Belmont County commissioners hear from public

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Much of Wednesday morning’s Belmont County Commissioners meeting was dominated by public forum.

Mike Bianconi, Pease Township trustee and former commissioner, asked about county debt, which stands at more than $30 million. Commissioner Mark Thomas stated that the debt comes from loans borrowed for jail construction and expansion, the county satellite building, Eastern division court building and construction, county engineers’ garages, Fox Shannon county sewer upgrade, sanitary sewer improvements on Route 40, water system improvements and other equipment upgrades.

Another citizen expressed concern over what would happen to money being pulled from the general fund to make the I-70 project move forward if the state were to abandon the project. He was assured by Commissioner Matt Coffland that, if not spent, the money would revert back to the general fund account.

“As I continue to say, with ODOT sitting on the earmark for that road, of $5 million, the actual construction part that they’re talking about is not much more than that. To do the phase that ODOT’s talking about, all that money is there. The phase that we’re talking on track and funding, is going to be to reimburse some places that are done with other monies,” said Coffland. “With the local earmarked money, we should be able to complete the majority of what’s not already completed.”

The I-70 project will serve as a public connector roadway from the area of US 40 to Mall Road for the traveling public, residents and surrounding properties.

Richard Hord, of Martins Ferry, broached the subject of a new site for Senior Services at the suggestion of the Martins Ferry council.

“South School, even though it’s no longer county property, is still available and we were wondering if that may possibly be a consideration. Also, a possible consideration for the location of the county election board,” said Hord. “I know traditionally the largest city in the county is also the site of the election board, but that’s not the case here and South School has been completely renovated by Ohio River Properties. They are looking for tenants.”

Coffland promised to consider the suggestion. The current building used for Senior Services is reportedly not as accommodating as it needs to be, and in poor shape.

Commissioners approved contracts on behalf of Belmont County Senior Services with Advanced Home Health, IC Homecare, Interim Homestyle Services, Just Right Homecare and Addus Healthcare, active from March 1, 2014 through Feb. 28, 2015. The contracts were approved upon the recommendation of Senior Services Program Coordinator David Hacker.

The commissioners were prompted to reveal costs for a recent excursion to Chicago. All three attended, along with Auditor Andy Sutak. Thomas said the majority of costs were paid for by Fifth Third Bank, and taxpayer money was not used. The purpose of the trip was to make a two-hour presentation to Moody’s Investor Services, updating on the status of the county.

“In essence, what we talked about was where we are located, what we are, population, transportation network, etc. From there, we segued into economic development, then general fund update, and then we went into the purpose of the trip, and that was our upcoming financing,” said Thomas. Commissioner Ginny Favede spoke about the shale industry, and Sutak discussed real estate values, county finances and trends.

Moody’s is a company providing independent opinions about the credit risk for state and city government authorities and other U.S. municipalities.

“Long story short, we have an A1 Moody’s rating. What we are trying to do is get bumped up to an AA rating. If we are able to go from an A1, which is an excellent rating, up to an AA, we will be able to borrow money at a lesser rate. We will also alleviate having to purchase bond insurance,” Thomas said.

After an executive session, commissioners approved employment for Brianna Wilson as a full-time office assistant. Next week’s meeting will be Thursday, March 6 at 9 a.m.

Warner may be reached at mwarner@timesleaderonline.com