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Published: Friday, 10/24/2003

Norwalk to elect mayor, vote on 2 charter changes

NORWALK, Ohio - Voters have the chance to choose the first mayor to hold office for four years, thanks to a change in the city charter passed a year ago that eliminates two-year terms.

The municipal ballot also includes two charter amendments, primarily housekeeping issues to reflect last year's decision to approve four-year terms.

Norwalk, a city of 16,500 with a $20 million annual budget, faces a struggle to balance its budget without cutting services or jobs.

Mayor Brooks Hartmann, a Republican who is completing his second two-year term, said Norwalk had to tap its “rainy day” fund to make up the shortfall between revenue and expenses.

“The biggest [issue] has to be budget, the same as any city,” Mr. Hartmann said.

“Our reason to be here is to provide services.”

To balance its books, the city has cut spending and dipped into its reserves without resorting to layoffs or reducing services, he said.

“We're not spending money we don't have,” the mayor said.

Susan Smith Lesch, his Democrat opponent, has never run for public office before.

But she said her 13 years in resource development for the Toledo Catholic Diocese, eight in Norwalk and five in Toledo, have prepared her to lead the city.

“Norwalk needs people to pull it together,” said Mrs. Lesch, a longtime Norwalk resident. “That takes good communications skills. And that's what I have.”

Mrs. Lesch identified jobs and the economy as the city's top issues.

“We just haven't had a good focus on jobs and their retention,” she said.

Norwalk voters will be asked to approve charter amendments reflecting a change in pay for the mayor, which council raised to $50,000 last year. The charter currently provides for a $15,000 salary.

The other charter change involves special elections to replace the mayor. The wording reflects the old two-year term in office.

Elsewhere in Huron County, voters in the Huron City School District are being asked to approve a 4.9-mill emergency operating levy.

The Huron schools laid off 14 employees, including eight teachers, last spring to balance its budget.

The district warned it could lay off more employees if voters reject the five-year levy, Superintendent Fred Fox said.

The tax would generate about $1.3 million a year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $150 a year.

The Huron schools had to borrow $600,000 to make payroll over the summer and must start paying that money back to the state in January, Mr. Fox said.

Some Huron County voters will be asked to decide on the Monroeville school district's request for an 8.6-mill, 28-year bond issue that would generate $10.9 million for construction of a school for grades 7 to 12, and on a 0.5-mill, 18-year bond issue for Ehove Career Center, which seeks $15 million for a classroom building and renovations to another facility at its Erie County campus.

The Willard City School District is seeking approval of a 0.75 percent income tax to pay operating expenses.



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