Pictured (from left) are new Council members Andrew Davis, Steve Hellman, and Jeff Kallas. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Pictured (from left) are new Council members Andrew Davis, Steve Hellman, and Jeff Kallas. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – During City Council's first meeting of 2020, members heard from representatives of Van Wert County Crime Victims Services, Inc., who were in attendance to explain the importance of what they offer to the area and to ask for funding from the City.

David Voth, director of Crime Victim Services of Allen and Putnam counties, explained that currently, Van Wert's Crime Victim Services program is underfunded and understaffed. Van Wert has just 1.5 full-time employees in comparison to Putnam's three for a similar population size. Further, Voth noted that the employees in Van Wert are also underpaid and do not receive benefits, making $4-6 less than similar positions that do include benefits.

Due to a 2017 constitutional amendment called "Marcy's Law," victim rights are required by law and Ohio's Constitution. Either a prosecutor or a non-profit must provide these rights. Van Wert's Crime Victim Services is a non-profit. If they were to no longer exist, the City and the County would still have to provide the services. Right now, 80 of Ohio's 88 counties provide victim rights through the Prosecuting Attorney and City Law Director Offices.

"The problem is that whether or not you provide that service directly through the Law Director's Office or you do it through a non-profit organization, the legal requirements are still there," said Voth.

As a non-profit, VWCVS applies for grants and receives money from The Van Wert County Foundation and the United Way. They also receive federal monies, but those monies have been reduced since 2018. Voth said that he hopes that with the passage of the amendment, funding will be added since providing the services is a requirement.

"If it is an Ohio State-wide mandate, it seems to me that it should not be dumped on local Commissioners and local City Councils for funding," said Voth. "We're hoping to add some funding to that, but that's something we're still working on."

The dollar amount that VWCVS was asking for was not announced but they are asking for half of their money request to come from the City and half from the County. City Council is in the midst of creating the permanent budget and will consider the request.

Also during the meeting, Council heard an annual report from Economic Development Director Stacy Adam on the growth of Van Wert. Some highlights of her report include:

- 180 new jobs added in 2019

- May 2019 saw the lowest unemployment rate for the county in nearly four decades at 2.5 percent

- 70 properties have been acquired by the Land Bank; 60 properties have been demolished; 80 in total are expected to be demolished by December 2020

- The Revolving Loan fund grew by 45 percent to $1.3 million

"As I reflect on 2019, I am reminded of what makes Van Wert special," said Adam. "It is the collaboration, commitment and true partnership of so many individuals and organizations working to improve our community, investing, creating job opportunities and working together to improve quality of life for our residents."

Adam also noted important projects working to improve Van Wert such as a downtown restoration project, the addition of the subdivision at Dickinson Farms, business growth, and other projects.

During the report portion of City Council, Councilman Bill Marshall reminded trash haulers that they need to renew their hauler's tag by Jan. 31 in order to continue to legally pick up trash. Council President Jon Tomlinson reminded residents that it is City law that all dogs must be leashed when in public places such as parks. The only off-leash public space in Van Wert is the Dog Park.

In other business, a resolution was passed to authorize the Safety-Service Director to sell unused equipment, and Council approved a "then and now" to pay for gasoline that was purchased. An ordinance to amend the Van Wert City Code of Ordinances 96.01 regarding the age of junk cars was read and passed on the third and final reading. The amendment takes the age specification out of the ordinance.

Prior to Monday's meeting, several Council members were sworn in for a new term, including new members Andrew Davis, Jeff Kallas, and Steve Hellman.

With no further business, City Council adjourned. The next City Council meeting is set for Jan. 27, 2020, at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers.