Galion mayoral candidate Tom O’Leary has shared a plan to jumpstart change in Galion which he claims will lead very quickly to a new and positive direction for the community.
Wednesday night’s biting cold and intermittent snow did not deter local residents from joining in the basement conference room of Galion Building and Loan Bank’s Bucyrus Road branch. Invited by local banker Greg Kirk, they convened to listen to Tom O’Leary, candidate for Mayor of Galion, reveal his vision for what can take place during the initial weeks of Galion’s new statutory government. GalionLive and the Galion Inquirer were also invited to attend.
Before sharing his thoughts, O’Leary turned to those present to share their respective views on the most pressing issue or issues currently facing Galion. One attendee said that there were two major issues which vied for first place – those of drug addiction and a depressed local economy. Others talked about the failure of the community to entice its youth to return to work and raise families instead of “fleeing” after high school, the ongoing ramifications of the City’s fiscal emergency, a pervasive attitude of failure and defeat, a disconnect between the schools and the community, and a lack of effective communication between organizations, local government, and citizens.
Noting first that the nature of upcoming elections, with votes in both May and November for City offices, makes long-term planning extremely difficult, O’Leary emphasized that nevertheless in the short term – the first five months of the new City government before the second election takes place – a few things can be done relatively quickly which can have a major impact on the direction the community is heading.
With this in mind, O’Leary unveiled his “Five in Five” plan – five areas he would move in quickly if elected within those first five months.
Those include the following:
FIRST – Moving to end the City’s fiscal emergency status. After spending several months reacquainting himself with both the reasons for fiscal emergency and the directions shared by the State of Ohio about how to end that status, O’Leary shared that he is confident that the administrative tasks necessary to end the emergency can be completed within that time.
While crediting previous City Councils and City Managers over the last 8-9 years for taking steps to end the emergency, O’Leary asked openly why it has failed to be a top priority for the City, with the current administration failing to act to implement recommendations on policies and procedures. This, in turn, has delayed the time when Galion can act to regain financial control of its future. In fact, in a recent meeting with the City’s Acting Finance Director, Paul Robinson, the candidates seeking election as Auditor and Treasurer found that those administrative steps were not being completed at present and were not a priority.
SECOND – Lowering utility rates. With more details to be available before May, O’Leary stated matter of factly that he believes that there can be utility rate relief for Galionites very quickly. Because of information provided by AMP on Tuesday evening’s Planning, Zoning, and Utilities Committee meeting of Galion City Council, he said he doubted that electric rates can be lowered at present. That shared, O’Leary said that the same is not true for water, sewer, and stormwater rates, which can be lowered in the short term.
Water rates, for instance, can be reduced 10-15%, he shared, as they can be reduced by the Safety Service Director under a statutory form of government. Sewer rate reductions require approval of Council, but O’Leary feels those can be lowered while maintaining the solvency of all funds. Further, O’Leary proposes ending all winter shut-offs of City utilities, saying that “we never used to do that in this community,” and sharing that the overall impact on City coffers will be minimal. He also intends to review all AMP contracts.
THIRD – Encouraging investment and job growth. O’Leary said that two things can be accomplished in the first five months. First would be providing what he referred to as “common sense zoning and permit enforcement,” and adopting a “can do” approach in those areas. Second, he proposes to use the City’s revolving loan fund – which has a balance of $580,000 but which is not used – to assist local businesses in making targeted investments. With a background in economic development and government, he said, he can assist in using those funds to leverage investment and job growth.
FOURTH – Fighting against drugs. To provide an enhanced governmental approach to this issue, O’Leary’s plan includes enhanced funding for the Galion Police Department. Additional personnel can be added in a financially prudent way, he said, in large part because with a mayor with a governmental background, the position of Safety Service Director is unnecessary. He also advocated for City involvement in two related programs – those for family support in finding employment resources and mentoring, and also a “kinship navigation” program.
FIFTH – Engaging the community. O’Leary referenced the Community Forums, last done in Galion almost 20 years ago, as a means to engage the community and to develop a strategic plan with citizen input.
The remainder of the evening was spent in general discussion. First, speaking of the pending lawsuit seeking to overturn the vote of the community in repealing its charter, O’Leary said that it was important that Galion choose this moment to move forward, not backward. A good deal of discussion also centered on the issue of city services and how they are provided. O’Leary said that current City leaders to do not know the cost of services rendered – they have no idea what it costs for an hour of leaf pickup, for instance. Businesses know their costs, he said, and government should as well to make prudent and effective use of taxpayer-furnished resources. City employees do not code their work, he added, and the City has no performance reviews for workers that impact their salary. It was noted by some in the room that each employee is also given a $500 clothing allowance, and that over $2 million is spent annually on health insurance coverage.
In summing up his plans if elected, O’Leary asserted that “Galion’s city government should be doing everything it can so that investments in Galion by businesses and citizens are protected and maximized.”