Harrison commissioners deal with full plate

CADIZ – Harrison County Commissioners had a full slate Wednesday with Children’s Services funding, a decision regarding water sales and citizens complaints against Smart Meters on the agenda.

Scott Blackburn, director of Job and Family Services, met with commissioners last week in executive session to discuss potential funding for the expenditures incurred by Children’s Services. Blackburn requested $75,000 to cover the cost of having 35 children in custody, triple the average of 10-12.

“The main cause of the shortfall is the kids that we have in custody,” Blackburn explained the reasons are serious in nature. “This goes a lot further than someone spanking a child too hard, there is no wiggle room on these decisions.”

Of the 35, 15 are in temporary custody, 10 are in permanent custody, 8 are in family or kinship care and 2 are in the custody of the Juvenile Court.

One has severe autism and will probably be institutionalized for life, a cost shared with Mental Health Recovery Board at $1400 a month for each partner,

A list provided by Blackburn which stated causes for placing children in foster care showed that predominately the cases were drug related. However some more serious cases of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect, “one has severe behavioral problems and can not be maintained at home. This child’s residential care alone is $7,000 per month.”

“The average agency foster home care cost is right around $750 per month,” Blackburn clarified. “We currently have seven agency foster homes.”

“None of our agency homes will take teenagers,” Blackburn continued. “So nine teenagers are in group homes costing $3,069 per month. We use purchased foster care for the remaining three, running an average of $2,170 per month.

“It obviously comes upon our county to share the financial burden and responsibility of caring for these children,” said commission chair Don Bethel. “This is an alarming situation. We are a small county and have city numbers.”

“We have one of two choices, say no, let them go bankrupt and the state takes it over and then bills us for the cost anyway, or we pay it, maintain control and kick the dirt and hopefully everything works out,” Bethel stated.

The fund is currently under-reimbursed $73,763,01 per quarter which will be covered by the appropriation from the general fund.

County Prosecutor T. Shawn Hervey announced that the Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office had released an opinion Tuesday on the county’s request for the legality of entering into a contract with Kokosing to sell water. The opinion stated:1. Pursuant to R.C. 307.12, R.C. 6103.02, and R.C. 6103.20, a board of county commissioners may sell water to oil and gas drilling companies. 2. A board of county commissioners may not enter into a multi-year contract to have a for-profit company broker the sale of water by the county to oil and gas drilling companies.

“The county may sell water,” Hervey explained. “But you would have to do that on your own through your water or sewer district and or as you sell anything else either by competitive bid or auction,”

“It is important to know that when we have a contract, when it is reviewed, please don’t sign anything if there are questions if it is legal or not because it is not legal if it is over $1,000,” Hervey cautioned. “This is the reason why we wanted to check it out because when I read their attorney’s opinion, I was not thoroughly convinced that it was legal.”

“There are going to be other business opportunities, but business ethics are different than government ethics,” Hervey added. “We need to make sure we follow what is ethical as a government because the businesses do not care. They want to make a dollar and I don’t blame them.”

“With our resources we have to be very prudent that we follow the proper protocol,” Hervey continued. “In this case with water it’s very specific that we can not enter into agreements which is totally different from what we can do with our mineral rights.”

When Commissioner Bill Host asked how the board could get the agreement vacated, the prosecutor explained that his letter in November to the board had stated that the agreement was void because it had not been signed off on by his office.

“By law, it is void, and I sent correspondence to Kokosing explaining that as well back in November,” Hervey replied. “Now that we have the answer, it is probably prudent that we send a formal letter explaining that according to the Attorney General’s opinion, this contract is null and void.”

The commissioners also approved an agreement with W.E. Quicksall for the Harrison County sewer study. The sum of $10,000, of which the MWCD will pay $8,000 will cover a preliminary study and report for feasibility of a regional sewer district including the communities of Piedmont, Freeport, Smyrna and Holloway.

“This is very preliminary and will not provide exact costs,” said Bethel. “It will let us know if it is feasible to move forward to the next phase.”

The report will be submitted in two to three months.

The board also heard from four members of the community that showed up to express their distaste for the new “Smart Meters” being installed by American Electric Power.

The meters, which AEP is currently installing throughout Ohio, record consumption of electricity in short intervals and then send that information to the utility for monitoring and billing. Smart meters allow for two-way communication between the meter and the central system. The idea behind these smart meters, which were approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, is that they will reportedly reduce costs and promote energy conservation, due to their precise monitoring of electricity consumption and the fact that vehicle trips to take meter readings will no longer be necessary.

“Despite the reported benefits, these meters have sparked controversy because little is known about the potential health effects of the radio waves they emit,” concerned citizen Toni Blake stated, “That combined with reports that some have overheated and caused fires is causing homeowners to question their safety.”

“I asked if the units were UL listed, and the response was no,” added husband Charles Blake. “When we refused to have one installed, we were threatened and bullied by AEP.”

“We should have the right to opt out of this program. These units are not government mandated,”Toni added.

Commissioner Don Bethel admitted he was unaware of the program but would further research the issue. “I do agree that it sounds like an invasion of our right to privacy at the very least.”

Doug Crabtree asked permission to solicit bids for a paving project on CR 14 on behalf of the county engineer. Bids will be opened on June 26 during the regular meeting of the commissioners.

Commissioners went into executive session with Crabtree and Washington Township trustees to discuss pending litigation.

In other business, commissioners:

  • Approved a transfer request for the prosecutor’s office for $102 to purchase grant supplies.
  • Established a new line item for fairgrounds maintenance allocating $8733.09.
  • Paid the DJFS mandated share for the month of $4361.80.
  • Approved the installation of a candy bar machine in the commissioner’s office.

To read the complete Attorney General’s opinion, go to www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov,

For more information on Smart Meters, go to www.refusesmartmeters.com.

Palmer may be reached at mpalmer@timesleaderonline.com