Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera and Aramark district manager Mike Colvin are pictured during Wednesday's Highland County commissioners meeting. Also pictured is Highland County auditor Bill Fawley (background). (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera and Aramark district manager Mike Colvin are pictured during Wednesday's Highland County commissioners meeting. Also pictured is Highland County auditor Bill Fawley (background). (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and Gary Abernathy discussed potential upgrades to equipment at the Highland County Justice Center and the Highland County Board of Elections during their Wednesday, Dec. 5 board meeting.

Also during the meeting, commissioners voted 3-0 to withdraw from an $843,498 U.S. Department of Justice grant for the Rocky Fork Lake region. To read that story, click here.

Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera and Mike Colvin, district manager of Aramark, met with commissioners to discuss acquiring a body scanner at the Highland County Justice Center. Aramark has provided food services for the jail since 2001. Barrera noted their contract “ran out in October of this year,” but during recent contract negotiations, Aramark offered to help fund a body scanner for the justice center.

“Mike asked me what we could use, if there was anything we could use to help entice the contract negotiations,” Barrera said. “I said, ‘A body scanner.’ Mike said ‘Let me work on it,’ and he got back with me a few days later.”

Barrera said that OD Security North America gave a demonstration of a body scanner that the justice center could purchase for $120,000.

Abernathy said that he is a “huge fan of the body scanners” and saw a demonstration of the body scanner the sheriff wants to acquire. “They’re very impressive in how they can detect the balloons of drugs,” Abernathy said. “This is really excellent at detecting drug contraband.”

Colvin said that there have been “many discussions similar to this one” among the correctional facilities with which Aramark contracts, with other facilities requesting either body scanners or mail scanners.

“As we continue to deal with these issues, we’re going to need some increased security to protect people,” Colvin said. “My job is to send people home safe every day to their families.”

Colvin explained that Aramark has “a lot of longstanding relationships” with correctional facilities in southern Ohio and “a deep understanding of correctional environments.”

“These are difficult places to work, and they have a very difficult job,” Colvin said. “I think one of their biggest challenges is always going to be safety and security. Selfishly, that safety and security extends to my people, and my concern is always going to be based in their safety. We’ve got anywhere from three to five employees that are coming and going inside that facility.

“Certainly, the opioid epidemic and drugs and the related crimes behind those things are concerns for not only his team, but mine. Things like body scanners help prevent those things from coming in the jail.”

Colvin presented the sheriff’s office with options for three-, five- or 10-year contracts.

“So your different lengths of time with your contracts – three, five and 10 [years] – is that based on conversations you’ve had about we might pay for part of it and you would be willing to pay for another part of it?” Abernathy asked.

“I think that conversation has matured a bit since the original proposal was put together,” Colvin said. “What’s outlined in those original proposals was Aramark taking the full responsibility of that money. Now, if there’s further discussion about less, then certainly we can amend that time frame and/or price point to meet those needs – again, if it’s $60 [thousand] from Aramark and $60 [thousand] from county commissioners, we’d just move the numbers accordingly. Or length of period. Again, I understand, from your perspective there may be a conversation for both term and price.”

Duncan said that commissioners would look at the proposals, and Colvin told Duncan to let him know if Aramark needed to make any amendments. Abernathy said he hoped commissioners would make a decision by the end of the year.

“Because of the things I just stated, we’re not looking to make interest on this money. I want to be very clear about that,” Colvin said. “This is more based on me making sure that his team and my team are safe and we continue a great partnership than it is about making money. We understand – and I’m sure you do – that yes, this is a business and I’d like to make money, but I don’t need to overextend it.

“This particular case, it’s much larger-picture. We continue to have a good partnership with the price per meal, and realistically this money is simply an extension of safety and security.”

• • •

Commissioners also had a meeting with Highland County Board of Elections administrator Steve Witham, who outlined several different options for new voting equipment as directed by the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

As previously reported, Secretary of State Jon Husted announced the Voting Equipment Acquisition Program last week. Husted’s office said that “The Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) has awarded contracts to five voting system vendors – Clear Ballot Group, Dominion Voting Systems, Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic and Unisyn Voting Solutions. County boards of elections eligible to participate in the program will select their system, equipment and services from the approved vendor’s list. The Secretary of State’s Office has encouraged county boards to work closely with their county commissioners in choosing a voting system.”

Witham told commissioners that their options include touchscreen equipment from Dominion Voting Systems, which would be an upgraded version of what the county currently uses; a hybrid system in which a voter uses a touchscreen that then prints their ballot; and “a straight paper-based system” from Clear Ballot Group in which voters have to fill in circles by their chosen candidates, similar to what is currently used for mail ballots. He gave commissioners a summary of the options, including pricing.

Witham said the board is “not just deciding the system and the company – we’re looking at a lot of different things,” including accuracy; affordability; efficiency and ease of use for voters and poll workers; setup of precincts and delivery of ballots; and storage of ballots.

The touchscreen option is the most expensive option, but it would require the least training for poll workers and least adjustment for voters. Witham said that Dominion Voting Systems has offered a buyback program that could help offset some of the cost.

“We really thought the touchscreen machine was out of reach, just because of the cost of it,” Witham said. “With our existing equipment, Dominion came in and offered us an equipment buyback at $202,000, which is huge. That actually brought that to where we could either outright purchase – the upfront cost of their system is $827,000, and when you take off that $202 [thousand], it drops down to $624,504. What we’re looking at is from the state, we have $572,000, and that would leave us roughly $54,000 that we would have to make up to do an outright purchase.”

However, the new touchscreen system would also cost an additional approximate $30,000 a year in licensing, Witham added.

Witham said that returning to paper ballots could lead to problems with accuracy and could be more time-consuming, but the board could acquire that system “well under our state funding,” so they could also upgrade their scanner and “help absorb” licensing fees.

“What they’ve quoted up front is five years of maintenance and licensing, so we wouldn’t have to pay Clear Ballot a dime until 2024,” Witham said. “They do have the best tail-end adjudication and reporting system.”

The hybrid system’s advantage is “if a person uses the touchscreen machine and they make an error, they can touch it and change it and fix the right one before they print it.” Abernathy asked if the hybrid machine was Witham’s preference.

“I’m back and forth,” Witham said. “The touchscreen, if it could be affordable ongoing – to me, that’s the easiest transition for our voters. I do like the hybrid for the reason of having that one touchscreen interface. But then when you argue affordability and the tail end of the software, Clear Ballot [paper system] still stays very much in the picture.”

Witham told commissioners that the board also needs to upgrade their electronic poll books, as the current poll books “have been in use for almost 10 years now.” He said he has quotes of $61,000 and $65,000 for poll book upgrades.

Duncan asked if the voting system and poll book upgrades would “have to be done simultaneously.”

“I can do that later,” Witham said of the poll books.

“And the state funding money can only be used for the equipment, correct?” Britton asked.

“Yes,” Witham said. “I asked if it was possible if I could put together a quote for both machines and poll books, and they said no because the state has already funded the poll books, which we got reimbursed for our purchase. They specified, pretty straightforward, what you’re allowed to pay for.”

“OK, so the county’s expense would be your annual expenses and then if you were going to upgrade your poll books, that would be additional?” Britton asked.

“Yes,” Witham said. “What we have will still work, but this would increase the efficiency.”

The board will discuss all three voting system options at their meeting next Wednesday morning at 8 a.m., according to Witham. Witham said they hope to make a decision to have the new equipment implemented in place before the 2019 primary.

• • •

The commissioners’ third meeting of the morning was with John Hemmings, executive director of the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission, who attended with Stephanie Gilbert, the OVRDC’s transportation planning coordinator. Hemmings said he was scheduling meetings with county commissioners to discuss membership issues – although he said there weren’t any for Highland County – and OVRDC news and updates.

Among the topics Hemmings discussed was the proposed solar energy projects in Highland County. As previously reported, AEP Ohio filed a proposal Sept. 27 with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to support the development of 400 megawatts (MW) of new solar generation resources in Ohio by purchasing renewable power for AEP Ohio customers. The 300 MW and 100 MW facilities will be in Highland County, near Mowrystown.

Earlier in the meeting Wednesday, Abernathy informed commissioners of a recent OVRDC meeting, during which Evan Blumer of the Appalachian Ohio Solar Jobs Network spoke about proposed solar energy projects in the county.

“One thing he pointed out that I think is important to remind people of is while the fields and the panels are located in Highland County under the plan, the manufacturing is going to take place in either South Point, Ohio or the Waverly area,” Abernathy said. “I would just be cautious that the jobs outlook on a long-term basis are not really slated for Highland County, other than the construction of the solar plant.”

Duncan said that 30 or fewer jobs “for general maintenance” have been estimated for the Highland County area.

During Hemmings’ meeting with commissioners, he discussed both the OVRDC meeting and PUCO’s meeting Tuesday on the solar energy projects. Hemmings said that Blumer reached out to him and asked to speak to the OVRDC board, but that Blumer also asked Hemmings to endorse the project Tuesday in a press conference prior to the PUCO hearing. Hemmings said he had a prior appointment and could not attend, but he also “didn’t want to go.”

“I didn’t want to go because it’s exciting, it sounds great, but I want to hear what Highland County [says],” Hemmings said. “OVRDC should represent what our members want.”

Abernathy said he was also invited and is “not ready to go there.” “I’m hopeful for it, but there’s still a lot of questions,” he said.

Hemmings told commissioners, “I’ll support it when you all support it.” “I think OVRDC will get behind Highland County,” he said.

• • •

Duncan reported that commissioners are continuing discussions on allocating Delinquent Tax & Assessment Collection (DTAC) Fund monies to a county land bank.

A plan for a proposed land reutilization corporation (land bank) was included in the now-rejected Department of Justice grant of $843,498 for the Rocky Fork Lake Area Safety and Advancement Plan. (The Justice Department later rejected the grant application due to the inclusion of the land bank.) Commissioners voted in February 2017 to implement the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation. Appointed to the land bank’s board were Kathryn Allen of the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office; Paint Township trustee Randy Mustard; city of Hillsboro representative Charlie Guarino; and Britton and then-commissioner Shane Wilkin.

As previously reported in The Highland County Press, representatives from Bright Local, Fairfield, Greenfield, Hillsboro and Lynchburg-Clay school districts, along with Hillsboro safety and service director Mel McKenzie and Greenfield city manager Todd Wilkin, met with commissioners and Highland County auditor Bill Fawley in October to discuss the proposal for using DTAC funds.

“We still feel there’s a need for a land bank here in the county,” Duncan said Wednesday.

In addition to meeting with school district representatives, Duncan said they have “also met with the County Trustees Association” and that he has spoken with Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District Chief David Manning but has not “had a chance to visit with the other chiefs” yet.

“In conversations with the auditor, we figure that [DTAC funds] will bring in about $75 to $80,000 to fund that program,” Duncan said. “We already had set aside $100,000 last year, hoping to get this up and running. Due to some circumstances, we just didn’t get around to it yet.

“We’ll be voting on that in the future, but I just want to make sure everyone’s aware we’re having discussions. We have reached out to the prosecutor, and she’s making sure we’re following the protocol we need to, to get this established.”

Abernathy said “this is not a tax increase or an additional tax; it’s a fee we’re able to redirect to us.”

Duncan said commissioners hope to “be acting on this in the next meeting or so.”

• • •
Duncan announced the following meeting date changes due to upcoming holidays:

• The Dec. 26 commissioners meeting will be moved to Dec. 27;

• Commissioners will not meet Jan. 2;

• An organizational meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 7 at 9 a.m.; and

• Commissioners will return to their regular meeting schedule Wednesday, Jan. 9.

• • •

On behalf of the commission, Duncan extended praise and thanks to two individuals being honored in the next week. Local historian Jean Wallis will be honored Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. a reception at the Highland House Museum, and longtime radio personality Willard Parr’s career and retirement will be celebrated Dec. 6 at Southside Praise and Worship Center in Hillsboro.

“We want to congratulate both of those individuals for the contributions they’ve made for the county,” Duncan said.

• • •

Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve two contracts as submitted. The first contract is between commissioners, the Highland County Agricultural Society and Pike Natural Gas for a utility right-of-way agreement for a transmission line along the edge of the fairgrounds. The second is a contract to re-appoint Tom House as the county’s apiary inspector for 2019.

• • •

Commissioners voted to approve the following resolutions, each by a 3-0 vote:

• Highland County Airport Authority requests an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds to Capital Improvement, Other Expenses in the amount of $25,115.54.

• Highland County Board of Elections request a modification within their budget in the amount of $13,168.15.

• Highland County Job and Family Services request a transfer of funds from PA funding to PCSA to Children Services in the amount of $196,371.80.

• Highland County Commissioners request a budget modification within the commissioners’ budget from Transfers Out to Settlement Adjustment in the amount of $11.03.

• Highland County Commissioners request a budget modification within Mowrystown Sewer in the amount of $2,500.

• Highland County Commissioners, EMA request an additional appropriation from unanticipated revenue to W-76 in the amount of $868.92.

• Highland County Sheriff requests an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds in the amount of $1,192.23.

• Highland County Sheriff requests an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds to Sheriff, Employee Salaries in the amount of $4,568.63.

• Highland County Sheriff requests an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds to Sheriff, Employee Salaries in the amount of $2,656.60.

• Highland County Commissioners request a budget modification within P-03 from Equipment to Contracts and Services in the amount of $10,000.

• • •

Commissioners adjourned at 10:20 a.m. and said that they would be attending a tour of the Wilmington Air Park with members of Leadership Highland Wednesday afternoon.