AVON — Though the annual State of the Cities for Avon, Avon Lake, Sheffield and Sheffield Lake isn’t billed as a comedy event, the mayors took turns trying to one-up each other with jokes while giving snapshots of their cities.
The annual Chamber of Commerce-sponsored luncheon, held Wednesday at Tom’s Country Place, was a chance for mayors to talk about the previous year’s successes and challenges and plans for the future.
Though the mayors did keep the event light, a theme running throughout the speeches was the deadly effects of the heroin epidemic on each municipality.
Mayor Bryan Jensen said his staff and the inspiration he gets from the other mayors have helped Avon succeed.
“The one thing Mayor (Greg) Zilka realized before any of us was there was an opiate problem,” Jensen said. “He took that on years before I even knew what was going on.”
Jensen also recognized husband and wife John and Leisa Mullins and John’s brother, Brad Mullins, as people doing something positive for Avon.
Leisa and John Mullins founded the nonprofit Lakeshore Ballet Theater and Brad Mullins was instrumental to bringing a superhero event to Avon.
He ended his speech by putting a rumor to rest: Chick-fil-A will not be coming to Avon.
“I got a strange call the other day, Chief (Duane) Streator called me and said, ‘Bryan, there’s a rumor Chick-fil-A is coming to Avon.’ I said that’s not true. He said, ‘Are you by your phone?’ I said, ‘Yes.’”
And then up on a screen behind Jensen appeared a photo of Avon’s famed piebald white deer with a sign around its neck with Chick-fil-A’s slogan “Eat Mor Chikin.”
Mayor Dennis Bring promised his spiel would be “short and sweet” as he vowed to from now on talk only about Sheffield Lake.
“And we are going to build a wall between Sheffield Lake and Sheffield Village,” Bring said, then turned toward the Sheffield Mayor John Hunter: “John I don’t know how you’re going to pay to for that.”
On a serious note, Bring thanked residents for stepping up with an increased income tax when the state took much of Sheffield Lake’s funding.
He urged the communities to come together in facing the heroin epidemic.
“Until we all address this and take this seriously, this is not going away, it’s getting worse,” Bring said. “Unfortunately we have a lot of young men and young women dying. That should be a top priority amongst all the cities.”
With development in mind, Bring said since he became mayor, Sheffield Lake has paved more roads than the 20 years before, spending about $250,000 on road repair each year.
Bring also has ambitions to make Sheffield Lake a more family-oriented community with new playgrounds and pavilions.
“I want the people to enjoy all the parks and enjoy the city of Sheffield Lake,” Bring said.
Mayor Greg Zilka praised his police department for making the city safer over the years.
Though the fire department hasn’t grown in size, Zilka said, its responsibilities have. He plans to focus on prevention to reduce the number of calls through education about fire safety.
Road repair was one of the big-ticket budget items in Avon Lake, with more than a million dollars spent on roads. However, the city was able to save money on purchasing salt last year because of a mild winter.
The city also has expanded its recreation programs.
“We have 27 new programs and activities from the previous year and have consolidated the recreation department and folded in Avon youth baseball federation, and we signed a boat club lease and that’s good for 10, 15 years for stability for people who joined that particular club,” Zilka said.
A new urgent care center and an early childhood education facility are coming to Avon that will bring more jobs. The Ford plant is up to 1,800 employees, Zilka said.
“They are a solid supporter not only of us financially in terms of payroll but also are very generous in supporting programs in the cities of Avon Lake, Avon, Sheffield Lake and Sheffield Village,” Zilka said.
Zilka is known in Lorain County for being the mayor to lead the charge on opioid deaths.
“Every year I’m compelled to mention the amount of addiction opiates have ravaged our communities,” Zilka said. “Where does this end?”
He encouraged the audience to have dinner with their children. It’s not a solution, but it’s something, Zilka said.
“That is the start to doing something about this terrible thing inflicting us,” Zilka said.
Mayor John Hunter began his speech like the other mayors — by thanking his staff.
“You don’t get anything done without cooperation and working together, we’re fortunate to have one of the best departments, not in the state, but in the country.”
He referenced the city’s only homicide this year, which he said was the first in Sheffield since the 1940s.
“We don’t want any more, but we solved that crime by working together with Lorain County Sheriff’s department, the crime lab, everybody joined together in resolving that and getting that person off the street,” Hunter said. “That’s cooperation.”
The new facility for veterans has been a big success, Hunter said. Last year the Veterans Affairs’ Lorain Community Based Outpatient Clinic moved to North Abbe Road in Sheffield Village.
It shows if you put things centrally located and you give great service … people will come, Hunter said. “It’s like the ‘Field of Dreams.’”
Hunter said the clinic has seen a 25 percent increase in veterans coming in for service since it moved to Sheffield.
Police have been giving out fewer traffic tickets, Hunter said, while giving more warnings.
“Years ago we used to have 6,500 citations,” Hunter said. “Last year we stopped 4,200 hundred people we only wrote 1,300 citations. We’d rather warn people and get them to stop doing it than to take punitive action.”
He told a story to illustrate:
“I had a lady that came into my office and she said, ‘You stopped my grandson for drinking and driving and he said he wasn’t drinking.’ I said, ‘Ma’am, he blew in the machine and the machine said it was 0.21.’ I said, ‘That’s twice, almost three times the average.’
She said, ‘I’m going to tell all my friends not to come through Sheffield village, you guys are a Gestapo group.’
I said, ‘I want to thank you personally for keeping your drunken friends and your grandson out of Sheffield village. Our residents will appreciate that.’”