve Dillon, editorial page editor of The Courier, and Doug Jenkins, WFIN news director.
The forum, which lasted about 60 minutes, was held in the Winebrenner building on the University of Findlay campus. The forum was hosted by The Courier, WFIN radio and University of Findlay Television.
Candidates were asked questions about tax policy, budgets, workforce, government transparency, security, development and the opioid crisis, among others.
A question about financing the replacement or upgrade of city water meters prompted a debate. It’s an issue city residents will likely hear much more about in the year ahead, especially if city officials decide to raise water rates to help pay for the $15 million in improvements.
It is going to cost about $750 per meter to replace them.
Frische, who chairs council’s Water and Sewer Committee, said the options are still being investigated. There are problems with the computer software that currently operates the transmitters on the city’s residential water meters, and the meters themselves need to be updated, she said.
At issue is whether it makes sense to do the whole project at once or replace the meters in smaller, more affordable stages.
Funding could come from the city’s water and sewer funds. Frische said the water fund has $6 million, and the sewer fund has $8 million.
Or, maybe it would make more sense to borrow money and pay for the entire project. Higher residential water rates could be in that mix.
Muryn said some of the meters aren’t tracking water flow, and the city may be losing revenue. Muryn said she has asked city departments to look at replacing the transmitters and replacing the water meters over several years.
She said the city’s water and sewer funds are strong, so using some cash could be an option, but it may be better to reserve those funds and finance the project.
Robertson said in 2017, the Hancock County commissioners laid out a 20-year financial projection, which had never been done before, and a 10-year infrastructure projection.
“It’s a good question related to the water and the meter side of things, but the bigger question is, ‘What’s the 10-year capital plan across the city?'” he said.
“From there, we have to determine what we need to borrow collectively around each of the needs of the various departments, as well as our infrastructure. But make no mistake, safety and security is omni-important in terms of local government and national government, but we can’t live without good, clean drinking water, so it’s a very important piece of infrastructure for our community.”
Frische challenged Muryn’s “take” on how the city is going to proceed on the project.
“We have not had a communication or discussion on that. We’re still waiting on those numbers to come in for our committee to review and evaluate, and work with the auditor’s office to determine if we need to go out for capital debt or if we are able to stage this over a couple of years and use the money that we have on hand,” said Frische.
Muryn said she’s been talking with department heads about the project, particularly about the loss of revenue. She said if the loss is large enough, new meters may pay for themselves.
“Part of this discussion that we need to have, that we haven’t had yet, is looking at the formula to determine if we need to increase our water rate to cover this cost over a three- to five-year process,” Frische said.
“Going out for debt is not an easy thing to do. It is very complex, and it needs the experience of the auditor’s office. It needs the Water and Sewer Committee to be representative for City Council to make sure we have open dialogue and communications, so we do let the citizens know what it is going to cost us,” Frische said.
On Thursday, the candidates were also asked for specific ideas about how the mayor’s office can help address the opioid crisis.
Frische emphasized the need for intervention, and help for users working to recover and fit back in the community.
Muryn said she would work to raise awareness of the community’s resources, particularly the Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, which has the expertise to address addiction issues.
Robertson said the community has some “cutting-edge” programs already, and is working to address the opioid crisis.
Robertson, who has been an outspoken advocate of expanding the Hancock County jail, said the jail has health care and nurses and access to programs that can get addicts on to the path to recovery quicker.
Robertson said it usually takes six or seven attempts before someone gets to recovery.
Muryn, 27, of 2033 Old Mill Road, served as director of business and physical development for the Pain Management Group, Findlay, prior to taking office.
Frische, 41, of 1325 Shady Lane, worked in the banking industry for about five years before spending 17 years as personal manager for Frank and Nan Guglielmi of Findlay.
Robertson, 51, of 218 Penbrooke Drive, first took office as commissioner in January 2013 and was re-elected in 2016. He is currently serving the third year of his second, four-year term.
He also is the president of MBDS, a manufacturing company headquartered in Findlay.
This is Robertson’s second attempt to secure the GOP nomination for Findlay mayor. He lost a race with Mihalik in 2011.
In November, the GOP primary winner will face Democrat Chad Benschoter, 501 Edinborough Drive. Benschoter, a small business owner, is unopposed in the Democratic primary.