Six vie for Powell Council


By Dillon Davis - cdavis@aimmediamidwest.com



From the battered relationship with Liberty Township to its shortfall in revenue, the City of Powell has many critical decisions and directions to consider as the community moves forward.

Who will help in forming those decisions remains to be seen as Powell City Council has three seats open in Powell City Council ahead of the Nov. 5 election.

Two incumbents — current Mayor Jon Bennehoof and Councilman Daniel Swartwout — will run for re-election and will be opposed by four new candidates.

Current Councilman Brendan Newcomb has elected not to run for re-election.

Here is a preview of each candidate ahead of the Nov. 5 vote. Bennehoof did not respond to requests for an interview.

Dan Swartwout

Swartwout was elected to Powell City Council in 2015 and is wrapping up his first term. During that term, Swartwout said he is fond of what the City has achieved.

“I think we’ve accomplished a lot of great things in Powell since I’ve been on council,” he said, citing Seldom Seen Park and improvements made regarding traffic in Powell’s downtown as examples.

Swartwout said he understands there is still a lot of work to be done with the Keep Powell Moving initiative, but through the experience he has gained in working with those issues so far, he feels he has an “in-depth understanding and knowledge of how to keep Powell moving and be able to really be a force in implementing more positive changes” in regards to traffic.

He said there was considerable divisiveness within the city of Powell back in 2014 and 2015, but Powell “has come a long way” since then. Swartwout said he likes to think that his “positive, team-building approach has helped alleviate some of that divisiveness,” which he hopes to be able to continue for another term.

Swartwout added that he would like to continue to work on the relationship between the City and Liberty Township, an issue that is at the forefront of this election.

“I have a tremendous understanding and in-depth knowledge of the legal relationship between the City and the Township through our Cooperative Economic Development Agreement (CEDA). And through that, I’ve been able to be a real force for asserting the City of Powell’s rights under the CEDA, especially as it relates to our local EMS service.”

Swartwout said he could live anywhere he wants to live, but he chooses to live in Powell and raise his family there because it is “such a wonderful community.”

He went on to say, “There’s more to do, and I want to do more to continue making Powell a great place to call home.”

Asked about Powell’s income tax and where the City currently stands with its infrastructure, Swartwout said that infrastructure has needs as it ages. He added that most of Powell’s parks were built at the same time, which means the necessary maintenance for them is coming at the same time.

The City’s ballot measure to raise the income tax rate in Powell was heavily voted against last year, which has left the City still searching for ways to generate more revenue for infrastructure repairs.

“There’s definitely a need to take care of our infrastructure in Powell,” he said. “What we need to do is work together with the residents to find a more equitable solution, a more equitable funding mechanism that is more in line with other municipalities in central Ohio.”

Swartwout pointed out many people in Powell already pay some of the highest taxes in Ohio because they work outside of Powell, and he said a more equitable structure refers to the tax credit those people would receive for paying taxes to other municipalities.

“I think a lot of people do understand there are infrastructure issues within the city of Powell,” Swartwout said, later adding, “I don’t think that ballot issue failed because people don’t understand there is a need. I think a lot of the reason that issue failed was because of the inequitable structure of that ballot issue.”

As for development in Powell, Swartwout said the City is looking for smart development, but he added that “because of some of the recent development decisions that have happened outside of the city of Powell, future development within the city of Powell is going to be limited.”

“The days of Powell annexing acres and acres of land for new large-scale developments are probably over,” he said. “So, what we’re looking for is smart, strategic development, probably already within the borders of Powell, that can enhance our quality of life by providing new restaurants, new attractions, and new services to the community.”

Swartwout said that because there isn’t much of Powell left to be developed, the City needs to be “exceedingly smart and strategic” in how they develop what’s left to better the quality of living for residents.

Asked what his message to Powell residents is ahead of the election, Swartwout said, “I’m always accessible, I maintain an active Facebook page that isn’t just active during the campaign. My cell phone number is on both my website and my Facebook page. People have shown up to my door to discuss issues, unannounced, and that’s fine. Because I am accessible and I do realize that I work for the people of Powell.”

Gary Yashko

A Powell resident for 21 years, Yashko has been in practice as a commercial real estate attorney for 22 years.

“I’m running because we’re facing some issues in Powell that need to be addressed if we want to maintain the quality of life that we’ve all come to enjoy and, frankly, expect when living in Powell,” he said. “And these issues just aren’t being addressed.

“I just think that maybe it’s time for some new blood and a fresh perspective, and I think that my background and my experience and my career as an attorney puts me in a position to help address these issues.”

Yashko said the biggest issue facing the city of Powell is the need to reform the city’s income tax.

“We’re just not generating enough revenue to sustain ourselves, and as a result, our infrastructure is starting to deteriorate and we don’t have the money to fix it,” he said.

In addition to a raised income tax, Yashko said bringing more business to Powell, which would mean more taxable income, could be another solution to the shortfall in necessary funds. He also mentioned revisiting a Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) with Liberty Township as a possibility for more revenue to the City.

Another issue Yashko said is pressing in Powell, and something he hears most often from the community about, is traffic.

“I think that we need to sit down and really think about what we want to be in 5, 10, 15, 20 years in development and figure out how that is going to impact our traffic and quality of life,” he said.

Yashko acknowledged Powell’s layout limits what can be done about traffic, specifically downtown, but he said encouraging bypasses of the four corners such as Bennett Parkway would help. To encourage the use of the bypass, Yashko said a roundabout or traffic light could be installed at the intersection of South Liberty Road and Bennett Parkway to make left turns less of a task and more of a viable option.

He went on to say a “breakdown in communication between Liberty Township and the City (of Powell)” played a significant role in him deciding to run for city council.

“We’re all pretty much one community, and instead of being at odds with each other, we need to be more cooperative,” Yashko said, adding he felt the City should have had a more active and vocal presence in the Liberty Township Fire and EMS discussions, although he said there wasn’t a lot the City could do other than better support the push to keep the services in the township.

He later stated that his time dealing with the Liberty Township saga has helped him to cultivate relationships with people, and with new faces set to lead the township, he hopes those relationships would help in mending the relations between the City and Liberty Township.

“My experiences, my background, my vocation have given me a skill set that, serendipitously, is needed at this time,” he said. “I’ve been active in social media, so I think the people of Powell know where I stand and what I believe. I’ve been a leader … I lead from the front, I don’t sit back and let others lead … That’s how I lead; get out there and take action.”

Heather Karr

Karr’s decision to run for city council was a product of her wish to have a bigger impact on her community, she said.

“I guess I’ve always served my community in some way, whether it was through volunteer (opportunities) or my jobs,” Karr stated. “I guess I just have this drive to make my community better and help people.”

Karr said she decided to run for city council while serving on the Delaware County Board of Health, where she began to see just how vast the Powell community is and wanted to be even more involved in it.

“I thought I had a skill set that maybe I might be able to bring something to the table that isn’t already there,” Karr said.

Asked what she perceives as the issues facing Powell, Karr said the major issues in Powell are apparent to any resident who lives there, especially when it comes to traffic.

“There are times of the day when turning onto Powell Road, I simply cannot turn left,” Karr said. “It affects where I shop, where I decide to go to dinner because there are some times going through the Four Corners seems impossible. But getting to 315 out of my neighborhood is also difficult.”

Karr said those issues aren’t unique to her neighborhood; they affect every family who lives in Powell. She said she attributes everything that the community is experiencing — both fortunately and unfortunately — to the growth of the community.

“It’s an amazing community,” she said. “The schools are great, we have wonderful parks and activities, we have access to highways that get us to where we want to go if we want to leave our bubble, so to speak. But with that comes growth that, really, I don’t think has been managed very well.”

Karr said she is by no means against growth in the community, saying, “We can’t stop what’s already here, but I think we need to be smarter about what we’re putting here.”

She went on to say, “I think, in many ways, Powell and its development has never outgrown being that little antique town with a stop sign. I think the mentality is that’s still who we are, but we’re not. That’s not what Powell is anymore. It’s definitely a family community, and you can see it with the breweries popping up and some of the small businesses that are popping up. Almost all of them are geared towards families. Even the breweries, there are kids’ areas. Because that’s what people want here.

“So, I do believe we need to come up with a new vision for Powell, and I think we need to get some private partners who will work with us and work with Powell in a smart way.”

Karr referenced the Bridge Park development in Dublin as an example of what a public-private partnership can look like, and she said if the city could find something “uniquely Powell to bring new vision, I think that would be a great idea.”

She added, “Then we could get the foot traffic we need for businesses, which would then bring more commercial businesses here.”

On the issue of creating more revenue for the City, Karr said she understands Powell needs another source of revenue but is hesitant to go straight to an increase in the income tax as that source.

“I think we need to look inside the City first, see where we can cut some costs in the City, and I’m not sure that’s really been done,” she said. “Whether I’m elected or not, I hope that whoever is on council is being a steward with their money and mine, and making sure they have tightened their belt as much as possible before coming to ask the citizens to pay more.”

She went on to say of Powell’s most recent ballot measure to increase the income tax, “It didn’t look like other municipalities’ income taxes around us. There wasn’t the (tax) credit back for those folks who work outside Powell, which, most of the people who live here don’t work here … I think there needs to be some sort of credit back to recognize that people are paying taxes elsewhere.”

Of course, the situation regarding Liberty Township Fire and EMS remains the most pressing issue for the community, she said, voicing her support for keeping those services local.

Chris Shear

A 14-year resident of Powell, Shear has served two terms on the Powell’s Development Committee.

“I have experience working with the City, and I’ve worked on several of the development projects you see around town,” Shear said of serving on the Development Committee. “I’m all for collaboration with (Liberty) Township. I think I can bring a certain level of respectfulness towards working with projects that are beneficial to the residents as a whole.”

Shear said he opposed the City’s proposed income tax increase last year. Asked how Powell should go about generating the necessary funding it needs to address the infrastructure concerns in the city, Shear said the City needs to look at the “income tax structure.”

“I’ve talked about an income tax reimbursement plan,” Shear said. “For instance, if you are a Powell resident and work in Columbus, you’re paying 2.5 % of your income to the City of Columbus. The City of Powell only receives .25 % of that back in reimbursement, so that has to be addressed where we’re getting more of our tax dollars coming back (to Powell).”

Shear said he has proposed a “pay your taxes where you live” solution to “level the playing field,” which he added that other cities such as Westerville and Dublin do.

“It can be accomplished if we have the right people elected,” Shear said, adding that whatever the solution may be, “it has to be a win-win for the Powell residents or I wouldn’t vote for it.”

As for future growth in Powell, Shear said recent decisions by Liberty Township trustees to approve a “high-density, 1,500-2,000-unit rental complex right next to (Olentangy Liberty) High School has effectively blocked the city’s growth north of Home Road, which is a problem.”

Shear said he opposes high-density developments, and the decision by the Township to allow that development has “put us in a challenge.”

“We have to look for other ways to partner with the Township, but that relationship has been very toxic for years,” he said, later adding that residents “have to take a look at who is representing them in these seats.”

He went on to say, “You have local politicians here who are funded by big developers and county parties … developers contributing money to politicians and they get the projects they want. They get higher density with smaller lot sizes and it’s all about money.”

Shear added his campaign has been self-funded and that he is not “beholden to any special interests, developers, or anyone.”

“I’m here to represent the city of Powell,” Shear said. “I’m here to create a better income tax structure that benefits the city of Powell residents and is a win-win. And it can happen, again, if the right people get elected.”

As for the strained relationship between City and Township, Shear believes the partnership with Liberty Township is also set to improve if the right people get elected.

“Powell’s greatest resource is the people that live here … But they’re tired of all this vitriol and toxicity,” he said, later adding it’s fair to say the time is now for new faces and fresh perspectives in both Powell and Liberty Township.

“I’ve very concerned about the budget and the lack of income that is coming into the City of Powell,” Shear said. “Liberty Township is very well-off financially. The City of Powell has some income challenges. That’s why it’s critical that we have to get this income tax reimbursement program done fairly soon.”

Shear said that if Powell can work with Liberty Township to come up with development projects that are mutually beneficial, that would also go a long way in fixing the budget concerns he has.

Asked if Powell’s future is, in a lot of ways, tied to Liberty Township and rejuvenating the relationship between the two, Shear said “yes,” before adding, “But it’s been tough lately … that relationship has been so toxic and adversarial. But I do have hope. It is critical to the residents of Powell that the Township and the City work together to create mutually beneficial projects.”

Nicole Scott

Scott has been a Powell resident since 2011 and works for Nationwide Insurance, where she continues to develop a strong background in finance.

She said she began participating in the City’s Development Committee “a couple of years back to become more involved in city decisions and be hands-on in shaping the decisions that are made by the City.”

Because of that time spent in the Development Committee, Scott said she was prompted to run for council to “add that finance lens into the council composite and continue to help drive thoughtful, strategic decisions on behalf of the city.”

Asked about Powell’s shortfall in revenue and the need for an increase in the city’s income tax, Scott said the approach is twofold in that “the tax income stream has opportunity to restructure how its set up,” and also, from a development aspect, to “continue to drive more revenue coming in from businesses.”

Scott said that while Powell has done a lot right over the years, as is evidenced by the residents who continue to want to call Powell home, there is opportunity to continue to evolve “how we look at things, how we operate, and to confirm that we’re fresh in how we approach problems.”

She went on to say it is critical for the City to be thoughtful and able to adapt to a changing environment, whether that be “technological changes or general dynamics,” to stay at the forefront of those changes.

“There are multiple variables we want to keep in play,” Scott said. “Keeping that high quality of life and the look and feel of Powell being a great city to live in comes with a balance on how best to execute that and not get stale and have some latency in how we think about ourselves.”

Asked about growth and development in Powell, Scott said the city doesn’t have much room to grow as it is currently defined. In regards to commercial growth, she suggested the city needs to tap into businesses that aren’t led by big corporations in order to give residents places to where work within their city.

“I think there is an opportunity there to draw that (development) in more thoughtfully,” Scott said of strategic development she would like to see.

Scott said she hears about traffic often from residents in her community, not just at the four corners, but also at various intersections. She said many of the projects residents would like to see, such as the traffic light at the intersection of Liberty Road and Seldom Seem Road, require a balance between both the City and Liberty Township in order to accomplish the project, as well as funding, which can make it harder for residents to understand why nothing has been done yet.

However, Scott said she feels there is an opportunity to continue to communicate what is happening with those projects and share with them that action is in place for those projects.

As for the relationship with Liberty Township, which she called “more than a bit strained,” Scott said there are potentially different folks moving into both Powell City Council and Liberty Township’s Board of Trustees and it will be critical to work on their relationships.

“Powell and Liberty Township are so intertwined,” Scott said. “It’s critical for us to align and mend those relationships. A lot of that comes down to how it is approached as well as the composite of the leaders that are in place.”

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By Dillon Davis

cdavis@aimmediamidwest.com

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.