Urbana mayor faces Independent challenger in November election

Urbana Mayor Bill Bean is being challenged for his office by Independent Justin Weller.
Urbana Mayor Bill Bean is being challenged for his office by Independent Justin Weller.

The long-time Republican mayor of Urbana is facing an Independent challenger in the upcoming general election in November.

Incumbent Bill Bean is pursuing a third term. He said his main focus is on economic development, ushering in new investments into the city. Along with that, he said the city has secured more than a million dollars in grants for current projects that focus on repairing or replacing aging infrastructure in Urbana.

He is facing a challenge from Justin Weller, a first-time candidate, who says he wants to address and help reverse what he sees as growing concerns in the city. Weller said that includes a declining population rate and an estimated poverty rate of around 20 percent, according to recent estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.

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That data shows the population of Urbana declining from 11,868 people in 2010 to 11,372 in 2018. It also shows a median household income of $39,259. Weller said that is a problem because a declining population means fewer tax dollars that the city can invest into the community.

“I have lived in Urbana my whole life with the exception of a few years in Cincinnati. I am a firm believer that when you have problems facing your community, you can’t sit on the sidelines hoping things will get better. I want to be a part of that change,”said Weller, who graduated from Urbana High School in 2014.

He along with two other independents are hoping to become elected officials following the Nov. 5 election. They are running under the banner “Urbana Wins.”

But Bean says that Urbana has actually shown steady growth in the past few years. He said sizable investments have been made to the downtown area and the city is currently working on a $1.8 million project, $1.4 million coming from the Ohio Department of transportation, to make a roundabout in the center of the city more pedestrian friendly.

Bean added that there is limited real estate in downtown.

A plan has been in the works for around five years to develop the long-vacated Douglas Hotel. The city of Urbana, the Urbana City School District and the owners of the building are working on a proposal that could turn it along with North and South Elementary Schools into affordable senior housing, Bean said, noting that Urbana has a sizable elderly population.

“We have about 80 percent of the funding now. Hopefully, by the beginning of next year, we will be able to transfer the property and began developing it,” Bean said.

He said a growing retirement population could skew census numbers relating to the city’s poverty rate as well as medium household income. Bean added that Urbana is the center for Champaign County’s social services.

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“This town is booming. We do have people in poverty and we take care of them. That is our job,” Bean said.

However, Weller said that the city needs to do a better job of addressing those issues, that includes a school district with 53 percent of it students listed as economically disadvantaged, citing the Ohio Department of Education.

“There is this belief because we are a small town we have to settle for less. That is not at all the mindset that we should have,” he said.

One solution, he said, would be to create and appoint a business coordinator for the city to better usher development and further economic gains. The position would serve as a single point of contact for businesses that need help with permits licensing and taxes.

Weller said another goal of Urbana Wins is to create a Director of Career Development & Education to facilitate a new career placement and training program geared towards local students.

“Starting in junior high, students would begin job shadowing at local businesses to start getting an idea of opportunities in the area. Then in high school, internships and part-time work opportunities would be available,” he previously told the News-Sun.

He added that the position would also help current workers transition between jobs. To help pay for those efforts, Weller said he would encourage city council to look at eliminating at least $500,000 in what he describes as unnecessary spending.

“It is money that we can be spending elsewhere,” Weller said.

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Bean said that the city has gone to great lengths to continue redevelopment in the area as well as address aging infrastructure in the city. He cited that the unemployment rate in the county last month was 3.7 percent and employers are having trouble finding employees.

He said when he was first elected mayor in 2012, a city employee dedicated only 10 hours a week to economic development. Now, its a full time job for the Champaign Economic Partnership, which services Urbana as well as the rest of the county. Bean said he helped spearhead the effort to create that partnership and serves on its board.

In addition to that the city is working on redoing South High Street, adding sidewalks and a bike path to the busy street. Bean said $1.3 million has been awarded to the city from ODOT for the project and the city is looking to raise an additional $800,000 for it. He said construction is slated for 2023.

He said going into next year, he wants to begin phase two of replacing aging water and sewer lines in the city, which would include Scioto St., Finch St., and Washington Avenue.

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