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Commissioners attend governor's Appalachian Community Grant announcement; conduct CHIP hearing with HCCAO

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Highland County commissioners (l-r) David Daniels, Brad Roades and Terry Britton are pictured. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Caitlin Forsha, The Highland County Press

Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Brad Roades and Terry Britton started their Wednesday, May 1 meeting an hour early in order to head to Chillicothe for an 11 a.m. appointment with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Development Director Lydia Mihalik. Commissioners said they were hoping to receive “good news” about the long-discussed Appalachian Community Grant Program, which they did: the state announced a $12.6 million investment in Highland County, as well as multimillion-dollar investments in several surrounding counties.

The Village of Greenfield was awarded the largest Highland County project, with $5,371,410 in funding to renovate Felson Park.

“After years of hard work, we've secured the keys to revitalize Felson Park,” the Village posted on their Facebook Wednesday. “The envisioned quarry project will not only rejuvenate the park but also serve as a magnet for our youth, Ohioans and even international visitors drawn to our neighboring UNESCO sites.

“These enhancements aim to transform it into a regional hub along the Paint Creek bikeway, offering a venue for cultural events, festivals and civic gatherings. Additionally, the park will function as a vital trailhead for bikeway enthusiasts, linking with the Tri-County Triangle Trail. With livery access to Paint Creek, we'll establish a canoe and kayak blue-way trail leading to Paint Creek Lake, expanding opportunities for camping and outdoor recreation and facilitating multi-activity trips.

"Today marks a historic milestone for us all."

A map of the proposed improvements can be found on the Village of Greenfield’s Facebook.

The City of Hillsboro also received over $5 million, with a $5,204,536 award to supplement already earmarked grant funding for Crossroads Park (formerly known as the green space on West Main Street). As previously reported, the city has already secured $100,000 in state capital funding, through a partnership with Southern State Community College, for the project. The park has served as the site for the Hillsboro Festival of the Bells and other local events, including the city’s Movies Under the Stars and Jeepers Creepers programs.

“The City of Hillsboro was honored to be awarded $5,204,536 in Appalachian Community grant funds during yesterday’s announcement by Governor DeWine and colleagues from the Department of Development and Governor’s Office of Appalachia,” the City of Hillsboro administration posted on Facebook Thursday. “The vision of Crossroads Park has been years in the making with every inch of the park planned through local collaborations. The city took action with acquisition, completing environmental assessments, renderings, community input, and began planning events to have evidence-based metrics to gauge the impacts and sustainability. 

“Crossroads Park will include an outdoor gathering space, amphitheater, renovation of an existing building to serve as a community center, water feature, playground and beautification of the surrounding streetscape. The amphitheater area will include a stage and restrooms, a separate restroom/concession stand, a light/sound booth and several lawns with paths to facilitate movement and seating. 

“In addition to Crossroads Park, the surrounding area was also incorporated into the planning to further the overall visual and regional impact. Nearby basketball courts received over a $50,000 facelift and fundraising efforts are paving the way for future pickleball courts. Also, the city was recently awarded a 1.2-million-dollar grant for a Rails to Trails project, with over 2.4 miles in trails leading to the park. Crossroads Park will also serve as a trail head for the trail. 

“‘Large’, ‘Impact’, ‘Regional’, ‘Visual’, have always been the keywords for this project to ensure transformational change and to be catalytic in nature for future development and generational investments.”

The villages of Leesburg and Lynchburg each received over a million dollars for park improvements as well. Leesburg was awarded $1,052,995 to renovate a currently defunct downtown park. Lynchburg’s $1,001,390 award will go toward upgrading their downtown park. 

The awards came almost exactly two years to the day after Lt. Governor Jon Husted announced the $500 million grant program at a stop in Hillsboro. (For more, see:….) 

According to the Ohio Governor’s Office, “Funding for the Appalachian Downtowns and Destinations Initiative is being awarded through the larger Appalachian Community Grant Program, which is investing $500 million into Ohio's 32-county Appalachian region. The DeWine-Husted Administration spearheaded this unprecedented investment with support from the Ohio General Assembly in 2022.

“Previously announced grant awards include $64 million to improve access to healthcare across the region through the new Appalachian Children’s Health Initiative and approximately $80 million for several  shovel-ready projects and planning grants.

“Nearly $200 million in remaining Appalachian Community Grant Program funding will be announced in coming weeks. The program is administered by the Governor's Office of Appalachia within the Ohio Department of Development. In total, the DeWine-Husted Administration has invested approximately $2 billion in Ohio's Appalachian counties since 2019.”

More information on Wednesday’s grants can be found at:….

In other discussion:

• Commissioners met with representatives of Highland County Community Action Organization for an initial public hearing on the Community Housing Impact and Preservation (CHIP) Program.

Attending the meeting were HCCAO Executive Director Julia Wise, home inspector Keith LaFontaine and new housing director Jeanette Mottie, who said she is in her sixth day on the job after former director Mark Current retired.

From left, HCCAO housing director Jeanette Mottie, home inspector Keith LaFontaine and executive director Julia Wise are pictured.

As noted by Wise, Highland County is due to apply to the Ohio Department of Development for the CHIP Program in 2024, as they submit applications every two years. The application is a partnership among the county, HCCAO and City of Hillsboro, she said.

“It is competitive, but fortunately, we've had good luck with the program,” Wise said. “We hope we're going to do it again, but we are required to do public hearings, if anybody wants to make comments or anything about our proposal.”

According to the ODOD, “The Community Housing Impact and Preservation (CHIP) Program provides funding to Ohio’s non-entitlement communities to improve and provide affordable housing for low- and moderate-income citizens. CHIP funds are distributed in one competitive funding round per year. Eligible applicants can only submit one application per round.

“Through the CHIP Program, eligible communities can undertake a variety of housing-related activities. Through a flexible, community-wide approach, communities improve and provide affordable housing for low- and moderate-income persons, and strengthen neighborhoods through community collaboration.”

Wise said that the applications for 2024 have not yet been released, as Mottie said the application period opens May 7. 

LaFontaine explained that “the people that apply have to be income qualified, they have to own and live in their home and it has to be inspected” to ensure the home is not “too far gone” in order to be repaired under their financial constraints.

“There is a limit on repairs and rehabs, but we can request to go over the limit,” he said. “We have to have a good reason.”

Daniels added that “it’s important to understand” that the program can help get properties “come up to a livable condition. 

“Maybe it doesn't completely rehab or make it like brand new, but it allows people to stay in their home and upgrade some of the mechanical systems in the home,” he said.

Wise said she believed that over 20 homes were impacted by the most recent CHIP grant.

“Just to add to that, last year, Community Action served over 8,000 different people in the county,” Wise said. “Some of them got two or three or four services, like HEAP [Home Energy Assistance Program] and senior meals and food pantry, but overall, we're really hitting the county hard.”

Mottie said they will return for a second public hearing May 22. 

• Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a change order from Doll Layman Ltd., the county’s contractor on the Rocky Fork Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant improvement project, in the amount of $46,682.27. The change order covers electrical duct bank relocation, rock excavation and sludge hoses, according to ARPA funding coordinator Nicole Oberrecht.

“They did run into some rock when they were digging for the two clarifiers, so they broke down extra time that they had to spend on that, some additional equipment rental,” Oberrecht said. “The most costly of the change order is rerouting some electrical that they had to move around in order to get to the oxidation ditches and things like that. It wasn't on the plans and sort of didn't really know it was there until they got to excavating, so there's some invoices in here from the electrician. 

“Lastly was just to purchase some sludge hoses, so that's just to reroute sludge, sort of in and around the project area.”

Oberrecht added that “barring any unforeseen circumstances,” this is the only change order anticipated, and the contractor is still on target for the substantial completion date of Aug. 24.

“They've done a good job,” Daniels said. “They appear to be on time, on schedule. There were a couple of pieces of equipment that have gotten delayed, but they still think that they’ll be in, as I recall, without a big project delay.” 

• Commissioners approved an amendment to a subgrant agreement between the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and Highland County Job and Family Services to reflect a SFY2024 budget increase.

“Rhonda Fannin, our coordinator, attended some training on some services that the state is hoping for local Family and Children First Councils to begin to implement,” Highland County Job and Family Services Director Jeremy Ratcliff said. “As a result, they've incentivized her attendance in that training, and so these dollars are just incentives that she's earned for attending the training and will now have locally available to us to use to serve our families and children.”

• Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a contract between Miller-Mason Paving Co. and the Highland County Engineer for the 2024 Highland County chip/seal program. Miller-Mason submitted a bid in the amount of $656,200.

• Commissioners authorized the commission president to execute two planned service agreements with Johnson Controls – one for the Highland County Justice Center and one for the Hi-TEC building — regarding fire hydrant tests and inspections.

• Commissioners agreed to issue a notice of award to Crane Pumps & Systems, who submitted a bid in the amount of $314,500 for Rocky Fork Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant grinder pump procurement.

• Via resolution, commissioners approved the following:
— A transfer of funds from Children Services Fund, 2115 to Public Assistance Fund, 2050 in the amount of $49,018.09 for January – March 2024 Children Services shared cost distribution;

—  A transfer of funds from Child Support Enforcement Administration, 2015 to Public Assistance Fund, 2050 in the amount of $28,906.87 for January – March 2024 Child Support shared cost distribution; and

— An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within the Engineer’s Repair MVL fund, 2065 in the amount of $708,828.57.

• Commissioners started their meeting at 8 a.m. with an executive session on compensation/personnel that ended at 8:36 a.m., at which point commissioners began their regular session.

For more from Wednesday’s meeting, see the stories at:…


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