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02-24-04: St. Marys will lobby for funds

City to hire lobbyist for Washington, D.C.

ST. MARYS — The city plans to spend up to $25,000 to hire a professional lobbyist to schmooze with movers and shakers in Washington, D.C.
St. Marys City Council members authorized the deal Monday, hoping the extra pull in the nation’s capital can land them some federal money to deal with major sewer infrastructure issues. The city is under Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) findings and orders to fix its sewage system to eliminate overflows into surrounding waterways. City officials have conceded that a new sewage plant likely would be necessary to meet the EPA’s mandate.
John Ditsin, an attorney and professional lobbyist from Rocky River in Northeast Ohio, has earned a reputation as someone who can successfully get things done inside the Beltway, Safety Service Director Mike Weadock said. Ditsin has successfully secured more than $14 million for his clients, although his services come with no guarantees, Weadock said.
A proposal for services submitted by Ditsin calls for the cost of his services to not exceed $25,000, including his pay and additional expenses. His hourly rate is $175.
Ditsin represented the city as an attorney during negotiations on its last sewer plant permit and city officials feel comfortable with him, Weadock said. It will now be Ditsin’s job to help the city seek out money to help with meeting EPA mandates on sewer discharges into the St. Marys River and Miami-Erie Canal.
The city has 10 years to fully comply with the EPA’s orders even though the new sewer permit runs only though 2006. The sweeping state orders call for a litany of improvements, including updating the collection system and replacing the sewage plant, which alone could cost $8 million or more.
“We can use every nickel we can get our hands on,” council President Dan Hoelscher said.
Weadock reasoned that St. Marys taxpayers sent the money to Washington, so the city should make every effort to get as much of it back as possible.
“Washington works in strange and mysterious ways,” Weadock said. “There are pots of money available if you can be there at the right time and meet the right people.”
Ditsin will travel to Washington with wastewater Superintendent Dave Sprague, and possibly Weadock, to apply his know-how in Washington’s inner circles. The group is hoping to get face time with Ohio’s U.S. Senators, Mike DeWine and George Voinovich, and other administrative and congressional leaders, Weadock said.
“We just want to influence that money in our direction. That’s how Washington works,” Weadock said.
In other business Monday, council members passed a resolution honoring resident Douglas Brookhart for his long-time service to the West Ohio Rail Authority. Brookhart was a charter member of the group formed about 17 years ago to keep the railroad alive in western Auglaize County.
Brookhart said when the group was formed, there was talk of the railroad line between St. Marys and Minster being abandoned. Today, though, it remains an important part of the local industrial base, he said.
“We’re very fortunate in the community to still have a viable railroad,” Brookhart said.


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