Pictured (l-r) are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
In a meeting full of appointments Wednesday, June 29, Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels discussed attending the signing of House Bill 377 and heard updates on OneOhio, health insurance, Palomino Solar and the Village of Greenfield.

Commissioners said they attended the signing of House Bill 377, which will invest $500 million in Appalachia. Governor Mike DeWine signed the bill, which was announced by his office in April, during a ceremony Tuesday in the Appalachian Garden of the Ohio Governor's Residence and Heritage Garden.

“We went up to witness that and to be a part of that,” Duncan said. “They laid out a little bit of how they think it's going to work. We'll be staying in touch with those folks on what the process will be.”

As reported by Governor Mike DeWine’s office, “Governor DeWine proposed the plan in April to help unite Appalachian communities on transformational local projects with three priorities: infrastructure, including downtown development; health care, such as investments in school- or community-based services to address physical and behavioral health; and workforce development, including public-private partnerships to build and coordinate job training.

“‘OhioBuilds – Small Communities, Big Impact – A Plan for Appalachia’ includes a $50 million planning phase to allow Appalachian communities and regional partnerships to develop transformational plans that incorporate each of the three aforementioned priorities. Following the planning, $450 million in implementation grants will be awarded to help communities and regional groups carry out projects that rejuvenate the region and stimulate economic growth.”

As previously reported by The Highland County Press, Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted spoke to local government and business leaders about the funding program at an event April 29 in Hillsboro. (For more, see the story at https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/-Building-a-brighter-future-Lt-Gov-Husted-makes-stop-in-Hillsboro-to-discuss-500M-investment-in-Appalachian-region/2/20/78804.)

During that meeting, Husted called it “resources,” not “a plan” and urged the community to “collaborate” with other areas, which could not only broaden their impact, but can lead to additional funding. According to Husted, individual municipalities can apply for up to $100,000 during the planning round, but groups of municipalities collaborating on a project can apply for as much as $3 million during that phase.

“There's more to come, but it will be a collaboration between the villages and us on some projects,” Duncan said Wednesday. “We've also kind of reached out to neighboring counties, while we were up there, that we'd be willing to work with them on some projects together, and they're all willing to sit down and talk to us about that.

“We got the impression that there'll be a scoring process and the more collaboration you've got, the higher the scoring, so we'll be reaching out to the entities here in the county, plus, the surrounding counties, to see what projects we can all work on, to try and get some of that money coming into the county.”

Britton added that it is expected to be a “competitive process, so the more that we can put together” with other municipalities, “the better off we’ll be.”

Daniels spoke about the logistics of the application process for this funding program.

“This is part of the state's ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] money that the state received that’s being dedicated for Appalachia,” Daniels said. “There's going to be probably two funding rounds, they thought, plus kind of a mini funding round for a planning session. They gave us some indications that we should get some information on that within the next 30 days about what the application process looks like and how we move forward on that.

“We are probably going to be reaching out to villages and the cities to ask them to come in at some point and kind of talk about what they'd like to see an application look like, and again, also with the with the neighboring counties. There's opportunity there.”

Since the money is coming from the federal ARPA dollars, Britton pointed out that “there is a deadline” to allocate (by 2024) and expend (by 2026) any money through the “OhioBuilds” program.

“It’s a great opportunity, but also a sense of urgency,” Duncan added.

Later in the meeting, while listening to a brief update from Greenfield City Manager Todd Wilkin, the commission and Wilkin noted that a new workforce development program ties into the criteria outlined by the state for the Appalachian funding program.

As reported last month by the Southern Ohio Educational Service Center, Tim Dettwiller has been hired as director of Highland County ACCESS (Alignment of Community Connections for Employer and Student Success). Wilkin said this was a result of workforce development plans by local leaders over the past year and a half.

The SOESC said, “ACCESS is a new initiative that will be providing coordinated educational opportunities for both youth and adult students to improve the Highland County workforce.”

“We're working on our mission, vision and goals,” Wilkin said. “The hope is, once we get everything finalized, Mr. Dettwiller wants to come to the commissioners and kind of talk about the program in its entirety and get that information out.

“Communication between schools and businesses is vital. This program doesn't just affect the youth, high school students, it also affects young adults. That's why we’re partnering with Southern State, because of young adults. I'm excited about that, because it's going to provide an opportunity for us to develop a well-skilled workforce that's ready for the businesses who need them here in Highland County.”

Britton pointed out that the ACCESS program “fits right in” with the OhioBuilds criteria.

“I think if we work together on that, we can really make that a pretty permanent thing,” Britton said.

Wilkin said he brought up the county’s workforce development efforts in speaking to Lt. Gov. Husted during his stop in Hillsboro to promote the investment in Appalachia.

“I said, expect that you're going to see an application from Highland County for workforce development,” Wilkin said. “I had told him face to face what our collaboration was and who all was involved in this.

“There's five schools in Highland County, and most of them are on board — we still need to work with one a little bit — but it is truly collaboration with all these agencies. I think can fit the model pretty good.”

Along with the OhioBuilds discussion, the meeting, which was split into various sessions spread out over a two-hour span Wednesday morning, was full of updates on various programs and projects.
 
• Highland County Probation Director of Programming & Clinical Services Tonya Sturgill gave a brief review of the first two regional meetings for One Ohio Recovery Foundation board (held May 10 and June 21).

As previously reported, Britton announced in January that three individuals have been selected to represent Highland County in Region 9 on the governor’s OneOhio Recovery Foundation board, including Sturgill, Hillsboro Police Chief Eric Daniels and Concord Township Trustee Tony Gulley. Britton said the three local representatives will attend meetings in Ross County, as Region 9 includes Highland, Adams, Brown, Fayette, Pike, Pickaway, Ross and Scioto counties.

According to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s office, “The Foundation will be established to distribute a portion of the settlement funds from the drug manufacturers and distributors of opioids to communities in Ohio. The Governor’s Office worked with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Ohio’s local community leaders to create the OneOhio plan to jointly approach settlement negotiations with the drug manufacturers and distributors of opioids.

“OneOhio ensures a settlement recognizing that every corner of the state has been hit hard by the crisis and outlines how the funds can be used. To launch the work of the OneOhio Recovery Foundation, 55 percent of all Ohio settlement dollars will go directly to the Foundation for addiction abatement and to promote mental wellness.”

Sturgill told commissioners Wednesday that she expects working with the opioid settlement dollars to be a “long, slow process.”

For the first meeting, Sturgill said the group determined “what a quorum would look like” for the board, established “some ground rules“ and elected officers, including Sturgill being appointed as vice president.

“They talked a little bit about the money that will be flowing through Region 9,” Sturgill said. “For the entire process, it was an estimated $20.8 million over 18 years, or roughly $1.3 million per year, is what will come down through our region. There is a second settlement that they expect to approve that is $4.8 million, and that will be distributed over a nine-year period.”

At the board’s second meeting, Sturgill said the group selected Bambi Baughn, Executive Director for Fayette County Community Action Commission, to serve as the Region 9 spokesperson at state meetings.

“They have had one meeting at the state so far,” Sturgill said. “It sounds like their first meeting at the state was just a lot of talk about how to actually run the other meetings, and there's still some uncertainty about whether or not they will be applying for the 501(c)(3), as that can take a lot of time.

“We are waiting for more information from the state, and then we will again meet to decide what kind of process we'll put in place to start receiving applications for the funding, and who will get priority for that and just working out all the ground rules.”

Daniels asked Sturgill if she had been “communicating with” local agencies that could qualify for this funding.

“I have had a couple that reached out to me,” Sturgill said. “What I've told them as that as I know more information, I will gladly share it. I feel like I have to be able to answer those questions about some dates and what the application process will look like.

“I am very hopeful that at our next meeting, we will have that information and then I will definitely circulate it throughout the county. I think it’s going to be a long, slow process, though.”

• Commissioners met with Dave Brown and Belinda McCollum of the county's health insurance broker Brown/Raybourn to sign off on some “housekeeping issues.”

McCollum brought several minor “issues” regarding county health insurance for commissioners to address. One was an instance where there was “a claim of a little over $1,700 on a spouse of an employee” that Medicare paid for as a “primary” claim instead of a “secondary” claim.

“In order to get that resolved, we need to have you sign a letter,” McCollum said. “All that's going to happen is those claims will be forwarded to Medical Mutual, they'll pay the claims as primary, send that information back to Medicare, and then Medicare will take their retractions.”

McCollum also asked if the commissioners would sign off on a 12-month “flat renewal” with Superior Dental, as well as a “flat renewal” with Guardian. She advised the commissioners and county auditor Bill Fawley of changes with billing with their dental insurance plan.

“Superior Dental and Medical Mutual have joined,” McCollum said. “You're going to be billed for your group health insurance and your voluntary dental on the same billing. You're probably also going to be making changes to enrollment through the Medical Mutual of Ohio system as opposed through Superior Dental, as was the past practice.”

Brown also discussed the county’s current health insurance plan and fielded questions from Daniels.

“Just to touch base very briefly on the health insurance, everything seems to be going very well,” Brown said. “I think we made a great decision last year to take the two-year rate lock. I think that was a real opportunity for us. We haven't seen anything, or been alerted on anything, that's really spiked. I know, in talking with the carrier that claims probably have increased a bit, but that's of course to be expected.

“You never know what's going to happen between now and next August, but things seem to be going well. We're not having a lot of issues with claims, any kind of problems.”

Daniels asked how plan renewals were going for other counties this year.

“I can’t say we’re seeing things stabilize, but it’s just so hit or miss,” Brown said, saying they’ve seen anything from a “tiny increase” to huge jumps proposed by carriers.

“Anything else we ought to be concerned about as far as what you’re forecasting for the next year?” Daniels asked.

Brown said there weren’t any concerns “at this point.”

“I think with the pandemic starting to settle to a degree, and the fears with regard to that, the only real exposure that I see coming, maybe, is the supply of medical services keeping up with the demand in that production of medical equipment and the things that are necessary to maintain care for people can be disrupted,” Brown said. “That kind of concerns me.”

Commissioners thanked the Brown/Raybourn representatives for the update and signed the paperwork they brought.

• Janet Groethe of Innergex reminded commissioners that the Ohio Power Siting Board public meeting for the Palomino Solar project was scheduled for Wednesday evening at the fairgrounds, where she said they were “looking forward to the opportunity to receive more community input.”

“Our application has been recommended for approval by the Ohio Power Siting Board, with some conditions,” she said. “We’re moving forward.”

As reported last week, Juliana Graham-Price of the Ohio Power Siting Board emailed commissioners to notify them that the OPSB technical staff’s report is recommending the approval of the proposed 200MW project in Dodson and Union Townships, east of Lynchburg, and included a list of 43 conditions “for the Board’s consideration” if the OPSB “determines that a certificate should be granted.” The recommended “conditions [to] become part of such certificate” are related to a number of areas, including construction practices; permits; impact on the land, streams, vegetation and on various species living in the area; decommissioning; fencing; landscape and lighting plans; noise; cleaning up trees and/or weeds; drilling; and setbacks.

The report is available at: https://dis.puc.state.oh.us/ViewImage.aspx?CMID=A1001001A22F14B14155A00548.

The evidentiary hearing is set for July 13 in Columbus. On a related note, commissioners announced that the July 13 meeting will be pushed back a day — moved to July 14 at 9 a.m. — due to commissioners attending that hearing.

• In addition to discussing the new workforce development program, Wilkin reported on the latest happenings in the Village of Greenfield.

Wilkin told commissioners that Greenfield’s Facade Improvement Program is continuing to make an impact on businesses in the village’s downtown area.

During a meeting with commissioners in May, Wilkin said the village’s program helps cover the cost of “facades and new windows,” painting, installing HVAC systems and/or replacing roofs, for Greenfield businesses.

“If you happen to drive through Greenfield right now, you're going to see a lot of the kind of fake facades that were put up over the buildings in probably the 1980s, and maybe even before that, have been taken down,” Wilkin said. “Now there's some really cool windows that have been exposed that people had no idea even existed on their building. We've had a few business owners decide ‘I’m going to leave that exposed because it brings back a lot of character to our historic building.’

“I think we have probably four projects that have started back up with facade improvement money and making great improvements into our downtown.”

Wilkin added that the village also has nine business grand openings scheduled in a 30-day period, with their new business incubator also being full.

“Good things are happening in Greenfield,” he said. “We're excited, and we’re thankful for the entrepreneurs. We, as a government don't create the business. We can create the environment that's attractive to a business, but it's the entrepreneur who takes the risk to step out and start that adventure, so we're thankful for them and want to be very supportive of their efforts.”

Wilkin also announced that a First Friday event will be held Friday, July 1 from 4-8 p.m. on the City Hall lawn, including live music, vendors and food trucks.

• Daniels and Duncan said that the commission was anticipating receiving a contract for the new Highland County animal shelter at any time, after which construction on the planned 6,000 square foot, $1.2 million facility can get underway.

“I did talk to the architect this morning,” Duncan said. “He has a contract. The contractor has signed off on it, but it needs signatures from us.

“We’re finally going to see some action. I got the impression this morning that we're going to try and break ground sometime next week. That’ll be good to start seeing things happen.”

• Duncan noted that scaffolding is up around the old jail for Wayne Dance to make masonry repairs to the chimney.

During the May 25 meeting, commissioners voted 3-0 to accept a quote not to exceed $33,000 from Wayne Dance for masonry repairs, including $9,369 to rent scaffolding for 28 days. At that meeting, Duncan said the tallest of the chimneys at the jail has “issues that need to be addressed.”

“I do know they have a window that they have the scaffolding leased for, so I assume that work on that will commence shortly,” Duncan said. “They did get that scaffolding up last week, and that's going to be quite a project. Just getting the scaffolding up was a project.”

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

• A budget modification within the Probation Department budget, Accounts 2170 and 2675, in the amount of $6,500.

• A request for reimbursement of funds from Child Support Enforcement Fund C00 to Public Assistance H-00 in the amount of $8,207.93 for May 2022 Child Support shared cost distribution.

• An additional appropriation from unanticipated revenue to N-03 Capital Improvement – Other Expense (911) in the amount of $10,220.44.

• A resolution rescinding Resolution No. 22-99 from June 8, regarding an additional appropriation to Capital Improvement – Airport in the amount of $1,375.

• An additional appropriation from unanticipated revenue to Capital Improvement – Airport in the amount of $1,375.

Also approved were the following contracts:

• A road use agreement among commissioners, the county engineer and Ohio Power Company (AEP).

• A contact extension among commissioners, Highland County Community Action Organization and Workforce Services Unlimited for PY22 CCMEP.

• A contact extension among commissioners, Highland County Community Action Organization and Henry & Associates Research & Consulting, LLC, DBA The JD & R Group, LLC, for PY22 CCMEP.

• Three contracts for the commissioners and Highland County Recycling to award 2022 Recycling and Litter Management Grants to the villages of Leesburg, Greenfield and Highland, respectively.

Commissioners also voted 3-0 to authorize the execution of a Permit-to-Install/Plan Approval Application through the Ohio EPA for the Rainsboro Elementary sewer project and a United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development right-of-way easement for Highland County Water.

Not discussed during the meeting, but included on the agenda, was a notification from the Highland County Humane Society Board of Directors that Amanda Fitchpatrick is no longer serving as humane agent in the county.

Commissioners and other county officeholders also met with representatives of McCarty Associates Wednesday to discuss plans for a proposed new county records storage facility. For more, see the story at: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/County-officials-McCarty-Associates-discuss-plans-for-new-records-storage-building/2/20/81406.