Current economic conditions have led to yet another reduction in the county budget.
    At the Wednesday meeting of the Highland County Board of Commissioners, Highland County Economic Development Director Dan Cowdrey was informed the county would no longer fund his office.
    “Due to limited funds and our access to Rafael Underwood, who is a regional economic recovery coordinator for Highland, Clinton, and Fayette counties, we are moving in this direction,” Commission President Shane Wilkin said. “Rafael has been very instrumental in other areas of economic development. We are, therefore, taking advantage of his connections with the Ohio Department of Development to further Highland County economic development and to pursue a regional view that can, hopefully, benefit this entire area.”
    Cowdrey met with commissioners Wednesday after receiving an e-mail to refer all economic development calls to the commissioners’ office.
    “We have never discussed this whole issue or what you want done,” Cowdrey said.
    “It is our understanding we have enough money to make it through the end of March. All of us will take on a bigger responsibility,” Wilkin said.
    “Rafael is a tri-county coordinator. He is not our economic development director,” Cowdrey said.
    Commissioner Gary Heaton said, “We’re not looking at him to do this full-time. We want him working on tracking down leads for bringing jobs into Highland County. We don’t want him for marketing, just job creation possibilities.”
    Cowdrey then asked commissioners, “Just to clarify, what’s the biggest problem we’ve got in Highland County?”
    Heaton replied that the biggest obstacles for the county are a lack of industry and large-scale employers.
    Cowdrey asked commissioners, “Are you going to do the financial and business plans?”
    “We’re going to have to,”  Commissioner Tom Horst said.
“We don’t have any money.”
    “I know you don’t,” Cowdrey said. “But if you ever needed more resources for economic development, now is the time you need it.”
    Horst replied, “If you can find funding sources to keep the office going, we would be interested.”
    “I don’t know of any funding that’s not tied to a special project,” Cowdrey said. “I don’t want to get into a lot of different issues...so you want me to close down by March 31?”
    “We’ll cover the expenses through the end of March,” Heaton said.
    • In other business with the economic development office, commissioners asked for an update on Jamie Brandenburg’s proposed project at Rocky Fork Lake.
    “I spoke with the Army Corps of Engineers in West Virginia and got the application for Jamie,” Cowdrey said. “He needs to get that to the Corps of Engineers. The EPA in Dayton doesn’t think there will be a problem, but the EPA won’t come in until the Corps of Engineers is done.”
    Cowdrey then added “If Ohio first lady Frances Strickland had not come down here, this never would have happened.” The first lady made a visit to the lake area in November and discussed Brandenburg’s proposal for a private dock development near the Rocky Fork Lake Golf Course.
    Heaton instructed Cowdrey to “make sure Jamie knows he can contact the commissioners’ office.”
    “I will send a letter out to all economic development office clients and agencies to call 393-1911 for economic development,” Cowdrey said. “I’ve got some stuff to move out, and that will take a while. Are there any other things I need to deal with?” Cowdrey asked.
    Wilkin responded, “We’ll put together a letter to everyone for clarification.”
    At that point, Cowdrey asked about his office employee and where this leaves her as of March 31.
    Heaton responded, “I think the most optimistic thing is for possibly 20 hours per week without benefits from a block grant administrative funds.”
    “She has been really good in that office,” Cowdrey said.
    • Cowdrey also clarified an earlier statement on the county airport budget and its biennial audits. The audits are performed on the entire budget, not just the portion funded through the commissioners office. He said the Airport Authority would prepare an itemized listing of funding priorities for the commissioners.
Commissioners, business
argue over tax responsibility
    • Commissioners and Highland County Prosecutor Jim Grandey also met with George Matthews of Hangar 6 and his attorney, Brian Sullivan of the Cincinnati firm of Dinsmore and Shohl, LLP.
    In an occasionally contentious discussion over property taxes levied against Hangar 6, Sullivan insisted the property taxes, totaling $3,319.45, are owed by the county, not by Matthews or Hangar 6.
    According to Sullivan, Hangar 6 Incorporated and the county commissioners entered into a lease dated April 5, 2001. “There is no provision in the lease which references Hangar 6 paying taxes at all,” Sullivan wrote in a Nov. 23 letter to the prosecutor’s office. “Rather, the only provision of the lease concerning taxes is found in paragraph 25, which states ‘Lessor [the county] shall pay, satisfy and discharge as they become due, all assessments, charges, mortgages, liens, and taxes whatsoever which may exist or be payable for, or against, or in respect of the leased premises or any part thereof.’ ... Hangar 6 maintains this provision mandates the county is responsible for the payment of taxes. ... It appears that the county is trying to draw a distinction that does not comport with the reality that this is one parcel, buildings, and land.”
    Sullivan took particular exception to a recent public notice that said Hangar 6 was delinquent in paying the taxes.
    “The notice in the paper was from the auditor’s office not the prosecutor,” Grandey said. “It was a standard notice.”
    Sullivan disagreed with Grandey’s assessment, and said he has had “no response” from the prosecutor’s office. “I am appealing to you (commissioners). I think it’s a clear interpretation of the lease (that the county must pay the taxes). The solution is for the county to pay the taxes as agreed.”
    “We have a fundamental difference of interpretation of the contract,” Horst said.
    “I’m not sure it’s a different interpretation,” Sullivan said. “The county agreed to it in 2001.”
    “Who made that lease?” Heaton asked.
    “The three people who sat there before you,” Sullivan said.
    Horst questioned why the previous commission would agree to the lease, which pays the county approximately $342 per month, with the county paying all the taxes. The county got (a bad deal), Horst said. “It’s a good thing I wasn’t here when that was negotiated.”
    “I can find no authority where commissioners are permitted to pay taxes for a private entity,” Grandey said.
    “I would like to throw out a compromise: The bill that is owed, the county would pay that. Amend the lease going forward for Hangar 6  to pay taxes on the improvements for tax year 2010 going forward,” Grandey said.
    “There’s something to discuss, but we have to offset the expenses; otherwise, what’s the benefit (to Hangar 6)?” Sullivan said.
    “Can you allow us to meet with Jim and go through it and see what we can do?” Wilkin asked.
    “It’s a contract,” Matthews said.
    “I would welcome it if you talk to Jim and get back with us next week,” Sullivan said.
    The parties agreed to meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 17.
    Commissioners approved the following resolutions, all by 3-0 votes:
    • The authorization of additional appropriation to the Commissioners budget as follows: from Unappropriated funds to Commissioners, Other Expense, in the amount of $2,500. The sheriff sold a transport van for $2,500, which was not anticipated revenue for 2010.
    • The creation of a new line-item to be known as pre-trial supervision, equipment, and the authorization of additional appropriation from Unappropriated Funds to pre-trial supervision, equipment, in the amount of $3,000.
    • The approval of travel expenses for three Veteran Service Commission board members to attend the Ohio State Association of County Veterans Service Commissioners’ Spring Conference on April 9 and 10 in Dublin. The estimated expenses for all three members are as follows: registration fees, $30; mileage reimbursement, $243; hotel accommodations, $395.97; and meal reimbursement, $180, for total expenses of $848.97.
    • Commissioners received a petition from Daniel and Peggy Lang to vacate an alley located between Lot Number 20 and Lot Number 21 in Buford and agreed to set the time and date for a public viewing to be held at the site at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 24 and a hearing at 11 a.m. in the commissioners office.
    • The authorization of additional appropriation to the sheriff’s budget as follows: from Unappropriated Funds to Sheriff Employee Salaries, in the amount of $21,060.