LAKEMORE Rick Justice has spent much of the past decade trying to improve the place he has called home is entire life.
Justice, a 1981 Springfield High School graduate who went on to earn a degree in education from the University of Akron, spent the last eight years as the mayor of the Village of Lakemore. While he opted not to run for re-election in November, he has high hopes for the village and that it will continue to move forward.
“I hope the whole community, including Springfield, can move forward together,” he said.
Lakemore was in fiscal emergency when he began as mayor. In 2012, the fund balance for the village was $500,000 and the general fund was in the negative of $1.1 million. Today, the general fund is in the plus $1.1 million and the total fund balance is $3 million.
“We had a huge hill to climb to get out of fiscal emergency, but we did it ahead of schedule,” said Justice. “We are a lot stronger today.”
He said the job was very special to him and that there are so many people to thank that helped in some way to make the eight years special. He said that he had mixed feelings about not running for another term, but he is ready for other challenges.
“It will be a big hole to fill in my life because I have been so involved in this community,” he said. “I will fill it with new challenges. I like a good challenge. I want to support those I am handing the torch over to if I can, because I have learned a lot along the way.
“I would like to see the mayor and council bring the level of staffing back up and I think they are in a position now to take care of a lot of things we couldn’t take care of when we were in fiscal emergency.”
Justice said some of the things he enjoyed doing the most was rebuilding relationships with the county and the township.
“It was fulfilling to work with different people and make some big projects work,” he said.
Justice mentioned the Restore Recovery and Hope United projects at the Edwin Shaw property. Those type of projects came about by building relationships, gaining trust and getting people encouraged and comfortable investing in the village.
Justice spoke about Lakemore Plaza and how it expanded through the years. Beginning at about 50 percent full, it is now at 95 capacity. Justice said Lakemore officials helped a lot with getting Save A Lot, Tractor Supply and the a Summit County District Library branch into the plaza.
The plaza owners felt comfortable enough, Justice added, to invest in the road behind the plaza along with the county, and that happened with hardly any cost to the village. That led into the Springfield Schools Transportation Depot building being built on the new road behind the plaza. Justice said the project took building trust with the schools, making zoning changes and working with the school system and First Student.
“I really love working on big projects like that,” he said.
Springfield Township Trustee Dean Young said improvements were made along Sanitarium Road, not only to the road but also drainage issues were taken care of. He believes negotiating with the county to basically pay for the west entry to the plaza and working on obtaining property for the transportation depot, “were very positive things for Lakemore.”
Young cited the cooperation of both the village and the township on the Dollar General store being an accomplishment of working together. It straddled Lakemore and Springfield and officials were able to get the company to add a brick fašade and change its signage.
“We worked together to insist on changes to the building,” Young said.
Young also spoke about how he and Justice went to Cranberry Township, Pa., and met with the owners of Lakemore Plaza to work out details to bring the trail through the back part of the property. He said Justice also was on the ground level to develop the popular Rock the Docks Festival.
“The lines of communication were always open,” Young said. “We have differences of interests and he was always promoting working together.”
Justice talked about the Hidden Lakes subdivision, which had been foreclosed land since 2003 and how the village had been looking for someone to invest in that. Now, it is a successful housing development that will help the community and the school.
Justice said one thing he liked about being the mayor was that he was in a position to help people out.
“People would come to me asking for help,” he said. “Sometimes you could help, sometimes you couldn’t. When you could it was really special.”
Other items that were accomplished by council and the mayor during the eight years were the painting of the water tower, paving of part of Sanitarium Road and other sewer and paving work and upgrading the parks.
“It was great to see the tower, kind of a symbol of our community get restored,” said Justice.
Over the years, the village has torn down 18 blighted houses which has improved home values. The Police Department was restored which, Justice said, was very important to the community members.
“We did a lot of things behind the scenes that you can’t see,” Justice said, referring to the process of getting out of fiscal emergency. “It was a tough decision to cut staffing and put more of a workload on less people and to make the changes with the Police Department.”
Justice credits residents for taking on the burden of the reduction of 50 percent in the tax credit to help the village get out of fiscal emergency. Once Lakemore was removed fiscal emergency six months before projected, the 100-percent credit was restored.
Justice thanks the community for its support while he was mayor. He said his family: wife Amy, daughter Carly, son Joel and his parents, Ron and Marjorie Justice, have been there for him.
“That was very meaningful to me,” he said.