Pictured (l-r) are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Pictured (l-r) are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels approved a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) resolution for a local solar project and discussed plans for public sewer billing changes during a brief meeting Wednesday, Oct. 5.

During the regular passage of resolutions, commissioners voted 3-0 to “approve a qualifying energy project application for Dodson Creek Solar LLC.”

As previously reported, the Ohio Power Siting Board voted unanimously Thursday, Sept. 15 to award a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need to construct the Dodson Creek Solar facility in Highland County.

Dodson Creek is a proposed up to 117 megawatt (MW) solar development spanning approximately 1,429 acres in Dodson and Hamer townships. The project was exempt from Senate Bill 52 regulations, having already obtained its OPSB letter of completeness, finishing a system impact study from PJM and paying PJM fees prior to the bill’s effective date.

The estimated construction start date is September 2023, according to Dodson Creek’s application for certification of a qualified energy project. Its planned location will be “near the intersection of US 50 and Gibler Road in Dodson Township,” the application says. 

The commission received a copy of that application with a letter, dated Sept. 19, from Eric Lindner of the Ohio Department of Development. According to the letter from the ODOD, under the Ohio Revised Code, the commission was required to “adopt a resolution approving or rejecting the application.”

“Adopting a resolution approving the project will require Dodson Creek Solar, LLC to remit a payment in lieu of taxes to the county in exchange for an exemption from public utility personal property taxes and real property taxes,” Lindner wrote.

Through the resolution passed Wednesday, commissioners “hereby approved” Dodson Creek’s application for an exemption “from otherwise applicable public utility personal property and taxes.”

According to the resolution, the “amount of the annual PILOT shall be $7,000 per megawatt,” and “the amount of the additional annual service payment shall be $2,000 per megawatt,” for a combined $9,000 per megawatt — the maximum allowable under state law.

There was no discussion prior to commissioners’ vote Wednesday morning.

• • •

During the nine-minute meeting, the lone item on the agenda for discussion was two sewer systems operated by the county.

Although no official action was taken Wednesday, commissioners said they wanted to make the public aware that they are planning to implement changes for the Lakeside and Rolling Acres public sewer systems. That includes switching customers for both systems to monthly billing, as the county has also done with the Rocky Fork Lake system.

“They have to stand on their own,” Britton said. “With this, we're going to go into monthly billing for these two small sewers.

“We’re looking to do that at the beginning of the year, so we'll be letting all the people that's on those two sewers know. There'll be a letter going out to them to let them know that we're going to go to the monthly billing and what the monthly billing is going to be.”

As previously reported, the commission voted in June 2021 to approve revised sewer use rules for all Highland County sanitary sewers for the first time in 25 years. In addition to needing to modernize the sewer use rules, commissioners named other issues, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding debt, increased operational costs and stress on the system due to people using “banned substances” and tapping into the system without prior approval.

Daniels said in June 2021 that the county was planning to implement “a new billing system so that we can do a better job of keeping track of who’s delinquent and who’s not.” The county began conducting shutoffs for nonpayment in March 2022.

Britton said that Rolling Acres is “definitely one that we're going to have to make some adjustments on,” with Daniels adding that it’s “underwater right now” from a financial standpoint.

“We're not collecting what it costs to operate,” Daniels said. “Normally, those [fees] were collected on an assessment, if I'm not mistaken. Those were actually put on people's taxes.

“We’ve had what I believe is a great deal of success with monthly billing with the Rocky Fork Lake sewer system, and we’re going to convert those over to the same thing. These systems have never had that delinquency rate that Rocky Fork has had, but nevertheless, this is just an easier way to end up getting compliance and to do billing.”

Britton said the county is also seeking funding from the state to make repairs to Rolling Acres, hopefully covering the costs instead of assessing those fees to users.

“That's going to help those residents,” Britton said. “Normally would that be put on as an assessment, but with some of the money that we've got coming in, we're going to try to do some upgrades out there.”

Daniels said that the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funding coordinator, Nicole Oberrecht, has advised that those funds through the Ohio Water Development Authority should be awarded in early 2023.

• • •

In other discussion:

• Britton said the contractor for the Buford School demolition project has “guaranteed” the county that the project will be completed by the end of the month.

The demolition and cleanup at the site of the former school building in Clay Township has been ongoing since August.

“That's kind of been dragging along here, but they've had some issues,” Britton said.

In addition to the resolution for Dodson Creek Solar, commissioners approved the following resolutions, each by a 3-0 vote:

• A reimbursement of funds from Child Support Enforcement, C-00 to Public Assistance, H-00 in the amount of $18,370.15.

• A budget modification within the Engineer’s Repair — MVL fund in the amount of $20,000.

• A budget modification within the Auditor’s Real Estate Assessment fund in the amount of $10,000.

• A request for an additional appropriation within the Sheriff’s budget from unappropriated funds within the Sheriff’s budget in the amount of $5,112.68.

Commissioners also voted 3-0 to approve two contracts:

• A bid documents contract among commissioners, the county engineer and PDK Construction, Inc. for various guardrail improvements for fiscal year 2023. As previously reported, commissioners passed a resolution Aug. 31 awarding the HIG-VAR Guardrail FY23 bid to PDK Construction, Inc. in the amount of $292,321.25.

• Amendment No. 1 to a subgrant agreement between commissioners and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services for reallocated unspent FCFC funds from last fiscal year.