THE YEAR AHEAD: Our outlook for Oberlin in 2016

By Jason Hawk and Valerie Urbanik -

We expect no shortage of news in 2016.

Here is a sampling of the events our staff anticipate making major headlines in the coming year:

Income tax changes will go into effect Jan. 1, as the new Ohio income tax code kicks in. The biggest change will allow new businesses to report a net operating losses forward five years, which Oberlin finance director Sal Talarico expects to cost city coffers $42,000. Other changes allow contractors to operate up to 20 days in the city without paying taxes and make gambling winnings taxable. The Ohio General Assembly gave municipalities no choice in making the changes, enacting them as law under House Bill 5.

New Oberlin city council members will be sworn in as the year begins. Linda Slocum and Kelley Singleton will give their oaths for the first time while outbound incumbents Elizabeth Meadows and Kristin Peterson will step down.

Police will stage an active shooter drill at Oberlin College to prepare for the worst. Oberlin firefighters and college security will also take part. Oberlin police chief Juan Torres said he aims to get other local agencies involved as well. This follows on the heels of a Dec. 21 in-house drill by officers at Langston Middle School.

Two Oberlin Schools levies must be renewed on the March primary ballot, educators say. The issues include $940,000 in emergency operating cash and a two-mill permanent improvement measure for buildings, maintenance, and supply purchases. Superintendent David Hall said these must both pass in order to pursue the possibility of building a new school.

Three city property tax issues will also go before voters in March. Already on the books, the levies expire Jan. 1 but will continue to generate cash through June. Officials are asking for renewal of 3 mills for garbage collection funds, 1.2 mills for day-to-day operating cash, and 3.25 mills for the Oberlin Public Library. (The city acts as the fiduciary agent for the library.)

The Firelands board of education plans to also ask voters — for the second time — to finance construction of a new sixth-through-12th grade school. The proposal was rejected soundly in November but district leaders say South Amherst Middle School and Firelands High School are in bad shape and they have no choice but to build. The total project cost is $37.5 million, with $6 million promised by the state if voters step up.

Lorain County Health and Dentistry is on schedule to open in March on South Main Street near Depot Park. The 6,700-square-foot health and dental clinic received a $650,000 annual federal operating grant to help underserved patients in the southern portion of the county. The building is expected to offer general, pediatric, and behavioral health care as well as dentistry services.

The first phase of the Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center is slated for completion in early April. It includes a 300-person conference center, commercial shopping, 70 guest rooms, bar and restaurant, fitness area, and a jazz club. Phase II will include destruction of the Oberlin Inn, construction of the Oberlin College administration building, and parking.

Expansion at Agrinomix, a greenhouse equipment manufacturer on Creekside Drive, is expected to boom past original estimates. The company approached city officials in June with plans to grow both its facility and workforce, and asking in return for a tax abatement. Now the company says it needs more office space and workers due to recent successes. Groundbreaking could potentially come as early as spring.

The search is on for a new city manager to replace Eric Norenberg, who has resigned to take a new job in Delaware. Finding the perfect candidate to fill Oberlin’s top administrative role is expected to take six or more months. Council members anticipate a national search with score of candidates.

A vote to finance a new Oberlin school may land on the November ballot, though recent events make that forecast cloudy. A $16.7 million bond issue was set to go before voters this past fall but was cancelled after the death of former superintendent and main proponent John Schroth.

Brace for a long presidential election year. Infighting among potential primary candidates has been fierce for a year now, with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton splitting the vote among Democrats and a full field — Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul — on the Republican side of the aisle. While Oberlin has historically swung widely to the left when it comes to presidential politics, we’ll be keeping an eye on how the races affect our city.

Spectra Energy is asking for approval of its NEXUS pipeline construction plan by November. It submitted plans to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month; if green-lighted, construction could begin in early 2017 and the pipeline could be up and running by the end of that year. The plan has been controversial because the line would carry fracked gas across properties in Oberlin’s limits — which would violate a “Bill of Rights” adopted by voters here prohibiting fracking-related activities.

Will city scions ever decide what to do with the former Green Acres property on Oberlin’s east side? As of this writing, plans to use the land have been indefinitely tabled. Over the past year, the 15-acre lot was vetted for mixed-income housing, a park, and bike paths but city council never hurdled resident concerns about how to proceed.

Renewable Energy Credits will undoubtedly be a recurring topic for Oberlin city council in 2016. They played a big role in this past year’s election, to be sure. The city is sitting on $311,000 generated by the RECs, with public utilities chair John Scofield calling for the cash to be returned to ratepayers and others asking for it to be used for efficiency-related projects. Oberlin Municipal Light and Power System director Steve Dupee predicts the city’s reserve fund will generate roughly $2.5 million by the end of 2016.

Jason Hawk and Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk and @ValUrbanik on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk and Valerie Urbanik