From left, OhioSE president Mike Jacoby speaks to Highland County commissioners as project manager Taylor Stepp and manager of engagement and partnerships Destiny Bryson look on. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
From left, OhioSE president Mike Jacoby speaks to Highland County commissioners as project manager Taylor Stepp and manager of engagement and partnerships Destiny Bryson look on. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels discussed the county’s permissive sales tax receipts — which have surpassed $5 million this year — and met with Ohio Southeast Economic Development representatives during their Wednesday, July 21 meeting.

Highland County auditor Bill Fawley provided commissioners with the July 2021 permissive sales tax receipts, with the county surpassing $800,000 in receipts for a second straight month. In June, the county reported $889,862.26, the highest-ever total recorded for one month, according to Duncan.

The July 2021 total is $812,025.05, an increase of $204,925.99 over the total in July 2020.

“We’re still running ahead of last year,” Duncan said. “We’re doing well. The community continues to buy locally, apparently, so that’s good news.”

For the first seven months of 2021, Highland County is showing an increase of $1,043,277.83 over January through July 2020. As of July, the county’s total is $5,101,176.97 for 2021.

Daniels asked Fawley to comment on the trends and when they will “normalize.”

“I think most of this we would consider to be somewhat COVID-related, and people spending more money locally,” Daniels said. “We’re not seeing an increase in the base as much as we are some of that spending of available dollars. We would assume that that would probably go back down at some point.”

Since July 2020, the monthly total has not dropped below $600,000, and in that 13-month span, there have been six months with totals above $700,000.

Fawley said that the Department of Taxation advised him that “we should probably plan on [sales tax receipts] going back down some, but not to where it was even last year.”

“They think it’s still going to maintain,” he said. “Part of that is based on the additional funds that people are continuing to get from the government.”

Daniels said that “at some point or another,” the permissive sales tax receipts will “normalize.”

“We haven’t increased our taxes,” Daniels said. “We haven’t increased our ability to bring in additional revenue. This is just what’s happening as a result of additional money available from the federal government to people that are spending it.”

Fawley said that the 2022 budget will also reflect the fact that the receipts will eventually return to their previous levels. “The number I give you next year to plan your budget will not necessarily be as high as what these numbers are,” he said. “I think next year, they probably will not be at this level.”

Daniels added that people have “commented” to the commission that the county is “collecting more than we need” on sales tax.

“This is an anomaly that’s gone on for about a year and a half since COVID hit, and we have every reason to believe that that will normalize at some point or another,” he said.

However, Fawley pointed out that the additional revenues have given the county the opportunity to pay for some improvements, including replacing all the windows at the administration building, that “we couldn’t afford” to fund in previous years.

“This increased sales tax has allowed you to do some things that should have been done [before],” the auditor said.

• • •

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners met with Ohio Southeast Economic Development (OhioSE) president Mike Jacoby, manager of engagement and partnerships Destiny Bryson and project manager Taylor Stepp. Highland County Economic Development Director Julie Bolender and Greenfield City Manger Todd Wilkin were present for the meeting as well.

Jacoby gave an overview of OhioSE, which he described as “a regional nonprofit economic development organization covering 25 counties in southern and eastern Ohio.” They were formerly known as the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (APEG).

“We are essentially serving as the field staff for JobsOhio,” Jacoby said. “We work very closely with local development professionals and local elected leaders and commissioners as well.”

The OhioSE staff provided the commission with a copy of their annual report for 2020, which said that the “businesses they helped pledged to create 875 new jobs and invest over $382 million in fixed assets” last year. They do this work primarily through business retention and expansion visits, as their report said 276 company meetings were held in 2020.

“We go out and visit businesses in our target sectors,” Jacoby told commissioners. “Those tend to be manufacturing, distribution, corporate headquarters and information technology, those types of things. We try to understand what’s going on with these businesses, if there’s a way we can help.”

Last year, they also “launched an engagement and strategic partnerships effort,” with Bryson — who was formerly the executive director of both the Highland County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau — tapped to lead engagement efforts in southern Ohio.

“She’s interfacing a lot with communities,” Jacoby said. “What are things that communities can be doing? What do they need help with on the economic development front?”

As project manager, Stepp is involved in “interfacing with companies,” including identifying “opportunities” or “problems,” Jacoby said. For these companies, OhioSE offers “incentive programs,” such as grants, as well as “site selection” services, according to Jacoby.

OhioSE is also offering free human resource webinars beginning next week for local companies.

“In the world today, if you’re a company and you’re competing to find workers and you’re not doing everything you can on the internet to properly post the job in the right places with the right keywords, you’re at a competitive disadvantage,” Jacoby said. “We’re going to have a series of webinars to help human resource directors with that.”

The organization also offers online and in-person training sessions for elected officials.

In addition, an “American Rescue Plan guidebook” on how to best use the federal funds is being finalized and will be distributed to communities in the coming weeks, Jacoby said.

Jacoby said the OhioSE staff is “excited” to work with Bolender, who he said “has a great background” and will be a “fantastic” addition to the community. He also spoke about Highland County’s status in the region, praising the county for the variety of industries and skilled workforce it offers.

“For not being a huge place, you’ve done very well,” Jacoby said. “Since we were formed in 2011, I think we’ve helped support 18 projects in your county, and those companies that we’ve assisted have created or will create 673 jobs. I think it’s over $50 million in fixed asset investments that they make.

“My gut is you’ve got one of the higher skilled workforces, in terms of you’ve got aerospace suppliers, you’ve got auto suppliers.”

In addition, the Village of Greenfield was selected for OhioSE’s Prepared Communities Program earlier this year, as noted by Jacoby, and both Greenfield and Leesburg are home to SiteOhio authenticated industrial parks.

“We have no other counties with two [SiteOhio] authenticated properties,” Jacoby said. “A lot of our counties have no authenticated properties.

“I guess what I want to say is Highland County has done very well. I think you have more and more potential.”

Jacoby encouraged Highland County to “avail yourselves of the resources we have.” For more information on OhioSE, go to www.ohiose.com or email info@ohiose.com.

Commissioners voted to enter into two separate executive sessions regarding economic development — one with the OhioSE representatives and Bolender, and one with Wilkin — after their regular session Wednesday morning. No action was taken.

In other action:

• Commissioners discussed, and voted to accept, a $10,898 bid from Stanley Technologies for new entry doors at the Hi-TEC building.

“We’ve got doors out at the Hi-TEC building that aren’t operating properly, and those are the original doors,” Duncan said. “The company’s come and inspected them to see if they can be rebuilt, and they’re telling us that they’re in such bad shape that they probably should be completely removed and new ones put in.”

Daniels moved to accept the bid, which passed, 3-0.

• Commissioners also voted to accept a $26,500 bid from Wayne Dance for additional work on the Highland County Administration Building.

Last summer, Dance began working on repairs to damaged brick around the Highland County Administration Building windows, and this summer, the county had all of the windows replaced.

“The old windows had some moisture seeping through the brick into some of the structure that holds the brick in place, and it rusted and swelled and broke some of the windows,” Duncan said. “We had that replaced and fixed, so the contractor who was doing that suggested that we seal the brick to keep the moisture from migrating in.”

Duncan said that Dance provided the county with an estimate of $26,500 for power-washing and sealing the brick. According to Britton, “It’s definitely something that’s got to be done.”

“It sounds like a lot of money, but they’re going to have to pressure wash this whole building and apply two coats of a silicone sealer,” Duncan said. “There’s a lot of labor involved.”

That quote was also accepted by a 3-0 vote.

• Commissioners approved five contracts related to phone upgrades, including a standard sale agreement with Greystone Systems for the economic development office; a standard sale agreement with Greystone Systems for the administration building, courthouse and Hi-TEC building for the installation of telephone equipment and cabling; a service activation form through Host My SIP for the administration, Hi-TEC and probation department buildings; letters of authorization to port numbers with Host My SIP; and a standard commercial security agreement with Greystone Systems for an emergency button system for the administration building and courthouse.

• Commissioners approved two contracts with the Highland County Historical Society for the lease of the Scott House West Room (one for the first floor and one for the second floor) for the economic development office.

• A contract with Miller-Mason Paving and the Highland County engineer’s office for previously authorized road resurfacing work was approved.

• Commissioners approved an application of Local Emergency Planning Committee member appointments for multiple members. According to Duncan, Highland County Emergency Management Agency Director David Bushelman “submitted an updated plan.”

• Three separate quit-claim deeds, all related to previously authorized alley vacations, were also approved.

Commissioners also approved the following resolutions:

• A budget modification within the sheriff’s budget in the amount of $4,000.

• A budget modification within the economic development budget in the amount of $3,000.

• A resolution endorsing the Paint Valley ADAMH levy renewal for approval in the Nov. 2, 2021 election.