Pictured, from left, are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured, from left, are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)

Highland County’s permissive sales tax receipts have surpassed $6.5 million thus far in 2021, as discussed by county commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels at their Sept. 15 meeting.

According to the latest data from county auditor Bill Fawley, the September 2021 receipt total is the second-highest thus far in 2021, at $825,364.92. Only June, at $889,862.26, has been higher, and that number was the highest-ever total recorded for one month.

As pointed out by Duncan, the September 2021 total is an increase of $70,973.29 over September 2020’s sales tax receipts and brings the year-to-date total to $6,692,429.64. That is an increase of $1,169,351.83 over the then-record January through September 2020 receipts.

Since July 2020, the monthly receipts total has not dropped below $600,000, and in that 15-month span, there have been eight months above $700,000.

“Everybody continues to buy locally, apparently,” Duncan said. “That’s a good thing.”

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners approved the first request for funding through the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation, granting an application submitted by the Highland County District Library.

As reported last week, administrators from the Highland County District Library sent a letter to commissioners seeking funding assistance for mobile hotspots checked out to patrons.

In August, the library administration wrote to commissioners asking for funding assistance for 25 mobile hotspots that they currently offer to patrons. That letter said that current funding ends in September 2021, and the library was asking for assistance in covering the fees for October 2021 through Dec. 31, 2023 for $19,372.

In a new letter received this month, the administrators proposed doubling the number of hotspots to 50 devices from September 2021 through Dec. 31, 2024 at a total cost of $57,813.75.

Fawley told The Highland County Press that the county has received their first of two $4,191,759 ARPA payments, with the next one to come “at least a year” later for a total of $8,383,518 altogether.

According to the county auditor, the commission is restricted at this point to approving only “water, sewer and broadband” projects under guidance from the federal Department of the Treasury.

Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the library’s request for 50 devices under the “broadband communications.”

“They’ve been doing this project for a while now,” Daniels said. “They had a grant that allowed them to do this before, and this is sort of an extension of that. We’ve increased the number of hotspots.”

Britton added that expanding the hotspots throughout the district’s libraries “will definitely help the young people” in Highland County, “especially if they have to do any virtual work and homework.”

“That’s our number-one project for ARPA money, but there’s more to come,” Britton said.

In other discussion:

• Commissioners voted 3-0 to accept the resignation of Highland County dog warden Lanny Brown.

According to Brown’s email to commissioners, his resignation was effective Sept. 13.

“I believe it is in my best interest to resign at this time,” Brown wrote. “Due to ongoing issues with my health, I can no longer perform the duties that are required of a dog warden without pain and discomfort.”

Brown was hired as dog warden in December 2019 after previously serving as a deputy for the dog pound. James Cluff was also later hired as a dog warden in May 2021.

“I think Lanny’s been here for at least five years,” Duncan said. “We wish him the best.”

• At 8:10 a.m., commissioners held a bid opening for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) resurfacing project on Hammond Road in Jackson Township.

The county received one bid from Miller-Mason Paving in the amount of $103,348.

After a brief recess, Highland County Engineer Chris Fauber told commissioners that the quote came in under estimate and recommended that they accept the bid.

Commissioners voted 3-0 to amend the agenda to account for an additional resolution, then voted 3-0 to accept a resolution authorizing the contractual agreement with Miller-Mason in the amount of $103,348.

• Duncan reminded the community that a public hearing on solar development will be held Thursday, Sept. 16 from 6-8 p.m. at Southern State Community College’s auditorium.

Those wishing to be heard and speak either as a proponent or opponent [of solar development] are required to be a resident of Highland County, fill out a witness slip and limit their comments to no more than five minutes.

According to Duncan, commissioners will provide written responses to any questions posed during the meeting within 10 days.

Masks will be required, according to SSCC campus policy.

• Duncan announced that a sealing project at the Highland County Administration Building will begin Monday, Sept. 20.

“We’ll be having a manlift around the perimeter of the building off and on during the week,” he said.

Britton added that parking around the Administration Building will also be affected.

• Duncan also reminded the community that the Sept. 29 meeting will be moved to Sept. 30 at 9 a.m.

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

• A budget modification within the Commissioners budget from Other Expense to Supplies in the amount of $1,000.

• An additional authorization from unappropriated funds within the Sheriff’s budget in the amount of $2,877.15.

• A budget modification within the Sheriff’s budget from Insurance/Opt-Out to Contracts/Repairs in the amount of $4,000.

• A budget modification within the Sheriff’s budget from Insurance/Opt-Out to Equipment in the amount of $2,000.

• A modification within A-00 from Transfers Out to SCORJDC – Juvenile in the amount of $100,000.

• A modification within A-00 from Transfers Out to Agriculture – Apiary in the amount of $905.

• A budget modification within the Engineer’s budget from Laborers-Salary to Equipment in the amount of $25,000.

• An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds to Dog & Kennel – Supplies in the amount of $3,000.

Commissioners also approved two contracts, also by a 3-0 vote:

• An independent contractor agreement with Unger Construction, LTD, for the 2021 calendar year. Duncan said this contract is for repair work at the sewer treatment plant.

• An Ohio purchase of social services contract for Highland County Department of Job and Family Services for Oct. 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022.

• • • 

Not discussed during the meeting, but included on the agenda, were several items of correspondence.

• Palmer Energy sent a letter regrading updates to the County Commissioners Association of Ohio’s solar program. Palmer Energy serves as the independent consultant for that program.

According to the letter, the CCAO Service Corporation and Palmer Energy have been working “to monitor the solar market to determine what a large-scale solar array could offer to CCOSC Energy Program participants.”

“Ongoing research indicated that an Ohio-based utility-scale solar project could provide a lower long-term price that would provide a competitive pride hedge, allow for more facilities and counties to participate, and mitigate the risk of physical facility location over a long-term agreement,” the letter says.

The letter says that the CCAOSC and Palmer Energy have worked with counties and solar companies to “gauge interest” and obtain more information. They have narrowed their choices to three solar firms and are currently working to review draft power purchase agreements before taking any action, according to the letter.

The letter also discusses the impact of House Bill 87 and Senate Bill 52 on their plans and any potential projects.

“CCAOSC and Palmer will continue to provide updates on the program as progress continues,” the letter says.

• Commissioners received an update on an attempt for expedited foreclosure of delinquent real property taxes for a Wizard of Oz Way property. Under the expedited process, the redemption period is shortened to 45 days, and there will neither be an appraisal nor a sheriff’s sale. If approved, the property would be placed in the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation (land bank).

• Duke Energy notified commissioners of a planned application filing with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for an increase in electric distribution rates for customers in southwest Ohio. A summary of the proposed rates was included.

• Four area residents sent emails in support of solar projects.