Commitment makes promises, hopes become reality

Dear Belmont County,

Belmont County is doing well, very well!

This is not by accident, but by something we refer to as the good old-fashioned way HARD WORK! We work every day to further growth in our county by planned design for the benefit of all because, “unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes… but no plans.” I have always said I make no promises except to work hard for this county and in all honesty this county works hard for you and for itself. The courthouse is busier than ever and every department under Belmont County is currently working as fast paced as possible.

Senior Services of Belmont County hosted our county seniors to a Hoe Down On the Hill last week featuring a fabulous western style luncheon, health care fair and a performance by Belmont County’s own Shadow Montag. What a stellar young man. His talent speaks for itself as the show is simply outstanding, but the young man is well spoken, polite and selfless.

From the Village of Belmont, Shadow has been performing for years and each year rides to raise money for a different cause. This year he has committed all funds raised to the Wounded Warrior Project. Please, if you have a chance, go see what this group of young Belmont County kids are doing and support them because they support our military. A huge thank you to the entire staff of Senior Services for treating our seniors to such a spectacular day and a thank you to the City of St. Clairsville’s Kevin Barr for providing the recreation center and grounds for the seniors. I love knowing we all work together in Belmont County to take care of people. Our seniors enjoyed the well-deserved and very special day.

The Board of Commissioners formally took action to create a Belmont County Land Bank this month. The land bank will formally be called The Belmont County Land Reutilization Corporation. The county land bank furthers the efforts on behalf of the Belmont County Economic Development Strategic Plan unveiled in 2011.

The planning commission incorporated ‘land banking” into their strategic plan under “Targeted Areas for Economic Growth,” and is a continued effort on behalf of the Belmont County Commissioners to grow our county with planned, strategic effort. It is beneficial for our county to establish a land bank to assist our local governments with dilapidated structures of which they have no financial means to deal with while simultaneously assisting our economic development agencies in their ability to provide respond to a variety of needs and opportunities. Certain properties have the ability to be prepared and marketed for re-use in key areas targeted for growth. Rep. Cera contacted our office back in the fall informing us the Ohio Housing Finance Agency received approval from the US Treasury to use remaining dollars from the Hardest Hit Fund to help demolish vacant homes across the state. We double-checked as to whether Belmont qualified and discovered that we were eligible for funding providing the county possessed an established county land bank. The federal government has provided $60M for 16 counties and Belmont is one of them.

We will be applying for the funds over the next few weeks and are eager to see our cities, villages and townships have an ability to tear down dilapidated homes and improve our county. Again, we are doing everything possible to grow and improve Belmont County.

The State House of Representatives did pass HB 375 on severance tax recently which increases the tax on oil and gas to 2.5% with 17.5% being returned to local governments (not directly) and nearly 80% being used as a state income tax for the entire state of Ohio. I continue to believe this is unfair to Eastern Ohio to take much needed income from our area and spread it throughout the state. We need and deserve a greater share of this income. Please remember this is coming from under your feet. We finally have an opportunity to prosper and this money could aid or area for infrastructure costs for roads, bridges and water and sewer projects. I am, however, still hopeful that the amount to be returned to our area could be increased.

The bill now moves to the Senate and we will continue our efforts on behalf of Belmont County and the other impacted counties to advocate for the increase. Belmont County and Eastern Ohio has a Champion in Senator Lou Gentile. He knows our area, understands our needs and is committed to local government.

XTO Energy is working to be a friend to our county and recently provided a contribution of $ 15 thousand to the Belmont County Emergency Agency for video conferencing. This is a crucial aspect of communication during county emergencies. Additionally, Amy Dobkin of XTO contacted me for an educational opportunity for an ExxonMobile Teachers Academy program available for 3-5th grade science and math teachers in St. Clairsville, Shadyside and Bellaire Elementary Schools. We are working to nominate one teacher from each school registered for this one week all expenses paid program. We are always grateful for opportunities to benefit out teachers, schools and our kids!

This month we celebrated the opening of Gulfport Energy’s offices in Belmont County. We are now the home of Gulfport, Chesapeake and Rice Energy. Again, we are working hard to make Belmont County the epi-center of the oil and gas industry and are proud to call our county home to these companies.

We are planning our work and working our plans and making the most of a very unique opportunity! The oil and gas industry has given a new lease on life and we are making sure we make the most of a truly incredible opportunity. Belmont County has been on the cusp of something great for quite some time. While we have continued to work towards this goal, we have only been left with empty promises and wavering hope. However, with a resurgence in prosperity and the continuity of good things that continue to come our way, we look to the future with a renowned plans and a commitment too strong to be stopped.