THE YEAR AHEAD: Our outlook for Amherst in 2016

By Jason Hawk -

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 went into effect Jan. 1, as the new Ohio income tax code kicked in. The biggest change will allow new businesses to report a net operating losses forward five years. Other changes allow contractors to operate up to 20 days in the city without paying taxes and make gambling winnings taxable. Amherst treasurer Richard Ramsey is projecting the new statewide code will cost the city between $200,000 and $300,000. The Ohio General Assembly gave municipalities no choice in making the changes, enacting them as law under House Bill 5.

New Amherst officials will be tested as the year begins. Mayor Mark Costilow and his chosen safety-service director, John Jeffreys, will need some time to adjust to their new roles, as will new fire chief Greg Knoll.

City council plans to return to discussions on reforming outdated sign laws, updating old language about where electronic signs can be placed, how bright they can be, how to handle temporary signs, and reconsidering maximum sign sizes.

The Firelands board of education plans to 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. The issue has been placed on the March ballot.

Expect orange barrels this summer on Rt. 58 from North Ridge Road south, following up on work done to the highway’s north stretch this past year. The Ohio Department of Transportation is again helming the project, having already extracted a $200,000 share from Amherst taxpayers.

Another paving phase on Cooper Foster Park Road, the last for the foreseeable future, will begin sometime after July 1, when state funds are released. This time, the stretch west of North Lake Street will be targeted.

A $2 million power system upgrade will be completed in central Amherst, where the Hooper Corporation was tapped to replace aging electrical lines with deteriorating insulation.

The Amherst Schools plan to invest up to $546,500 in building repairs, parking lot paving, sports facilities upgrades, a new bus, security cameras, computers, and other equipment purchases this summer.

Any number of new businesses and expansions are in motion, from a huge car wash at Conrad’s Tire Express on Rt. 58 to plans by Amherst Manor for a new wing, construction of a west side Taco Bell, a new dollar store, lingering questions over Get-Go and the former Golden Acres property, and more. We’ve also heard any number of interesting rumors about other developments, but will keep those cards close to our chests until substantiated.

Amherst educators plan to ask for a new elementary school, which will require voters agreeing to keep a soon-to-expire bond issue on the books. The building would likely be constructed on South Lake Street near Amherst Junior High and replace Powers and Harris elementaries. The district is waiting on an offer, expected this month, for funding help from the Ohio School Construction Commission. Between state funding and the bond issue, superintendent Steven Sayers said he believes the bigger, more cost-efficient school can be erected without increasing property taxes.

Some interesting court cases are expected to yield results this year, including the massive theft-in-office prosecution against former South Amherst clerk Kimberly Green. She is accused of siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer cash, which police say she spent on lottery tickets. Other court scenarios we’re watching: the attempted murder case against Zachary Spurlock, who police say shot a man in the face this September at Amherst Township Park; and the felony kidnapping case against Roy Griffith Jr., who held several South Amherst firefighters hostage in October.

Did you realize there’s a presidential election this year? If you’re already tired of hearing about Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders’ every move, then you’d best find a hiding place. Amherst will get a chance to weigh in this March in the primary election and again in November to decide who will lead these United States. Amherst’s place in presidential elections is always interesting; polling numbers here tend to be indicators of how the entire nation will swing.

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

By Jason Hawk