By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
Findlay’s mayoral candidates found they had plenty in common at a forum Wednesday night on the University of Findlay campus, but disagreed on the proposed Blanchard Street project and on when citizens should get a direct vote on revamping city streets.
Chad Benschoter, the Democrat challenging incumbent Republican Christina Muryn, said he’s “vehemently opposed to the bike lane plan, as, it seems, is the majority of Findlay.”
The plan calls for bike lanes on Blanchard and Lincoln streets. Blanchard Street would be reduced from four to three lanes, one being a center turn lane.
Muryn supports the project, and acknowledged the city “failed the community in effectively communicating the purpose of this project.”
Benschoter is a co-owner of Red Alert IT Services on East Sandusky Street.
Muryn was appointed mayor in February by the Hancock County Republican Central Committee after former Mayor Lydia Mihalik took a job with the state. Muryn then won the three-way Republican primary race in May.
The 5-foot bike lanes are actually a “secondary benefit” that makes use of leftover pavement after reconfiguring to three lanes, Muryn said.
Muryn said she’s heard the community’s feedback. “Ultimately, our responsibility is to do what’s best for the community long-term, even if that’s not necessarily what people think they want at this moment.”
Benschoter brought up the recent death of a bicyclist who was injured in a hit-skip accident on Sept. 27 and later died.
“What we need to do is make sure bicyclists are as safe as possible, and putting cars in a bike path when they have to get over for emergency vehicles, or when they have to merge onto the street in general, will lead to casualties,” he said.
The bicyclist’s death is “obviously very saddening,” Muryn said. “When folks are driving under the influence of drugs, we’re not going to be able to stop that,” she said
The driver who fatally injured the bicyclist was arrested for possession of cocaine and possession of drug abuse instruments.
Bicyclists will be safer “out of the vehicular traffic lane,” Muryn said.
In response to a question about when the public should directly vote on a city project, Benschoter said citizens should get that chance “when it’s a major throughway with a lot of small businesses on it.”
Muryn said that people vote on issues by voting for elected officials. “Every time folks go to the ballot, they’re voting for, then, the future of their community.”
Benschoter said some residents near Howard Run will face a “tremendous hardship” if they’re assessed for ditch cleanup.
He felt that would be taxing citizens for the city’s failure, but the ditches are private property, Muryn pointed out. Without filing a petition, as Muryn did on the city’s behalf in June, the city can’t clean up the ditch.
Residents will have notice of at least a year before making any payment. Muryn advised them to start saving now, and added that City Council could choose to contribute more funding. She said Dalzell Ditch assessments were about $50 a year for five years.
Police officers should carry Narcan, which reverses opioid overdoses, and wear body cameras, Benschoter said. “It protects the people they are interacting with on a daily basis, and it protects them from pointless litigation.”
Muryn said she’s “open to conversation” about body cameras but doesn’t think it’s a necessary expense.
On flood control, both candidates mentioned separating storm and sanitary sewers as a potential future project.
“I’m happy with the progress that we’ve been making,” Muryn said. “Certainly, like everyone else, I’m frustrated that it took us so long to get to this point.”
Benschoter called river benching and a wetlands project on Liberty Township 89 “great steps,” but said the most recent flood study was “kind of pointless” since suggestions from a 1960s flood study weren’t all implemented.
Muryn and Benschoter agreed on why an effort to develop the former Argyle apartment building space and an adjacent city-owned parking lot into a residential and retail building failed.
Muryn said the developer “wasn’t quite ready.”
Others will probably be interested in developing the Argyle property, and “hopefully they’ll come to us and have that conversation if they’re interested in acquiring any city property to make that feasible,” she said.
Benschoter echoed Muryn: “The developer just wasn’t ready.” The city couldn’t have changed that, he said.
Asked what could be done about vacancies at the Findlay Village Mall, Muryn said she has contacted the mall’s owners “trying to give them ideas on what we would like to see out there” but “when it’s private property, the government can only do so much, and that’s a good thing.”
Benschoter said “we really can’t do anything about it,” due to retail’s downward trend nationwide. He called for “incubator, accelerator and coworking spaces” to help small businesses grow.
Both candidates are in their late 20s. Asked about their “relative lack of government experience,” both mentioned the mayor is surrounded by an experienced team.
Being young means he and Muryn both have an interest in the city’s long-term future, Benschoter said.
Muryn added that “experience sometimes can be an inhibitor, because you think you know the answers, and so sometimes you don’t ask as good of questions.”