Barnesville committee getting it right

BARNESVILLE-As the general economy is jostled about trying to find sure footing, Larry Merry, director of the Belmont County Port Authority, points to the Village of Barnesville as “the shining star of doing things the right way.” Town officials have been savvy with the budget and have invested wisely in land, part of which they have just leased to Antero Resources, and water, which they sell to various entities.

A group of Barnesville businessmen and local leaders, like Merry, meets regularly to gauge the economic outlook and the direction and progress of Barnesville projects.

Friday this “Blue Ribbon Committee” sat down with Senator Lou Gentile (30th district) and Belmont County Commissioner Ginny Favede to share updates and concerns.

First, projects in both of Barnesville and Warren Township’s Joint Economic Development Districts are getting underway. Construction on the water line to the Eastern Ohio Regional Industrial Park (JEDD 1) is scheduled to begin this week. At the JEDD 2 site on the east end of town, JERU Real Estate has constructed an acre-sized building on one of twenty possible lots behind Force Inc., a gas and oil-related business based in Pennsylvania that expanded to Barnesville during the last few months.

Sen. Gentile, Commissioner Favede and Merry all say that investing in infrastructure is one of the key components of fostering growth. It not only shows investment and preparation for economic development in the western end of Belmont County, according to Favede, but benefits smaller localities that don’t have the resources for this type of investment.

Merry pointed out that the Barnesville Interstate 70 interchange is centered between I-77 and I-79 and that Barnesville is located in the heart of the Marcellus and Utica Shale regions, one reason that the town is getting attention from the gas and oil industry.

However, current legislation may not only curb some of that interest in Ohio in general, but provide no real benefit to an area that will generate sizable tax revenues. T.J. Jefferis, local developer and partner in JERU Real Estate, noted that the Farm Bureau is against Governor John Kasich’s severance tax legislation for a couple of reasons.

The tax takes a percentage off the top of everything-leases and royalties-for the state. Energy companies seem to be the target for the tax, but some property owners could be paying the tax as well, depending on their lease agreements.

Also, the money paid in the severance tax will not be designated to the area that generates it, but will be distributed throughout the state. Jefferis added that the “tax cut” for Ohioans touted by the Governor’s office will amount to about $42-less than $1 per week-on April 15. “Delaware County never sent Belmont County Honda money,” Merry said. “The tax money [generated here] needs to stay here.”

The Blue Ribbon members agreed that there are already taxes in place to assist local governments when the business climate improves: public utilities tax, commercial activities tax, income tax.

One more tax, though, could have a negative impact.

Gentile said he is trying to craft a bill that would offer tax relief for those investing part of their gas and oil income into a local economic development program.

He asked the members for their input and comments.

“We’ve got people paying more income tax than they’ve ever paid in their lives,” Jefferis said. “We’ve got to get some of that money back here.” Especially, Favede noted, with all of the local government cuts. Those are averaging 25 to 50 percent.

Gentile’s “Ohio Workers First” bill pushes energy companies to hire here and use local businesses, but, as private companies, they are under no obligation to do so. Oil and gas companies will report on services used and employees hired while they are in the area.

“All of our interest is in making sure that we benefit locally,” stated Gentile. “We need to fight for it.”