LAKEMORE: Mayor Rick Justice was prepared to jump behind the wheel of a snowplow last month when weather forecasters predicted more than a foot of snow could fall in Northeast Ohio.
It wouldn’t be the first time Justice, who just marked one year as mayor of the small village on the east side of the county, would step up when necessary. While serving on the council, he also helped the service department plow snow.
“By law, council members or the mayor may plow snow, but I don’t advise it. It can be dangerous,” said Justice, the part-time mayor who makes his living as a contractor.
But it was another episode — a teenager walked into the Village Hall saying he “wanted to turn himself into the mayor” — that is most memorable for Justice, because it was so unexpected.
“He said, ‘I’m tired, I’m cold and I’m hungry.’ The boy said he had run away from home and had spent the night on the grounds of [the former] Edwin Shaw Hospital,” Justice said, recalling the incident that occurred early in his term.
“I brought him in here and talked to him. We gave him a sandwich and a soda and got him back to his home. That’s when I first realized what being mayor might mean.”
Near his one-year anniversary as mayor, Justice sat for an interview to talk about the financial problems the village faced when he walked into the job. He explained how his administration expects to move the village out of a state-declared fiscal emergency by 2016 and other goals he hopes to achieve this year for the community of 3,000 residents.
Q: Do you foresee Lakemore getting out of fiscal emergency by the state’s imposed deadline?
A: Getting out of fiscal emergency continues to be our No. 1 goal. We were placed in fiscal emergency in August of 2010. The plan that we created and was approved by our council gets us out in six years. I feel that we have gone beyond just doing what the plan says. We have a great group of people here — staff, council, police and fire — who are making sacrifices and prioritizing our getting out of fiscal emergency. As a result, right now we are ahead of schedule. We are constantly searching for new revenue, and we are beginning to see an increase.
Q: List the steps your administration has taken in the past year to help get the village out of fiscal emergency.
A: In the past year alone, we have taken many steps to get out of fiscal emergency. We have really streamlined our administrative staff. ... We continued to get things done with fewer resources. We have absorbed a lot of duties in various positions, including the mayor, fiscal officer, office staff, and Department of Public Service people. Even our fire chief helps us with nuisance abatement issues. We now do things with six individuals that we used to do with 11 employees. I appreciate all the extra effort we are seeing from these people. This type of effort is what it takes right now.
We also found new revenue for 2013. Three businesses broke ground in the village (in 2012). Tractor Supply will be up and running in February, and Dollar General and Kellbran Candies are in full operation now.
Q: Are you planning on taking any other steps in 2013 to help relieve budget woes?
A: Yes, we are. We won’t stop looking for ways to get out of fiscal emergency until we reach that goal. I’m dedicated to it, and so are the council and staff members. We need to bring back the 100 percent tax credit for our residents. In 2013 I will be looking for more commercial revenue again. We have big hopes for the former Edwin Shaw Hospital property. There has been interest shown there, and we were able to get some funding to use on the property in 2012 to make it more attractive to an end user. We also have a current business in the village positioned to add many new jobs. Another step is to add value to the village’s housing stock by enforcing zoning regulations and following through with nuisance abatement. This process can sometimes be slow, but it is important to stick with it.
Q: What new revenue sources have you found to help ease the financial strain facing the village?
A: Developing solid relationships with different organizations has helped immensely. One agency, in particular, Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, is a conduit for federal money for maintaining major through roads and sidewalks in our village. I will be meeting with representatives to discuss opportunities for Sanitarium Road, which is heavily traveled by pedestrians. Being a part of the Summit County Mayors Association helped us secure funding for the former Edwin Shaw Hospital facility. Working with the Rural Community Assistance Program, we were able to qualify for an extremely low-interest loan to put another much-needed well on-line in our water system. Our close ties with Summit County are invaluable. This year, the Summit County Engineer’s Office installed a traffic light on Canton Road, a safety improvement for which people have been waiting 15 years. We are also expecting some grant money from the county in 2013 to support additional infrastructure projects.
Q: Explain how a state brownfield grant will help improve the former Edwin Shaw Hospital and make it more attractive to potential buyers.
A: The brownfield grant will enable us to complete the contamination studies on the former Edwin Shaw Hospital property. A “phase one” study, which will need updated through this grant, was completed in 2010. This grant will pay for a “phase two” study and, hopefully, put us in a better position to secure other funding. This grant enables us to take a huge step forward and will help alleviate any fears about contamination that an end user might have.
Q: How much money does the village expect to get in Moving Ohio Forward funds, and how do you expect to use it?
A: The village has been awarded $147,000 in nonmatching funds from the Moving Ohio Forward grant to demolish dilapidated residential structures. We estimate this amount will take us through about 20 properties. We currently have three structures started. This step adds value to the village by eliminating residential buildings that are not habitable and that have a negative impact on the community.
Q: Can you explain how the village formed on the south shore of Springfield Lake and how that affects the village today?
A: The older part of the village directly south of Springfield Lake was originally populated by people whose residences were used as summer vacation homes. They were attracted by the easy accessibility of the area and by its beauty. In the early 1900s, the seasonal use of the homes did not prompt a lot of emphasis on infrastructure. After the hard economic conditions of the Depression era, the vacation cottages evolved into permanent housing. This condition left us with inadequate storm-water control and with narrow streets surrounding dense housing. We are now making improvements to these long-standing issues. This past year all of Front Street was totally rebuilt with help from Summit County, and new storm-water pipes were placed on Church and Front streets with a new outfall to Springfield Lake. We can add to these improvements in the future.
Q: What did you accomplish in 2012 that you are most proud of as mayor?
A: There [were] a lot of accomplishments in 2012, but the one that stands out the most is working together with Springfield Township on the new Dollar General store that is bisected by the boundary line of Lakemore and Springfield. The store sits on a prime location on Canton Road across from the new high school in an area with potential additional development to the north. Lakemore’s Planning Commission and council and Springfield’s trustees and zoning department worked hand in hand and demanded Dollar General’s best. (Springfield) Trustee Dean Young and I traveled the area looking at various Dollar General stores, and our people worked with their architects. We collectively came up with something pretty nice.
Q: What are your goals for 2013?
A: I want 2013 to be a big year for Lakemore. Positive momentum is building, and we need to continue to build on the successes we have had. We are coming out of fiscal emergency, and we will continue to prosper. We have new businesses that will place more revenue at our disposal that has not yet been calculated into our fiscal recovery plan and will advance our goals even further. We have a new seventh- to 12th-grade school building that brings a sense of pride and accomplishment to our community. There have been great investments made in 2012, and my goal is to continue that trend in 2013.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.