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Meyer seeking re-election, faces challenge from Bianconi

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County commissioner candidates Josh Meyer and Michael Bianconi are contending for a seat on the board in the Nov. 3 general election.

The incumbent Meyer, 45, of Bellaire is a Republican who is concluding his first term in the office. Prior to serving at the county level, he was a Bellaire councilman for five and a half years and served on the Bellaire Library Board for two and half years.

“There’s a lot of great opportunities to do a lot of good things through the government,” he said. “We’re bringing to the table a set of skills. … In the last four years we’ve gained a lot of experience and we’ll continue to build on that.”

If re-elected Meyer intends to continue the work started in his first term, including using a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan of $72 million to upgrade the water system to prepare for the possibility of future development within the county.

“I think we’ve been very business-friendly,” he said, adding that the commissioners have worked well with the port authority on business development.

Meyer said the budget has been a priority for the current board, with the commissioners trimming it while not sacrificing services. He said this has put the county in a relatively stable position during the unexpected pandemic.

“We’ve been very conservative in our approach with the budget,” he said. “I think it served us well in this time of COVID.”

Meyer pointed out several outstanding debts that were paid down in the past four years, and the recent elimination of a half-mill senior services levy. He said the commissioners have worked well with senior services and commended senior services’ financial management as well.

“No services are being cut for the seniors,” he noted.

Meyer said the centralization of the county courts and prosecutors’ office in a new location on National Road will mean more efficiency and less cost in the future, and moving the title office and board of elections to the site has reduced rental costs.

He also sees great prosperity in a potential ethane cracker plant and the commitment of PTT Global Chemical to the area.

“I’m still very, very optimistic,” he said.

He said the commissioners’ management has also proven a bulward when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“It’s had an impact to our budget, but with our conservative approach in the past years, it will enable us to weather the storm,” he said, adding the commissioners’ office has adapted and is working with greater efficiency.

Meyer is married to wife Melanie and they have five children ages 15-21.

Bianconni, 63, of Bridgeport is a Democrat and a retired steelworker. He is a current Pease Township trustee and previously served as a Belmont County commissioner for eight years.

“I’m very familiar with how the government works, the systems work,” he said, adding he would bring enthusiasm and vision to the position if elected. “I believe in helping people and being the conscience of the taxpayer.

“I love public service. I think everyone should be involved in public service,” he said, adding he is also a volunteer firefighter. “I believe in giving back to the community.”

As a county resident, Bianconi has frequently raised objections to the commissioners’ decisions, particularly in selling property including close to 100 acres in the Barnesville area. He believes the county could have gotten more money per acre and that the sale was not adequately advertised.

He also has objected to the purchase of two buildings for the courts, title office and elections board. While he does not oppose new facilities and sees the need for a move, he said the county owns other properties and could have erected new buildings rather than moving into The Health Plan’ former site. He said the centralization plan as it stands means a loss of property taxes and potential jobs that might have been developed in those buildings.

He also has taken issue with the county’s purchase of 2.5 acres along the Ohio River in Bellaire for a water treatment plant.

“There’s no common sense,” he said. “That’s prime ground for development.”

If elected, one of his priorities will be addressing frequent complaints about county roads and providing more funding for road and bridge crews.

He speculated that current events may delay construction of the proposed cracker plant.

“If it does come, I certainly hope that they are very, very mindful of the pollution they’re going to be putting out. I would be leery to live downwind of that thing and breathe anything that would come off of that facility. Let’s hope they will be good stewards of the environment,” he said.

Bianconi said if he takes office the county would continue to follow state mandates during the pandemic, but he would consider moving commission meetings to the emergency management center so more people could attend. Currently the commission chamber can safely accommodate just 10 audience members.

Bianconi is married to Polly. They have one son.

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