Jefferson Co. budget is put into question

STEUBENVILLE – Jefferson County commissioners expressed anger at the county auditor’s office for what the commissioners said was a false sense of warning concerning the 2012 county budget.

Commissioners had been saying for the past couple months that more than $1 million would need to be cut from the budget, including the possibility of employee layoffs.

Earlier this month, the county auditor’s office told the commissioners the carryover money from 2011 was larger than expected. County Auditor Patrick Marshall also increased his estimate of the county’s revenue for 2012.

All three county commissioners said they have been receiving criticism that money always shows up when there is a threat of a budget problem.

County Commissioner David Maple said he wants the auditor’s office to be conservative in revenue estimates but the estimates may be too conservative.

Marshall said the county budget could end up with a deficit if the revenue estimates aren’t conservative.

County Commissioner Tom Gentile said he agrees with the conservative estimate “but at some point you run the risk of being chicken little.”

“We the commissioners look pretty stupid making comments the past two months telling of cuts coming,” said county Commissioner Thomas Graham.

The 2012 budget total will be nearly equal to the 2011 budget.

Graham said the commissioners will have to make a decision concerning the $75,000 budget allocation to Progress Alliance, the economic development arm of the Community Improvement Corp.

There was tension at the CIC meeting earlier this week concerning the election of officers and the decision by Steubenville Council and the commissioners to form a countywide port authority.

Graham said it appears the CIC is in a “confused state” and he has never seen it so divided. Gentile said the commissioners were never contacted about concerns over the proposed slate of officers for the CIC. Maple said it is disappointing for the community at a time of pending economic development with the gas drilling not to have “good community teamwork.”

In other matters, commissioners received more good news about federal grant and loan funding for the Crestview-Belvedere sewer project.

The county has been under a state mandate for decades to install a sewer lines because of faulty septic tanks.

The county had received $4.4 million in grants from the U.S.Department of Agriculture grants and $5 million in low-interest loans for the project that will serve about 330 homes. The county opened bids in November totaling $8.9 million. The USDA informed the county the project will receive an additional $550,000 in loans and $884,000 in loans to cover the cost of the project.

“The residents may or may not realize the impact of the news,” Gentile said. “In this day and age, grants are extremely hard to come by. One-half of the construction will be paid for with grants.”

Shannan Gosbin, county water and sewer department director, said there are some paperwork issues remaining before the county can close on the USDA funding.

Commissioners on Thursday signed an agreement to purchase a lot on Donna Drive for $50,000 so a pumping station can be located there.

Commissioners also received the report from Malcolm Pirnie, the county’s engineering consultant, on upgrades that will be needed for the Barber’s Hollow wastewater treatment plant. Gosbin said the plant is permitted by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for 400,000 gallons of treatment a day. The plant is now processing 550,000 gallons and will treat even more with the addition of the Crestview-Belvedere area.

Gentile said the engineering report stated $6 million in improvements may be needed for the wastewater treatment plant.

Commissioners also received a proposal from the JB Green Team, the Belmont-Jefferson solid waste authority, about sharing the cost of installing electricity to a compactor for a facility located at the rear of the county’s service complex on state Route 43 outside Wintersville.

The JB Green Team wants the county to pay 50 percent of the $50,000 to install the electricity, claiming it would benefit the county engineer’s department, also located at the service complex.

County Engineer James Branagan was asked to look into the proposal. Commissioners tabled action on the request until Branagan issues a report.

Graham said the JB Green Team has the money for the project, generated by tipping fees at the Apex Landfill.

“They have a lot more money to work with,” Graham said.

Gentile said he has concerns with litter blowing from the JB Green Team facility at the county’s service complex.

Also, Gentile said the committee studying the purchase of the Towers Building on Market Street will be asking for an appraisal and inspection of the building.

Gentile proposed last spring that the county purchase the building to house government offices. He said the Ohio Mid-Eastern Regional Education Services Agency, located on Sunset Boulevard, is seriously considering relocating to the Towers if the building is purchased.