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Ohio Mayors Discuss Community Development at Summit

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Ohio Mayors Discuss Community Development at SummitPhoto by Jesse Bethea.
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“We’re trying to get people to jobs here,” exclaimed the Mayor.

Whaley also mentioned studies that show in Ohio, a person’s ability to get out of poverty is directly linked to whether or not that person has a car, and better public transport might take away one of those barriers to advancement.

Hicks-Hudson shared Whaley’s frustration, saying the lack of transportation dollars is hurting people who can get jobs but can’t get to jobs.

“We must have a cogent, thoughtful policy that looks across county lines, that looks across regional lines, and look at employment cluster areas to make sure that folks who want to work and have the skills to work, but don’t have the transportation to get there are able to do so,” said Hicks-Hudson.

She also said with concerns over climate changing mounting, transportation that doesn’t depend on oil and gas must be considered.

Mayor Riley said transportation within the city of Wilmington is not a problem, but that getting from Wilmington to Columbus or Cincinnati, where many of his residents work, is impossible without a car.

“None of us is an island,” said Riley. “We all have to work together and help each other.”

McNally said the Western Reserve Transit Authority has started using smaller, more energy efficient buses to get people to work, but said that a car still provides more job security and affording a car remains a concern for some of his residents.

Kasler also asked the panelists, Hicks-Hudson and Whaley in particular, about the intervention of the state on the issue of city traffic cameras.

Hicks-Hudson stated, “It’s not about traffic cameras, it’s about home-rule,” insisting that the city’s red light cameras have reduced traffic accidents at the intersections where they’ve been placed.

Whaley said several years ago, if cities were asked what they wanted from the state, they would have listed any number of things they appreciated from the state government.

“I think we’d be at a point now of, we’d appreciate to be left alone,” said Whaley.

Whaley expressed her frustration with the continued cuts by the state to local government funding, coupled with an attitude of, “if you have a tool that works for the urban core, let’s see how we can take away that tool.”

The relationship between the state and its cities, said Whaley, is not healthy.

“It’s a problem for Ohio,” continued Whaley. “Ohio is a great state because it has great urban centers and because it has great rural areas and it has great places to raise families. Regardless of what you want, it’s the diversity of Ohio that makes Ohio special and to have a legislature and a state government that is fighting something that is of value to the state is a really big problem.”

Riley said he appreciated that the state was able to balance the budget, but also said a balanced budget comes at a cost and that cost appears to be funding for local government. The state still expects cities to perform, said Riley, but it’s getting harder to accomplish things without being “the bad guy” and imposing new local taxes.

McNally said he considers state funding for local governments to be a lost cause, and said any funding given from the state or federal government to Youngstown is directed to improving infrastructure.

The panelists were invited to answer one question from the audience, which asked how each mayor has dealt with population loss in his or her community.

Whaley said Dayton’s solution has been to create spaces where young people might want to move and make sure people are able to age in place. Whaley also said, “Dayton got very bullish on being an open, inclusive community,” using diversity to attract new residents.

McNally took a somewhat more pessimistic view, saying, “I don’t think there’s a magic pill” for population loss. Improving the education system might bring people back to Youngstown or keep them from leaving, but for the most part McNally said he just wants to slow down the population drop.

Hicks-Hudson called Toledo a “tale of two cities” with millennials moving into downtown areas and “legacy neighborhoods” in the suburbs where people are aging in place. The Mayor said she is trying to put more city resources into those neighborhoods, making them safer and turning vacant lots into green spaces in order to keep people interested in staying.

Riley said that many of the people leaving Wilmington are college graduates, so he has focused much of his attention on how to keep them. Two years ago, said Riley, the city started a program called Wilmington Succeeds. The program would get any student who graduated from Wilmington High School into Southern State Community College for two years. If those students graduate from Southern State, their credits will be accepted at Wilmington College and they will receive a forgivable loan to get them through their junior and senior years. Once graduating from Wilmington, half of that loan is forgiven, and if a graduate stays in Wilmington for three years, the rest of the loan will be forgiven.

“I don’t care if they drive up to Dayton to work,” said Riley. “If they live in Wilmington, they’re putting down roots and that is helping us keep some of our best and brightest young people in the city of Wilmington.”

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