Tax, budget talks in Jefferson County

STEUBENVILLE -The Jefferson County commissioners Thursday discussed the final language of a resolution to implement a 3 percent hotel and lodging tax.

Commissioners heard from attorney Tony Pecora, who outlined how the tax will be collected and distributed.

The tax will not be collected in Steubenville, since the city has it own hotel tax.

Pecora said two-thirds of the tax money collected will go to the convention and visitor’s bureau to promote tourism in the county and one-third will go to a municipality or township that has a hotel within its borders.

“There are only two places where it can go,” Pecora said.

Pecora said the commissioners can define what facilities will be required to collect the tax.

County Commissioner Thomas Graham said he wants persons traveling to hotels in the county to pay the tax but is against local residents who use campgrounds from paying the tax. Friendship Park and other campgrounds in the county would have had to collect the tax.

Commissioners agreed to impose the tax only on hotels and bed and breakfast facilities.

County Commissioner David Maple, who owns a bed and breakfast facility, said commissioners from the beginning were not looking at campgrounds.

County Commissioner Tom Gentile said anyone who travels is used to seeing a hotel tax on his or her bill.

Pecora will finalize the language of the hotel tax and the commissioners are expected to approve the measure next week.

Commissioners also continued discussing a reduction in water rates, imposed in 2009.

The county water and sewer department had a $2.5 million reserve in its budget then, which prompted the commissioners to reduce the monthly base rate by $2, as well as a 10 percent reduction in the cost of water used by county customers.

The water and sewer department said it operated with a deficit since, but used the reserve money to balance the books. The reserve money has decreased to $795,000 but will drop to $250,000 by the end of the year. The department reported there will be a $65,000 shortfall for the 2015 budget.

If the reduction in rates is eliminated, the department will have a $300,000 surplus next year. But Mike Warren of the county auditor’s office said the surplus will be offset by debt incurred with the Bradley water line extension, expected to be completed this year.

Maple said the commissioners have to find a way to balance the department’s budget without again creating a large surplus.

“What was done (with the rate reduction) was a good move to the customer base,” he said. “If we do not take action, we will be doing wrong to the same customer base.”

In another matter, Maple suggested the county airport authority consider hiring a business manager to handle projects at the airport. The commissioners have said they have been frustrated with problems during the airport runway extension project, including a $218,448 bill for engineering services which the airport authority thought was going to be paid for through a loan by the commissioners.

Maple said the airport has an airport manager, who does a good job in taking care of the daily operations and maintenance of the airport.

Maple said the airport authority now believes it has a solution to paying for the engineering services bill.

Commissioners also:

– Signed paperwork for a $417,400 Clean Ohio Assistance Fund grant for the second phase of a brownfield cleanup of the Esmark property in Yorkville. Domenick Mucci, county Regional Planning Commission director, said the second phase will be for assessing what cleanup work needs to be completed, especially in the area were the pickling operations were conducted. Mucci said the next phase of the project will be the actual environmental cleanup.

– Approved the transfer of $150,000 within the county Job and Family Services Department from the public assistance fund to the child support enforcement division. Joan Wideman of the department’s business office said the money will be returned to the state if not used.

Graham said the plans should have been implemented earlier using the $150,000 to hire additional staff to alleviate the high case load of workers. He said case workers have as many as 400 clients and are overworked. He said a federal match could have been obtained if the money was used to hire more workers.

Charles Govey, department human resources administrator, said workers at the children’s home bid on the job openings for more workers but new workers have to be first trained at the children’s home prior to the other workers moving to other positions. Govey said the training takes about six to eight weeks. He said the job postings were done around January. Graham questioned why six months have gone by without jobs being filled to help reduce the caseload of workers.

– Agreed to spend $7,670 for new computer equipment for the county prosecutor’s office.

– Approved two contracts at county job and family services for placement of juveniles in abuse and neglect cases and for emotional or behavioral issues at facilities outside the county. The costs range from $99 to $229 a day.

– Approved a change order of $4,383 for a bridge repair project on county Road 53. County Engineer James Branagan said additional work was found to be needed after the demolition of the bridge deck. The cost of the project will now be $86,767.

– Approved indigent criminal defendant attorney fees for June in the amount of $37,347.