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Martins Ferry Council mulls EORH income tax ordinance

MARTINS FERRY — Martins Ferry City Council on Wednesday heard the first reading of an ordinance that calls for giving back income tax money to the recently-purchased East Ohio Regional Hospital.

The ordinance calls for giving back 75 percent of the money generated by future employees who pay the required 1 percent income tax to the city.

If approved, the agreement would last for 10 years.

Attached to the ordinance is a Job Tax Agreement, which stipulates the hospital must create 200 to 650 jobs during the 10 years.

The hospital also will be required to submit progress reports annually to the city that includes information about how many full-time workers are employed and how the money has been used. The money can only be used for permanent improvements, not operating costs or movable equipment.

It also notes the hospital must show it has sufficient funding, in addition to the income tax credit, to complete the re-opening of EORH.

The city also wants the hospital to at least attempt to hire unemployed and underemployed Martins Ferry residents, according to the agreement.

Other stipulations include that the hospital must open and maintain an emergency room, a laboratory department and radiology department.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Suzanne Armstrong asked that it also require the hospital to open and maintain a surgical department and inpatient services.

The city also will require that the new owner, Dr. John Johnson, a Dayton-based psychiatrist, not transfer ownership or control of EORH to any other company, including any parent, subsidiary or affiliate of his company, East Ohio Hospital LLC.

The agreement also states the hospital must be operated in the city for at least twice the number of years as the term of the income tax credit, which would be 20 years.

There are some consequences for various provisions not met by the hospital. For example, if the hospital does not hire the required number of workers, the city can reduce the amount of income tax money it gets back. If the problem continues, the city can terminate the agreement.

City Council members have voiced previously they are in favor of helping the hospital reopen and keep it open. Some have noted previously that a closed hospital means no additional income tax money coming in.

It was shuttered last fall by its previous owner, Alecto Healthcare Services.

And the impact of the hospital, not just in terms of providing medical care, but otherwise also is important. For example, many of the hospital workers who enter the city each day also end up spending money there, too, by purchasing gas, groceries and lunch. Then there’s the ancillary jobs connected to the hospital, too.

Before council heard the first reading, EORH Chief Operating Officer Bernie Albertini and lawyer David Croft talked briefly and reiterated how important the money will be to sustain the facility.

“Finally we’re going to record the deeds and everything tomorrow,” Croft said. “We’ve also opened all our bank accounts at Unified Bank and we’ve created a special bank account — not to be presumptuous — should this pass we’ve titled it `Martins Ferry tax’ so we can share with this council our bank statements. … One of our goals is that transparency.”

Meanwhile, Mayor John Davies also talked about the need for more money for grass cutting in the city. He noted funds to cut grass at Riverview Cemetery would be depleted by the end of this month. There are several vacant lots and other city-owned properties workers are expected to care for as well.

Davies said he has taken calls from residents concerned about high grass.

“I need funding,” he said. “The grass isn’t going to cut itself.”

However, the city’s already-tight budget took another hit from the coronavirus. The city recently moved several of its street department employees to the water and sewer departments to avoid layoffs. Two workers took voluntary layoffs.

Councilman Bruce Shrodes noted the city is not wasting money, it just does not have any to spend.

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