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Residents rake plans for new town hall
Residents rake plans for new town hall
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Munson Trustees were called on last week to defend their position of moving forward with plans to construct a new township hall.
About 15 residents sought answers as to the need for the new building and whether residents should be kept better informed on the issue.
"Why do we need to do this?" resident Jaqueline LeBlanc asked. "This is a fine building," she said of the existing Township Hall.
Resident Susan Stacho said she has been a resident of the township since 1992. She said she had not heard of the trustees' plans for the new building until a flier appeared in her mailbox.
The flier, which was placed in mailboxes along Wilson Mills Road and adjoining neighborhoods, stated that trustees planned to spend approximately $1 million on the new town hall. "Their reason?" the flier asked. "To increase the privacy of the workplace for one full-time and one part-time employee who work on public documents."
The flier urged residents to attend trustees meetings to ask whether that is the way they want their taxes to be spent.
Resident Janice Bennett said the building does not look decrepit, and the number of employees has not grown to the point that the township needs a new building. She said the timing may not be right for building new offices, given that the township will likely see a decline in tax revenues because of foreclosures. She said trustees should ask residents to decide the issue by placing it on the ballot. "This sounds like so much fluff to me," she said.
After listening to residents, trustees read from a prepared statement and then answered further questions.
Trustee Todd Ray said the building was constructed in 1978 to serve the fire department. Trustees later adapted the building for township offices, which have served the township for the past 30 years, he said.
"As the township has grown and the use of the Town Hall rooms has increased, the trustees and staff have noted the incremental decline of the adequacy of the facility," Mr. Ray said. "While no one factor or condition stands out as exceptionally unacceptable, the overall picture has caused the trustees to evaluate the facility and consider ways to improve it. It is a durable, serviceable and energy-inefficient building with several significant limitations."
Trustee Frank Gliha said the township has been able to put aside $853,000 over the past three years from inheritance-tax collections, and that money would be used to construct the new offices. He said there will not be a request for additional taxes to support the project. He also pointed to a section of the Ohio Revised Code, which states township officials could use the money without consulting with residents on how it should be used.
Mr. Ray said, without that money, the trustees would not be looking at the project with the same urgency.
Trustee Andrew Bushman said it's not yet known how much of that money would be used for the project. He said trustees are only employing an architect to consult on how the building should proceed.
After hearing from residents, trustees unanimously hired the architectural firm of Leber Brown Architects, of Cleveland, to begin working with officials on the project.
Mr. Bushman said trustees at this point have only used conceptual ideas provided by about seven architects who were interviewed for the job of designing the building. He said the actual price tag will be determined as trustees refine their plans.
Mr. Gliha said the township has no debt, and this is the best time to consider a new town hall that will carry it into the future. His words were echoed in the prepared statement.
"The circumstances the trustees are working within allow the township to address the current and future needs of the community with a high-quality facility with no increase in tax on our residents," Mr. Ray said. "The window of opportunity to provide a facility of this kind without a tax levy will not open again."
When asked for specifics on why the existing Town Hall is inadequate, Mr. Ray said the rooms are serviceable but not acoustically suitable for large gatherings. He said the windows are not energy efficient.
He said trustees also would like to have a separate room to adjourn to when conducting executive sessions, instead of asking all visitors to leave the room to conduct those closed meetings.
Sophie Horvath, a member of the township's board of zoning appeals, said the flier was filled with misinformation, noting that four employees now work daily in township offices. "I don't know where this information came from or who had the nerve to distribute it," she said.
Ms. Horvath said trustees have not tried to hide their actions on the town-hall issue, and residents have had the opportunity to learn about the issue by attending meetings. "That's your fault, not the trustees, if you're not at the meetings," she said.
She said the township's community room is constantly used by the public for birthday parties and showers, as well as by civic organizations like the Boy Scouts. "I wonder how they manage to get their jobs done," Ms. Horvath said. "They need bigger offices."
Mr. Gliha said the issue was included in one of the township's newsletters and covered in newspaper articles.
Resident Georgette Zifko said she was offended by a telephone call she received from the township. She said she was accused of sending the flier and received a "veiled threat" that the U.S. Postal Service was after her to pay the postage on the fliers. "I don't want to be harassed again," she said.
Ms. Zifko criticized the trustees for not seeking resident input on the issue.
Mr. Gliha said the township has spent no money on the project so far, and trustees have only reviewed ideas, not specific plans. He said, now that the township has hired an architect, the architect will hold public meetings to invite residents into the process.
Resident Preston Baliga said it appears that trustees are willing to abandon a serviceable building to build another. "It's like buying a car with 25 miles to the gallon to get rid of one that gets 20 miles to the gallon," he said. "It takes a while to see the savings."
Mr. Baliga said there appears to be a dislike of political activism in the township with residents being criticized when they show up for meetings about not being at past meetings.
Road Superintendent James Teichman said trustees have shown good judgment in how they have approached the issue. "You elect people who work to save you dollars or make an ass of themselves," he said. "This group has not spent any of your money foolishly. This is a builders' market, and this is the time to build."
Mr. Teichman said the township offices now have a septic system that is failing and will cost $100,000 to repair. "Do you want to put $100,000 out there and stay in this building, or do you want to look to the future?" he asked.
Mr. Bushman said the township will try to involve all those interested in discussions.
"Our objective is not to take a project and ram it through and be done with it," he said. "It's not the architect's decision, it's not our decision, it's the community's decision."
Mr. Ray said the trustees will make a concerted effort to better inform residents as they move forward. "We can do a better job of providing information," he said. "We can get complacent that people understand what's going on."
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