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Published: Wednesday, 10/29/2003

Mayoral hopeful in Tiffin has uphill fight

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - Aaron Montz knows he has an uphill campaign to become Tiffin's next mayor.

Mr. Montz, 18, a Republican, hasn't finished high school yet. A senior at Tiffin Columbian High School, he'll cast his first general-election ballot when he votes for himself Nov. 4

His opponent, Democrat Bernard Hohman, is one of Seneca County's best-known and most popular politicians. Mr. Hohman, 62, has been mayor since 1996 and served on City Council for 20 years before that.

Many Tiffin residents remember him as a math and computer science teacher in the city schools from 1963 to 1995.

As Mr. Montz went door to door looking for votes one afternoon near Lincoln Elementary School, resident Eric Knaplund reminded Mr. Montz of the enormity of his task.

“Bernie Hohman, that's tough,” Mr. Knaplund said, smiling sympathetically. “He's really popular. Good luck. It's David vs. Goliath. You should change your first name to David.”

But Mr. Montz said he doesn't mind being young, or an underdog. In his view, someone needed to challenge Mr. Hohman, and why not him?

Mr. Montz said the city has gone stale and needs new leadership to attract stores to the partly empty Tiffin Mall, lure other employers, and get the municipal budget in better shape.

He opposes Issue 3, which would eliminate a requirement that 21.5 percent of the city's 1.75 percent income tax be used only for capital improvements and related debt service. The tax is not a renewal and will continue whether Issue 3 is passed or not.

“It's going to cause deterioration in some areas to cover other areas,” he said. Instead of transferring money to the general fund, the city should cut spending, Mr. Montz argues.

If elected, Mr. Montz said he would have the city administrator run the day-to-day operations for the first five months of his term while he finishes high school. After that, he said, he would take night classes at Heidelberg College so he could handle city affairs during the day.

Mr. Hohman defends his record, saying he's helped keep Tiffin's economy afloat during tough times.

He said five businesses have moved into the city's Northstar Industrial Park since he took office, and he points to two companies that recently moved into the Eagle Rock Business Park: American Fine Sinter and Toledo Molding & Die, which moved 100 jobs from Sycamore, Ohio.

“The one thing I've worked very hard on was jobs,” he said.

The mayor said income tax collections are up in 2003 and should total a record $7.1 million by the end of the year. That's more evidence of a turnaround in the economy, he said.

“We're definitely ahead of the game,” he said.

Unlike his opponent, Mr. Hohman backs Issue 3 and argues that ending the quota for capital improvement spending would give the city flexibility.

In Fostoria, voters will choose between Republican Mayor John Davoli and Democrat Barbara Marley, a former mayor. The city is split among Seneca, Wood, and Hancock counties.

Ms. Marley, 56, who held the city's top job from 1990 to 1995, said she'd handle city finances and personnel issues differently. She said she decided to challenge him after numerous residents asked her to run.

“They find that there's dissension between the mayor and the city employees, and that's probably the major issue, along with finances,” she said.

When it comes to the city's budget, Ms. Marley said the mayor has waited until too late in the year to cut spending. The city laid off more than a dozen city workers, including police officers, dispatchers, and street employees, in 2001-02, and made up a $1.7 million budget deficit last year.

Over the past summer, the city laid off a street department worker and two water and sewer employees. City hall now closes at noon on Wednesday, another money-saving measure.

“I think you have to look at the budget earlier in the year and make some realistic changes early on in the year, which I don't think was done this year,” Ms. Marley said.

The former mayor said she'd take a different approach than Mr. Davoli, a flamboyant, hands-on leader

“My personality tends to be a little bit more laid-back than his,” she said. “Sometimes it's better to listen than to speak. That's the best way I can put it. It doesn't mean you're not there advocating.”

Mr. Davoli, 41, defends his handling of city finances and personnel.

“It's easy for her to Monday-morning quarterback, but I'm working with council, the auditor, and five different unions in town, and employees who aren't unionized,” he said. “I feel confident about the fact that we are making the right decisions.”

He points to this year's tax collections, which dipped in midyear after a strong start.

“In January, February, April, our income tax numbers were going up, so I wasn't in a hurry to lay anybody off,” he said.

The mayor argues that reports of his clashes with city employees and councilmen have been overblown. Mr. Davoli, who is seeking a second term, said his administration has replaced sidewalks, repaved alleys, and helped secure three railroad overpass projects.

“I could have gotten none of those done if I didn't work in a cooperative manner with all the other people involved,” he said.

In other races:

w Republic Mayor Del Ray Fox is opposed for re-election by Councilman Michael Cholodewitsch.

w James Snyder is challenging New Riegel Mayor Ronald Rumschlag.

w Bloomville Mayor Barbara Jacoby is running against Councilman Byron Kent.

In the Mohawk school district, which includes areas in Seneca, Wyandot, and Crawford counties, voters will decide whether to raise their taxes to help replace four aging schools with a new building.

District residents will vote on a package that includes three taxes: a $6.4 million, 28-year bond issue to pay for part of the construction of a K-12 school in Sycamore; a $1.4 million, 28-year bond issue to help fund a 500-seat auditorium, and a 0-5-mill, 23-year levy to cover maintenance.

If voters approve the tax issue, the Ohio School Facilities Commission will give the district about $19 million to pay for most of the project, Mohawk Superintendent Randy Chamberlain said.



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