Ohio treasurer fields Belmont businesses’ questions

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Ohio is reopening for business, and local business owners had a chance to speak with Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague on Wednesday morning about the process and the options and resources that will be available.

St. Clairsville Chamber of Commerce Director Wendy Anderson hosted the Zoom conference and close to 30 people joined in, including business owners, representatives of charitable institutions such as the United Way, and St. Clairsville Mayor Kathryn Thalman.

Sprague spoke about his background and prior experiences with national disasters, relief and recovery when he served as auditor for the City of Findlay. He said the state was still in the emergency phase, but would soon be in the reopening phase.

“We just need to hurry up and reopen this economy now and make sure we’re back on track and we get our small businesses open,” he said, adding one issue is the decrease of sales and income tax in the state. Sprague said the state is expected to cut his expenses, with his own office cutting 20 percent, with more measures expected next year.

“One of the ways we are really going to help during this stand-up phase is to assist our local governments in some of the struggles that they will have,” he said. “In many counties they’ve delayed property tax collections from July 15.”

Belmont County has delayed tax collection until Aug. 21.

He said his office will be launching a program in two weeks to assist schools in starting the school year, to be repaid when property taxes are received later in the fall.

In long-term larger economic recovery, Sprague pointed out the high potential of Belmont County, such as a cracker plant that may be coming to the Dillies Bottom area, and the presence of the Marcellus Shale.

“Our response to this particular crisis, the coronavirus, is really going to determine the future of our state for the next 10 years,” Sprague said.

He has hope Ohio’s innovation and economic potential.

“We still know how to make things here in Ohio,” he said. “We are going to see a tremendous reshoring, in my opinion, of manufacturing and a lot of these supply chains from China. I think we all recognize the danger now of making all of are pharmaceuticals, depending on all of our medical devices from overseas…people want to buy American, they want to buy quality, and we are perfectly positioned as a state to take advantage of this.”

“I would like to see us get some kind of medical manufacturing in Belmont County,” Thalman said. “Gowns, masks, pills.”

One new resource through his office is Results Ohio, which partners with the private sector when it can provide superior service in a variety of fields. Sprague said the results will be evaluated by an impartial third party.

Anderson relayed several questions from participants. In answer to one, Sprague said he was finalizing the application process for Results Ohio.

“In this next budget cycle, we are going to want to spend money only on things that work, because money is going to be really, really tight,” Sprague said.

Thalman brought up the city’s waiver of penalties for late utility payments for the past months, now extended through June. She asked if there was any way for the city to recoup the loss. Sprague suggested applying with the General Assembly.

A representative from Ohio University Eastern asked about the education and training necessary to take advantage of new industries. Sprague noted the potential for obtaining training in such areas as chip manufacturing and robotics.

“We need to move more into some of these future technologies,” Sprague said.

In answer to a question from Belmont Savings Bank, Sprague said Results Ohio could also be valuable in providing mental health treatment.

“These are times when our spending is going to be constrained, and we’re probably going to be looking at reduced allocations for things like mental health, but it needs to be a focus in our state,” he said.

He also said his office will assist local governments in financing capital expenditures based on the municipal bond market.

“You can go to market with our credit rating. I’ll put the entire treasury behind your bond or your note. We have a program that essentially offers our credit to you as local governments to be able to access the market,” he said.


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