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Tiffin mayoral candidates answer questions




Tiffin, Ohio — asked the three candidates running for mayor to answer a few questions about their background, plans, and vision for Tiffin.

This article will be one of many upcoming stories from covering the 2023 municipal elections in Tiffin.

The Candidates

Mary Franks
Small Business Owner

John Spahr
Tiffin City Councilmember & Seneca County EMA Administrator

Lee Wilkinson
Educator & Small Business Owner

The Questions

1. Why did you decide to run for mayor?

Mary Franks:
Tiffin is a wonderful place to raise a family. It is with my own family’s support and encouragement that I am running for mayor.

John Spahr:
The Tiffin City Council has a very important role in moving the city forward, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as an active, effective at-large member. However, after discussing the upcoming election with family, friends, and community members, I decided to seek a different role in helping to maintain Tiffin’s steady rise while utilizing my past experience to enact and support future growth. My wife, my local family as well as those family members that live out of town, and my friends and community members not only supported this idea but encouraged me to take the step and put myself forward as a candidate.

Lee Wilkinson:
I have been a teacher in the classroom for over 30 years, through many changes of administration. The most important quality of a good administrator is setting the tone for the organization. I believe that I can bring people together, foster a spirit of cooperation and teamwork. I also believe that local public officials should be less of a politician and more of a public servant. I’m running for mayor as an independent candidate, because at the local level, there is no room for partisan politics. The mayor, the city council, and everyone in local government should be working together for what is best for the citizens of our city.

2. Can you outline your vision for the city if you are elected mayor?

Mary Franks:
I want to see Tiffin continue to look to the future while preserving our rich and beautiful history. I believe I am the best candidate to represent Tiffin and ALL of its residents. I am not a politician or a person with financial support behind me. I am a small business owner, mother of 9, and am determined to represent all people of Tiffin, not just the interests of a small group of people.

John Spahr:
My vision is to support and continue the great work done by both former Mayor Aaron Montz and our current mayor while finding new paths to strengthen public safety, infrastructure, support for retail and commercial business, and community engagement. Additionally, keeping our educational system involved in the growth of the city, finding ways to assist developers with housing demands, and supporting our parks and recreation all make the city more attractive to businesses looking to establish or relocate to Tiffin.

Lee Wilkinson:
I am a regular citizen of Tiffin just like you and 17,000 other people. We all want the local government to work, to work for us, to work cooperatively. Tiffin is and should continue to be a great place to grow up, a great place to get an education, a great place to work, and a great place to raise a family. We need to preserve our historic and cultural resources. Tiffin should offer opportunities for individuals and families to live and work in an active and vibrant community with employment and economic opportunities. Tiffin residents should be able live a healthy lifestyle and enjoy local arts, entertainment, and activities.

3. What do you see as the top issues facing the city, and how do you plan to address them if you are elected mayor?

Mary Franks:
We need a strong economic base in which small businesses continue to thrive and larger businesses want to operate, all while providing well-paying jobs for local families. We also need to foster good communication and trust between parents and schools, understanding that the education of every child is a partnership between a parent and teacher. As a community, we also need to face the growing drug problem head on. We will do that by equipping law enforcement to stop the influx of deadly drugs into our community, and by coming together to help those affected by drug use to fully recover.

John Spahr:
Looking for additional “outside-the-box” avenues for funding opportunities through grants, and low-cost loans to subsidize infrastructure repair and upgrades. Looking at successful programs in other municipalities and applying them to our city will all support economic development, not only in the downtown district, but also in the Westgate corridor and elsewhere in the city. The contractors in Seneca County have made it clear that building, both commercial and housing, has been slowed not only by the increased price of materials and lack of skilled labor, but more importantly the inability to stay on task because inspections necessary to move forward with building phases are difficult to get scheduled in a timely manner. Working with Seneca County to find a solution to the lack of a local building inspection program is at the top of my list of priorities. Solving this issue would not only pave the way for more housing and business development, but would even assist in skilled trades employment and business development in the city.

Lee Wilkinson:
Two of the top issues to be tackled by the City of Tiffin are multi-year projects. Number one is the city sewer project that the city must complete to be in compliance with EPA mandates. Number two is the road resurfacing and bridge projects. I would work closely with Tiffin City Engineer Matt Watson to coordinate and secure funding needed to complete the projects. He has already secured funding of $5.9 million through the Ohio EPA. This includes $4 million in loan forgiveness, and the additional $1.9 million will be on a below-market-rate loan. The challenge moving forward will be determining how to implement the plan without increasing the financial burden on our sewer customers. The Road and Bridge Levy funds will be supplemented with state and federal grant dollars. These multi-year projects and will require cooperation from all of the departments in city government.

Number three is the housing shortage in Tiffin and the surrounding area. The reason that this is important: If Tiffin does not have available and affordable housing, then prospective residents may be deterred from moving into the area. In 2018, the City of Tiffin and TSEP, funded a study called “Tiffin Housing Opportunities Analysis”. In this analysis, eight potential sites for housing development and construction were identified. Of the four of these sites that were within the city limits, three sites were privately owned, and one site is owned by Tiffin City Schools. As mayor, I would build working relationships with developers, highlighting the win-win opportunity to develop housing units on these sites. The mayor may also be instrumental in negotiating non-traditional purchase agreements or tax incentives through the Community Reinvestment Act.

4. What is your plan to attract new businesses and jobs to Tiffin?

Mary Franks:
I plan to work closely with the Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership to attract new businesses to Tiffin. I would like to see potential housing being utilized, such as in our beautiful, historic downtown. In doing so, I’d like to help local property owners find the resources necessary to develop those properties to their full potential.

John Spahr:
Continuing to make the city an attractive location for new business as well as expansion and growth of current businesses begins with a strong public safety program, infrastructure that is built to be expandable, sufficient housing, a population that has the education and skills to fill the needs of the workplace, and an engaging leisure and recreation system for current and future citizens of Tiffin.

Lee Wilkinson:
As mayor, I would communicate with developers, private individuals, and with state and other government entities. I would work closely with TSEP, Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership, a public-private partnership that drives and leads economic, downtown, and community development for Tiffin and Seneca County. Tiffin has a lot to offer! The best ways to attract new businesses and jobs to Tiffin, are by marketing our city and sharing our story of recent economic and downtown development success.

5. Can you speak to your track record on working with others to find solutions to problems?

Mary Franks:
I currently own and operate Freeze Dried Ohio, and in starting the business, I faced many challenges. But as in all areas of my life, I worked hard and built the necessary team to overcome those challenges, seeing them as opportunities to learn, grow and bring people together around a common goal. As a small business owner, I know that fiscal responsibility is imperative and probably one of the most important aspects of owning a business.

John Spahr:
I have strong relationships with both elected and appointed county, state, and congressional leadership through my work as Seneca County’s Emergency Management Agency Administrator. I have worked with Tiffin City Council and all county political subdivisions to establish the All Hazard Mitigation Plan for Seneca County, The County Emergency Operations Plan, and annual update to the Hazardous Materials Response plan. I am currently engaging with city and county leaders to address the challenges of the upcoming total solar eclipse which will cross Seneca County in April of 2024.

Lee Wilkinson:
For the past 30 years, I have been a teacher in middle school, high school, and college. I served as mathematics department chairman during my time at Hamilton Township High School, and I was responsible for developing and implementing a curriculum. My team had to develop a strategic plan and meet the goals of that strategic plan with progress check points throughout the year. As mayor of Tiffin, I would work with the team of city council, department heads, and TSEP, to develop and implement a strategic plan for the City of Tiffin. This is not a job that can be done by a lone individual in a vacuum, it takes all of us. We all need to take an active role in creating the next steps for Tiffin. Because it’s your city, and it’s your government.

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