Officials approve payments, plan ahead

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton conducts business Wednesday. The commissioners made final payment on the renovation of the historic former jail.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Belmont County Board of Commissioners approved paying a contractor and set plans for the remainder of the year when it met Wednesday — one day after incumbent Democrat Commissioner Mark Thomas lost his re-election bid to Republican Jerry Echemann.

Thomas was present for the session Wednesday, where he did not comment on the election but took the loss in stride. Echemann will assume the seat in January. Commissioners J.P. Dutton and Josh Meyer also conducted the meeting as usual.

During the meeting, commissioners approved a pay request through Oct. 31 from Coon Restoration & Sealants Inc. in the amount of $7,868 for restoration of the exterior of the historic jail building in downtown St. Clairsville. The work was completed an extension of the renovations of the exterior of the adjacent courthouse.

The total cost of the work on the former jail came to $112,500. That figure covered $18,000 for cleaning, $70,000 for applying new mortar and $24,000 for painting. A $50,000 grant from the Ohio History Connection assisted in funding the project, with the balance paid from the county’s share of revenue generated by the state’s casinos.

Meanwhile, Martins Ferry resident Richard Hord questioned the commissioners regarding the recently released property value assessments that resulted in hundreds of people crowding the first floor of the courthouse and the commissioners’ office last week to question the assessors prior to the valuations taking effect next year. Hord said the assessed property values seem excessive this year and asked if other counties were seeing similar increases.

“Have you heard from other counties that have experienced such concerns?” Hord asked.

Dutton said that question would be best posed to the county auditor or treasurer, since the auditor’s office is responsible for setting property values and contracted the firm that performed the re-assessments.

“I know there was some frustration last week, and I hate to see that for our residents who were frustrated with the process last week, but again, outside of lending our room, we were not involved in that process,” Dutton said of the commissioners.

“The issue with Belmont County is this is the first time in its history that the county auditor, through an appraisal service, sent out this notice about the appraisal evaluation,” Thomas said, adding that the notification would normally come by the tax bill, with appeals Jan. 1 through March 31. “This was a voluntary action by the county auditor, and quite frankly I’m not sure any county around us did that.”

Belmont County Auditor Roger Conroy said he had no comment on any results of the hearing.

In other matters, commissioners approved hiring Chad Sutton as a full-time utility worker for the Belmont County Sanitary Sewer District, effective Nov. 19, and Michael McGuire as a full-time mechanic/distribution maintenance person for the water and sewer district, effective Nov. 13. The employees will replace two of the three workers who resigned several weeks ago. The board is considering hiring another worker. According to the county’s office of human resources, the pay for these positions is about $15 per hour.

Commissioners also announced some changes to future meeting dates. The board will meet Tuesday, Nov. 20, instead of its usual Wednesday, Nov. 21, because of the Thanksgiving holiday. No meeting will be held the week of Dec. 23 because of the Christmas holiday. And the board will meet Thursday, Jan. 3, instead of Wednesday, Jan. 2, because of the New Year holiday.