Though they have abandoned the long-delayed Rocky Fork Lake area grant, Highland County commissioners Wednesday demonstrated their commitment to the spirit of it by approving a resolution authorizing funding for a county land bank.
As previously reported by The Times-Gazette, funding for what is now called the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation would come from delinquent tax and assessment collection funds, referred to as DETAC.
Commissioners had been considering authorizing 5 percent of the biannual DETAC monies to fund the land bank for unrestricted use of blighted property clean up, not only in the lake region but throughout Highland County as well.
“We’ve been talking about this for a couple of months,” Commissioner Jeff Duncan said. “So hopefully we can get that up and rolling here at the beginning of the year.”
He said that there were additional details to work out, but expressed confidence that the land bank would be in full operation at the start of the new year.
Establishment of the land bank was one of the items that federal officials told commissioners to get rid of early on in the grant approval process.
However, commissioners felt strongly that the land bank was an integral part of the $844,000 Rocky Fork Lake Area Safety and Advancement Project, and was paramount in its stated goal of elimination of property blight. They also were firm in their belief that with the removal of blighted properties, criminal activity would be curtailed and economic development would increase, which were other goals of the grant.
Commissioners last week decided to end their efforts at pursuing the federal grant, citing a federal bureaucracy that was both inflexible and enamored with red tape.
In other matters, Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner told commissioners that Hepatitis-A continues to be a concern in the region, reporting that his office now has 20 confirmed cases of the highly contagious liver infection in Highland County.
“We’re continuing to see some increases, luckily not as many as are in our neighboring counties,” he said.
Warner added that none of the current cases involve what he calls “sensitive” occupations, like food service or health care.
Commissioner Abernathy said that discussions are still on-going with Aramark Food, Facility and Uniform Services in regard to its proposal of installing a high-tech body scanner at the jail facility. He added that commissioners will be meeting again with Sheriff Donnie Barrera regarding options related to the scanner acquisition.
Aramark representative Mike Colvin submitted three proposals to commissioners during last week’s meeting, each of which has the financing coming from what the company charges the county per meal for inmates.
Abernathy called the proposed scanner procurement “another layer of protection” for the jail that would “reduce the amount of liability the county would be subject to” in terms of drug overdoses that have been reported in neighboring corrections facilities.
Discussions that will lead to finalizing the 2019 budget are progressing, with Abernathy commending fellow commissioner Terry Britton for taking the lead on talks with county department heads.
Britton said that he intends to wrap up discussions on the $10.15 million operating budget by Dec. 19.
Duncan said that all three commissioners recently attended the County Commissioners Association of Ohio annual winter conference and trade show at the Hyatt Regency and Greater Columbus Convention Center.
“It was good conference,” he said, “and hopefully we picked up some information that will be helpful to Highland County in the future.”
Also Wednesday, commissioners approved seven other line item budgetary spending items in addition to the one dealing with DETAC funds for land bank usage.
Commissioners also signed off on 11 contracts, nine of which dealt with the housing of prisoners from the city of Hillsboro, the villages of Greenfield, Leesburg, Georgetown, Mariemont, Mount Orab, Oak Hill and Winchester, and Fayette County, for fiscal year 2019.
Due to the holidays, and since commissioners meetings are always open to the public, Duncan announced some changes in the year-end schedule.
Because of Christmas falling on a Tuesday, he said the regular Wednesday meeting would be moved to Thursday morning Dec. 27 at 8:30 a.m.
With New Year’s Day also on a Tuesday and with little business scheduled, the meeting for the first week of the year has been cancelled.
Commissioners, however, will be doing double-duty the following week, with an annual reorganizational meeting set for Monday, Jan. 7 at 9 a.m., and the first regularly scheduled commissioners meeting of 2019 on Wednesday. Jan. 9 at 8:30 a.m.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571