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Summary of November 28 council meeting

By Andy Chappell-Dick

The Village council’s second regular meeting of November featured routine business matters, with only a few curve balls thrown in. But that's what makes it worth attending. I refer readers wanting an official summary to the minutes. At risk of stating the obvious, this writeup is not official. Readers wanting hot takes and input on the workings of our Village need to join me in the peanut gallery. Second and fourth Mondays at 7:00, folks!


Prior to approving the payment of the Village's bills (readers can find the list on pages 4-5 of the council packet, along with all other documents referenced in the meeting), Councilman Joe Sehlhorst questioned one invoice that appeared unusual. The water bill for Village operations in the past month was nearly $58,000. Jesse Blackburn, Village Administrator, explained that water usage was several times above the normal amount. One unexpected culprit was a massive leak in the water main that serves the Village sewer plant, which has been repaired. But he also clarified that seasonal work like fire hydrant flushing and periodic sewer plant operations mean that similar spikes can occur in everyday operations.

When Mayor Johnson called for committee reports, Administrator Blackburn spoke for the Board of Zoning and Building Appeals, which has approved a variance request to allow the house at 320 S. Main Street to be used as a tax business. Owners Dean and Judy Augsburger already operate the business at their residence three houses to the north, but were seeking the convenience of moving it to this property. Councilman Mitch Kingsley pointed out that in fact the R2 zoning of the neighborhood allows it as a "conditional use," which is a lower bar than a "variance."

Councilman Ben Stahl reported for the Tree Commission, stating that the group was unusually busy for this time of year. At the request of residents, the Commission has initiated a total revamping of the tree lawns in Riley Creek Village, the development just north of the Bluffton University football stadium. Various other projects are actively underway. 

It's been tough sourcing appropriate trees at reasonable cost, and the Commission may have found a new partner in Stratton Greenhouses, which has begun container planting of bare root seedlings. In addition to more control over the supply chain, this may result in healthier trees since they are already acclimated to our area.

Turning to legislation, Mayor Johnson presented three bills: 

The first was the third reading of the town-wide gas aggregation initiative, which is an opt-out program for all residents and small businesses that will be placed on the spring ballot. 

The second was a second reading of a resolution to accept Ottawa's new water rates. The Village will be paying more for water, but credit goes to Councilman Dave Steiner who worked closely with Ottawa officials to keep the rate hike acceptable, despite heavy increases in chemical costs faced by Ottawa's water works. 

The third bill was a second reading of the new curb replacement policy in advance of next spring's repaving of Main Street and SR 103. 

All bills were passed 5-0. The sixth vote, Councilman Jerry Cupples, was not present.

In his Administrator’s report, Blackburn highlighted that November 30 would be the last leaf collection day, so readers of this summary will have to accept that it's already done. But the Public Works crew will still pick up leaves, as long as they're in a biodegradable bag. Someone mentioned that suitable paper bags are available locally at the hardware store. 

Residents should also take note of ongoing pole work by AEP on the east side of town; this will continue through February and may at times involve flaggers directing traffic. 

Water main replacement starts next week on North Lawn and Jackson Streets; this also continues through February.

Mayor Johnson called on Jim Enneking, CEO of the Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, to report on the Blaze of Lights last weekend. Enneking said the event went off with great success, and thanked Council, Administration, and Safety Services for their flexibility and support.