Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and Gary Abernathy heard a proposal from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s office regarding local plans to implement Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and announced the hire of a new full-time employee at the dog pound during their Wednesday, Nov. 6 meeting.

Amy Timmerman of the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library gave a brief presentation on the project and asked for help in finding partners to help start the Imagination Library in Highland County. Timmerman was joined Wednesday by Jason Gloyd, regional liaison for Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, and Jessica Keeton of the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission.

According to the website for the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library (ohioimaginationlibrary.com), “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is the only program of its kind that is open to all children, regardless of their parents’ socioeconomic status. With a 25-year track record of providing children with dynamic, high-quality books, they are the perfect partner to bring more books into the homes of children across Ohio. Not all children have digital or internet access in their homes. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library ensures children are receiving a new book every month regardless of their access to the internet or their family’s ability to travel to their local library.”

Timmerman told commissioners that Governor Mike DeWine’s office began plans to implement the Imagination Library in all 88 counties “right after the passage of the 2019-2020 Ohio budget.”

“In that budget, the governor set aside $5 million for the creation of the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library, and these are state funds that are nonprofit we’ll be using to help match as we try to make Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library available in every single county in Ohio,” Timmerman said.

Timmerman shared a map of the current enrollment status for the program statewide, with six counties showing above 50-percent enrollment; 10 counties at 35- to 49-percent enrollment; eight counties at 21- to 34-percent enrollment; 16 counties at six- to 20-percent enrollment; 18 counties where the program is new, at zero- to five-percent enrollment; six counties where a partner has been identified and conversations are in progress; and 24 counties — including Highland — where there is no program.

Since there is no partner established in Highland County yet, Timmerman said she hoped commissioners could help “get some leads on how we can bring this exciting library to Highland County.”

Timmerman said that Parton began the project in Sevier County, Tenn. — her “home county” — and through the Imagination Library, “children 0 through 5 [receive] a new mailbox every month at no cost to their families.”

“The basic model for this is it costs about $25 per child for a child to receive a new book every year,” Timmerman said. “The state is now offering matching funds, so that cost is now $12.50 for the county per child, per year. The state will be providing the other $12.50.”

The governor’s office is seeking county affiliates to fund the other $12.50 per child, Timmerman said. According to information she provided, the annual fundraising need in Highland County would be $36,628 for all 2,907 children under age 5, but that number reflects 100-percent enrollment.

“What we are hoping to do is to find a nonprofit partner in Highland County,” Timmerman said. “This $36,000 number is if every single child in Highland County between 0 and 5 were enrolled. Now, you’re not going to be at 100-percent enrollment right off the bat.”

Timmerman explained that the usual maximum enrollment is approximately 70 percent, with “about 35-percent enrollment within the first year or two,” so the estimated cost would be “more like $12,000 to $15,000 a year.”

The governor’s office is also able to help local partners apply for grant funding, Timmerman said, adding that they are working with Keeton “on how we can help the counties raise these funds.”

Keeton told commissioners that the OVRDC’s GRIT program “could be a possible source of matching funds, at least for the first year.”

Britton asked if a nonprofit organization would be responsible for “running this program” at the local level. “Yes,” Timmerman said. “We need a nonprofit within the county that would be the ‘county partner.’” She told commissioners that having a nonprofit organization as the partner allows them to run the program at a reduced cost.

Abernathy asked if they could work through an established library. Timmerman said they could, but “each county is different,” so it would depend on circumstances. “Greene County, for example, their Friends of the Library is the 501(c)(3) that is the partner, and then the library administers the program,” she said.

Abernathy suggested that Timmerman look into contacting Altrusa, a local organization focused on literacy. Timmerman said that her office recently became aware of Altrusa and “would like to connect with” them. “They do wonderful work providing books to kids in your county already,” she said.

In addition to Altrusa or Highland County’s library system, commissioners said the Hillsboro Rotary Club, which already distributes dictionaries to students, could be a possible partner.

Timmerman also spoke about the impact the Imagination Library program has had on Ohio’s children already.

“The goal of this program is that children go into kindergarten with early literacy skills they need to succeed,” Timmerman said. “We’ve seen some success already. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has had this program since about 2014, and they did a study on the children that participate in their program.

“On average, the children that were participating in their program when they began with the Imagination Library were about 15 points below the typical kindergarten readiness score that you look to see across Ohio. After three years of participating in this program, these children’s kindergarten readiness scores were right up there with everybody else.”

“It sounds like a great program,” Duncan said.

After Timmerman’s presentation, Gloyd told commissioners the Imagination Library “fits right in with the governor’s priorities, which is to make sure that every child in the state has the opportunity to live out their dreams.”

“I think we all agree that Governor DeWine has already been doing more to help local governments than his predecessor,” Abernathy told Gloyd.

Britton asked Gloyd to thank DeWine on the commissioners’ behalf. “We appreciate all the help he’s given us,” he said.

In other discussion:

• Abernathy announced that Macy Walker has been hired as an assistant dog warden at the Highland County Dog Pound.

“We had some really outstanding candidates,” Abernathy said. “It was very gratifying to get a lot of response from a lot of people who really love dogs, and it was a very tough choice.

“We’ve offered the position to a young lady named Macy Walker, and she will begin next week.”

Abernathy said that commissioners and current dog warden Lanny Brown each interviewed Walker before hiring her for the position.

“She will be full-time, so we’ll have two full-time people for the first time probably ever, as we continue to do our best to make our animal rescue and dog pound the best it can be,” he said.

• Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve an extension agreement for attorneys representing the county in negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police union.

“We had a chance to visit with the law firm that represents in negotiations with the FOP yesterday,” Duncan said. “They have an agreement that gives them authority to negotiate beyond the terms of the contract. He sent down some paperwork to give them the authority to go ahead and work in our behalf.”

• Duncan and Abernathy reported that they attended the grand opening of the new Rocky Fork Lake branch of the Highland County District Library system, which was held Nov. 2. Duncan said the event was “well-attended.”

“It’s a great addition to the community down there,” Duncan said. “Congratulations to all the library board and all the folks that were involved in getting that going.”

Abernathy added that the library includes a wide variety of DVDs and offers internet access for patrons in that area, as well as books. “People are really excited about having it there,” he said.

Britton said that along with the new medical center offered by Highland District Hospital in the same area, “it’s a great extension” for the Rocky Fork Lake region.

• Abernathy noted that the usual Wednesday, Dec. 4 meeting has been changed to Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 3 p.m. Duncan said that three commissioners will be attending the County Commissioners Association of Ohio’s annual meeting that week, Dec. 4-6.

• Duncan announced that the Hi-TEC building’s sign is currently being upgraded.

“There’s more to be added to the sign, but the graphics part of the sign has been installed and is up and working,” he said. “That’ll be a great addition to the Hi-TEC Center.”

• Duncan said that the general election “went fairly well” in Highland County Nov. 5. Abernathy congratulated all of the 2019 candidates. “Everybody’s a winner for putting your name on the ballot,” he said. “It’s not an easy decision to make to do that.”

“Congratulations to those that won, and for the ones that weren’t so fortunate, don’t give up,” Duncan added.

• • •

In other action, commissioners approved the following resolutions, each by a 3-0 vote:

• A request from EMA for a budget modification within W-75 in the amount of $500.

• A request from the Engineer for a modification within the Engineer’s budget in the amount of $30,000.

• A request from Juvenile Court for a budget modification within M-00 Youth Services Contracts in the amount of $200.