Pictured at the Nov. 23 county commission meeting are (l-r) Highland County Economic Development Director Julie Bolender, Auditor-Elect Alex Butler and Auditor Bill Fawley. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured at the Nov. 23 county commission meeting are (l-r) Highland County Economic Development Director Julie Bolender, Auditor-Elect Alex Butler and Auditor Bill Fawley. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Budget talks continued for a second straight county commission meeting, as Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels reviewed the estimated resources for 2023 and met with several department heads Wednesday, Nov. 23.

Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley told commissioners that he has certified the estimated resources for 2023, which he has calculated at $13.2 million.

That includes $2 million for real estate property taxes; $8.6 million for permissive sales tax; $600,000 in casino revenue; $225,000 in local government funds; $900,000 in fees; and $875,000 in other receipts.

Next year’s projection is $800,000 higher than the $12.4 projection for 2022, a less significant jump than from 2021 to 2022 (which was $1.3 million).

“It went up just a little,” Fawley said.

Casino revenues and permissive sales tax receipts are expected to increase, while local government funds are targeted to be on the decline. Fawley also spoke about the uncertainty with fees collected by county offices — including conveyance fees and related fees from other departments, such as the recorder’s office — based on the ever-changing real estate market.

“If you notice down where it says ‘fees,’ a big chunk of that is the conveyance fee, the transfer, at the time of real estate,” Fawley told commissioners. “The first six months of this year, that was doing very well. The last few months, sales have dropped, and I think if you talk to the Realtors, I think most of them would agree that things are not quite what they had been. We’re not getting the transfers we were there for a while.”

Daniels asked how Fawley estimated the conveyance fees for next year. The auditor said he “took the last couple of months and used that number for an annual” total for 2023.

The permissive sales tax receipt total of $8.6 million (up from $7.9 million in the 2022 projections) is in line with totals for 2021 and 2022, though Fawley said, “Somewhere down the road, that’s got to slow down a bit.”

The auditor shared the permissive sales tax receipts report for November 2022, with the $773,513.75 total for the month being $36,913.27 higher than November 2021’s receipts. Overall, the county has surpassed $8.4 million in receipts to date, an increase of $294,759.51 over 2021’s January through November totals.

Fawley told commissioners the $13.2 million estimate for next year is “very reasonable” and similar to totals for most years in the past decade or more.

“We've been in that $11 million to $13 million [range],” he said. “Things have been relatively steady.”

Other recent totals have included $11.1 million in 2021, $10.6 million in 2020, $10.3 million in 2019 and $10,150,000 in 2018.

Commissioners thanked Fawley and his office for their work on the 2023 budget, while Daniels also thanked other officeholders for putting the county in “the shape we’re in.”

“Thanks go out to an awful lot of people — the department heads for being frugal with the revenue or with the resources that they've got,” Daniels said. “A lot of people get credit for the shape that we're in financially.”

As previously reported, commissioners voted in a special meeting Friday, Nov. 18 to implement a $1 per hour pay increase for general county employees. Two different department heads were placed on Wednesday’s agenda to discuss wages.

Highland County Probation Department Director Gary Breeden said he wanted to receive “clarification” from the county regarding their vote.

“I just want clarification, to make sure that we’re being viewed as non-general, even though we do have general fund, a very small portion,” he said.

The majority of the Probation Department’s funding comes from grants, covering all but two employees. Britton told Breeden the Probation Department is considered “non-general except the two people we pick up for you.”

Later in the meeting, Highland County Board of Elections director David Tolliver and deputy director Michelle Swallen, along with board members Steve Hunter and Andy West, presented a proposal for a change of status and wage increase for one of their staff members.

Tolliver said the BOE is wanting to convert one of their current part-time employees to a full-time staff member, while they are also proposing an hourly pay increase from $13 to $17 “since we’re reclassifying her position.”

“In 2020, we had about five employees that were full time,” Tolliver said. “We've kind of muddled through with the three of us [full-time employees] and the one part-time.”

In response to a question from Daniels, Tolliver confirmed that the change is reflected on their personal services schedule and that the remainder of the preliminary numbers he submitted are unchanged.

Daniels said they’ll “have to see how these numbers plug into the final equation and look at it from there, but I understand what you’re trying to do.” Tolliver said they were “open to anything” the county wanted to discuss.

“We might add that as time goes on, there's ever-increasing demands from the Secretary of State's Office on the Board of Elections,” Hunter said, adding that the staff member to the full-time position “seemed like the logical thing to do.”

“I don’t really foresee any issues, but we’ll make sure,” Britton said.

• • •

In other action, commissioners made several approvals during Wednesday’s meeting, including voting 3-0 to award the proposed Highland County Fairgrounds livestock building construction bid to Perkins Carmack Construction, in the amount of $1.247 million.

As previously reported, an $825,000 request from the Highland County Agricultural Society to build the steel building for Junior Fair exhibitors at the fairgrounds, which would replace three outdated buildings, was presented in May when commissioners heard multiple proposals for using the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Duncan said the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funding coordinator Nicole Oberrecht determined the contractor submitted the best bid, and the award included “all four categories” — the 125’x225’x15’ livestock building, concrete poured wall, electrical work and concrete slab — in the bid packet “under one contract.”

As discussed Oct. 26, the county proposed to use $885,000 in ARPA funding plus $275,000 in state funding awarded to the Fair Board, with Daniels saying there is “about a $100,500 shortfall” for the Fair Board to cover. That also includes the Fair Board being responsible for preparing the site for construction.

“The Fair Board went back to their board of directors, and they agreed that they could make that work,” Duncan said Wednesday. “They needed to know this so they could get demolition started because they're in charge of the demolition process. They're picking up that bill, and they’ve got somebody lined up to do that.

“They'll be removing the old dairy barn, the hog barn and the sheep barn.”

According to Oberrecht, the contract stipulates a substantial completion date of July 1 and final completion of Aug. 1, 2023, meaning the new livestock building is scheduled to be finished before the next county fair.

• • •

Commissioners also voted 3-0 Wednesday to award the environmental review bid for the Marriott Hotel project to Verdantas, at the recommendation of Highland County Economic Development Coordinator Julie Bolender.

As previously reported, Bolender announced in July that the county has been awarded a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant that will, in turn, be loaned to developers of the Marriott Hotel, which was first proposed in 2019. She told commissioners that the first step was to award bids for environmental review before construction could begin

She originally discussed three different bid options at the Oct. 27 commission meeting and recommended a $5,000 quote from Verdantas, with Daniels asking her for a “side-by-side comparison” before the commission took official action.

“We ended up with three quotes, but one of those we dismissed because it did not meet what was required by the state for the CDBG program,” Bolender said Wednesday.

She said there was “a $10 difference” between the other two quotes, but that Verdantas, while costing $10 more, includes a site visit. Commissioners agreed to accept their bid.

In other discussion:

• Britton and Oberrecht gave a brief update on the proposed records storage building. A work session on the center was held last week, and updated site plans from McCarty Associates LLC have been reviewed by committee members, Britton said.

Commissioners voted in May to enter the contract with McCarty Associates, LLC for engineering and architecture design services for the new records storage building on Beech Street in Hillsboro. The commission passed a resolution in May to purchase the parcel, paying $150,000 for the 0.236 acre lot.

“[McCarty] sent another set of drawings over sometime since last week and had some drop-ins where things are going to be placed,” Britton said. “We sent it out to our committee here and had them kind of look at it, just to give them a chance to see what they thought about it. I think everybody was pretty much in favor of how they had it kind of preliminary laid out.”

Britton said the county was not prepared to act on the proposal just yet, but “the next step would be having them go forward” with obtaining bids for the construction.

“I think we're getting pretty close on that project to start getting it ready to go out to bid,” he said.

Both Britton and Daniels said they expect a lengthy timeline, as Britton said the project is likely to take up “pretty much all of” 2023.

“There's kind of two parts to this — there's the building, and then there's the review of the records we have and how we're going to get them I guess systematically moved into a new facility,” Daniels said. “As we kind of work down through this, there's going to be a couple aspects to this project, and it is more than just the facility itself.”

• Commissioners voted 3-0 to authorize Oberrecht to apply for local jail funding under House Bill 687, as the deadline for this round of capital funding is approaching on Nov. 30. Daniels said Oberrecht is “putting a proposal together with input from the sheriff’s office.”

• The county received notification from the Ohio Division of Liquor Control regarding a proposed liquor license at Corner Market LLC in Greenfield.

“I think what that amounts to is we've got a change of ownership on that property,” Duncan said. “I think they’ve already had a license and are just transferring ownership.”

Commissioners said they would wait until their next meeting to vote in case any members of the public wish to submit a comment on the proposal.

• Commissioners said they are still reviewing the electric proposal from Muirfield Energy, their current supplier, versus the proposal they received from Palmer Energy.

• Upcoming schedule changes include the Dec. 7 meeting being moved up one day, to Dec. 6, and the county administration building being closed Nov. 24-25 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. “Everyone, have a good Thanksgiving,” Duncan said.

The following resolutions were approved by a 3-0 vote:

• A resolution approving the reappointment of Paul Pence to the Board of Developmental Disabilities for a four-year term.

• A resolution stating that commissioners, pursuant to ORC 307.12(B), determine that a 1990 Chevrolet C/K 2500 and 1991 Ford F-450 SD is not needed for public use, is obsolete or is unfit for the use for which it was acquired. Those are engineer’s office vehicles, according to Daniels.

• An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds in the amount of $30,000.