Making effective use of a $3 million check

At this past Wednesday’s regular meeting, the Board of County Commissioners received a Rice Energy check, for $3 million dollars, representing the county’s bonus/rent monies for a approximately 405 acres leased to Rice in 2013.

It is important that we fully explain what the board did with the money as there are so many areas where this money can go in a county. Amongst many other things, we have road and bridge maintainence and repair issues, physical facility issues and the dire need to upgrade, maintain and expand water and sewerage lines in an effort to continue to provide safe drinking water to current/future residents and businesses We too are looking at millions of dollars in necessary water/ sewer upgrades to serve an ever-growing commercial expansion in Belmont County.

There are times when many of us take all of these infrastructure issues for granted but we know better so the Commission remains committed serving our residents and businesses.

In that regard, I want to first thank my two colleagues and our Clerk, Jayne Long, for doing an excellent job negotiating a great lease last year with Rice Energy. Since I was not part of the board, it is vital that they, along with a few other county staff, get all the credit they deserve for protecting Belmont County residents and working solely for the County’s best interests in these negotiations. As we now currently work towards leasing more county acreage, I do recognize that it takes great commitment and effort to effectuate the best result for the county.

I too want to thank Toby Rice and his entire Belmont County staff for being diligent, honest and committed to get a lease signed that will ultimately benefit both entities in the future. Rice Energy has been a great new corporate partner to Belmont County and we look forward to working with them in the future.

As many of you saw in late week media reports, the Commission, after much thought and diaglogue, has decided to commitment $1 million dollars toward the I-70/Mall Road project. As we have thoroughly discussed, the Board is committed to improving the traffic flow in and around our two mega-retail complexes in Richland Township so that we can continue to grow that area. We cannot state enough how our county sales tax base helps us with our daily county budget and then further permits us to grow our water and sewerage in the county, which then ultimately results in new residential and commercial projects.

We are now fully-funded on the road project and look forward to working with the City of St. Clairsville, Richland Township and ODOT on it.

The balance of the monies, a total of over a little $2 million dollars, will be used to pay down old debt that is costing taxpayers 6.125% and 4.8750% in two respective bond issues. In that regard, we recently made a presentation to Moody’s Investor Services in Chicago with the intent to secure new and refinanced monies at the lowest possible interest rates.

With the paydown of $2 million dollars on principal debt and refinancing the aforementioned higher interest rates to those in the 1.0% to 3.0% range, the county will save over $115,000 per year in interest on its money. We too were able to reduce the maturity date of each bond issue by 10 and 11 years respectively. Therefore, the refunding of the bonds(refinancing) at these lower rates and terms will ulitimately save Belmont County residents over $5.2 million dollars over the next 10 years. We will then be able to use some of that savings to apply to future infrastructure growth.

While the majority of the county debt is infrastructure-related, we note that there is no other way to build, maintain, repair and replace our water/sewer system. It is important to recognize and thank County Auditor Andy Sutak and his excellent and dedicated staff for providing us with admirable work with this bond refunding.

Finally, we borrowed an additional $3 million dollars, on a one year note, so that we can begin immediate and desparately-need water well cleaning, repair and upgrading so that we can continue to provide safe and clean water to our residents and businesses. The reason behind the note issue and not a bond issue is that we feel that in one year, we may be able to pay off the entire $3 million dollars with future lease or other monies. The new money, obtained at a 1.25%, will cost the county $37, 397.03 and is a necessity not a luxury as the repairs to our wells along the Ohio River are needed today. We too will use some of the new money to provide water upgrades around the county and will be further announced as they progress.

As many of you know and can see, there are dramatically positive times for Belmont County. While we still have our daily and atypical struggles, we are cautiously optomistic that our future looks bright in many different respects. Regardless of whether or not we receive any future non-taxpayer monies in the form of lease signing bonuses and/or royalties, the Board of County Commissioners will continue to be good stewards of the public monies and spend it as wisely as we can.

We value our residents’ input on the same and our door is open for any of you to meet with us at anytime.