Washington Township Trustee Arthur Harless (standing) speaks at the Feb. 20 county commissioners' meeting in opposition to a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center in Folsom. (HCP photo by Rory Ryan.)
Washington Township Trustee Arthur Harless (standing) speaks at the Feb. 20 county commissioners' meeting in opposition to a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center in Folsom. (HCP photo by Rory Ryan.)

With a rare standing-room-only crowd, the Highland County Board of Commissioners heard from several Washington Township residents Wednesday, all of whom voiced displeasure with a proposed drug and alcohol recovery center in Folsom.

Last week, representatives of the Ohio Mission Bible Training Center met with county commissioners to discuss a proposed residential "discipleship-training program specializing in alcohol, drug and emotional problems" that could be located in Folsom at the corner of Folsom Road and S.R. 247. Commissioner Tom Horst said last week the house and property were being sold by his cousin, Becky Basford, who suggested commissioners meet with the potential new owners.

Anita Thayer, assistant executive director of the Ohio Mission Bible Training Center, told commissioners at their Feb. 13 meeting that $55,000 must be raised in order to purchase the house located on the Basford property.

"This is an eight- to 10-month Christian disciple program for those struggling with drug or alcohol addiction," Thayer said.

After the Feb. 13 announcement, Washington Township Trustee Arthur Harless requested to be on the commissioners' agenda at the Feb. 20 meeting.

"I had some concerns after citizens called me about the center," Harless said Wednesday, with approximately 25 other Washington Township residents in attendance, including several who were standing during the meeting.

"There are issues with out-of-state residents (who will be housed at the treatment center)," Harless said. "I talked to (Highland County Sheriff) Ron Ward. He was concerned, too. He thought, if they did have a problem, reaction time would be slow. If something did happen, neighbors would have to take care of it.

"The older residents are concerned. We all are," Harless said. "I understand the need for this (a treatment facility), but I have security concerns."

Thayer also attended the Feb. 20 meeting. "I have spoken with Ron Ward," she said. "I understand the concerns. The concerns are the 'unknown.' In my 5 1/2 years in Savannah, Ga. (at a sister treatment center), we never called the police. I don't foresee a problem. The people are under constant supervision. If someone causes a problem, we pack them up and take them to the bus station."

"Do you do a background check (on the residents)?" Harless asked.

"No, we do not," Thayer answered.

"That's a problem," Harless said. "Eighty-seven percent (the center's stated success rate) is good, but what about the other 13 percent? I think Ron Ward would like to do fingerprints and a background check."

(At the Feb. 13 meeting, Thayer stated that the center did background checks on its clients.)

Berrysville resident Don Kelley asked: "Why don't we take care of our own people instead of bringing them in from all over the country?"

Kelley's question was in reference to a question last week by Commissioner Horst about where the program gets its referrals.

Thayer explained: "They find us – by word of mouth. We probably will not take people from Hillsboro (or the surrounding area). We will refer them to our other facilities. Those (out-of-state) facilities will refer people to this facility. We find that when people get upset, they will walk away from the facility." Thayer said it's not that easy to "walk away" if the client is from another state. "We do background checks and we make sure they are ready and willing to change their lives," Thayer said.

Commissioner Jeremy Shaffer followed Kelley's question by asking if the center employs trained counselors.

"No, we're all trained from the 'school of hard knocks,'" Thayer said.

Washington Township resident Martha Palmer asked several questions and voiced concerns about the staff's lack of licensure.

"What kind of liability insurance do they have? Is the property tax-exempt? They will be using county services," Palmer said.

"I don't know about taxes," Commissioner Shane Wilkin said, and looked to his left in the direction of Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins.

"They are a non-profit," Collins said. "Typically, they would file with the state to be tax-exempt."

Collins said both the house and property would be tax-exempt if the center files as a non-profit with the state of Ohio.

"There's no requirement by the county (for the center) to carry insurance," Collins said. "We have no legal right."

According to Thayer, "normally, each property will have its insurance (funded through private donations)."

"Will you be using any county services?" Shaffer asked.

"Possibly," Thayer said, "If someone is sick and needs to see a physician, we would go the cheapest route."

To that, Harless stated: "It would come back on us – if they have no money or insurance."

Other questions were asked about fire codes and the property's private septic system and if it were able to accommodate a facility housing as many as 40 people.

"All of those things will be dealt with when the facility is opening," Thayer said. "The sewage system – I'm not sure on that. We'll look into it. We won't have 40 people in the beginning."

"Do you take people with mental health issues?" Shaffer asked.

"Yes, we do," Thayer said.

 

Folsom resident Emerson Willis said: "I understand the need to help, but what assurances are there that they won't walk into my grandmother's house 100 yards away?"

"In the history of Mission Teens that has not happened," Thayer said. "There are no problems with Crossville (Mission Bible Training Center in Crossville, Tenn.). There's nothing to stop anyone from walking out the door. If they do walk out, we will pick them up and take them to the bus station."

Brenda Harless then asked county officials: "Is there anything we can do (to prevent the Folsom center)?"

"No, I don't think there is," Collins said. "Washington Township is not zoned.

"I understand how you feel," Collins told Washington Township residents. "I would feel the same way if this was coming to (state Route) 138 (near her home)."

"We're not getting any answers here," Brenda Harless said.

"Part of the problem," Wilkin said, "is a lot of times when you bring up zoning, it's a bad word – until you have a problem. Then, everyone wants to be retroactive instead of pro-active."

(At one point, Wilkin asked for a show of hands among zoning supporters. Fewer than half of the people in attendance raised their hands.)

"When I built my house, I built in Hillsboro because I wanted zoning," Horst said. "I didn't want someone to put a $29 trailer across the road from me."

Horst suggested township residents contact their state representative (Rep. Cliff Rosenberger) to discuss the situation.

Folsom resident Dale McCoy asked Thayer: "How in the world did you find Folsom?"

"A woman from Highland County went through the Crossville program," Thayer said. "One of our representatives came up and started looking at property."

(The Folsom property had been for sale for several months.)

Commissioners then were asked how they knew about the proposed center in Folsom.

"A person (Becky Basford) called me and said 'I've sold my property,'" Horst said.

"So you did know about it?"

"Yes," Horst said.

"These people have no oversight in the state whatsoever," Palmer said.

"If we don't want them here, we should say, 'Do not donate to this organization,'" Harless said.

Wilkin pointed out that (to their credit) the center's representatives volunteered to attend the Feb. 20 meeting and address local concerns.

Shaffer asked Thayer to keep an open line of communication with the Washington Township trustees, the county commissioners and the local media.

"Let us know what's going on, moving forward," Shaffer said.