Calling it a “bittersweet time for me,” Highland County Engineer P. Dean Otworth informed commissioners during their Wednesday meeting that he was leaving the post he has held for the past 26-plus years to take a position with the Ohio Department of Transportation in Columbus.
“I’ve got an opportunity with the Ohio Department of Transportation to be their deputy director of operations in their central office,” he said. “I’d like for you to appoint my deputy Chris Fauber, who is dual-licensed and has worked with me over 19 years now, as my successor.”
Otworth said it wasn’t an easy decision and that he had “wrestled with it for a while,” but thanked both the commissioners and the people of Highland County.
“Your institutional knowledge will be missed and you’ve been a great asset to the county,” Commissioner Gary Abernathy said.
Commission President Jeff Duncan told Otworth that “we hate to see you go, but we don’t want to stand in the way of another opportunity that I think you’re well deserving of.”
Prior to becoming the county engineer, Otworth said he was deputy engineer for seven years, serving the county for more than 33 years in the engineer’s office.
Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner presented commissioners with his office’s annual report, which showed an increase in the number of immunizations, infectious disease tracking, animal bites and environmental health consultations.
“We’ve seen an increase in infectious diseases tracked at 504,” Warner said, “which is up from 260 last year, and most of what we’ve seen is Hepatitis A and C, and Chlamydia.”
He said that 2018 was the first time in five years the health department didn’t lose money, pointing out that one of the reasons for operating in the black was not replacing some vacant staff positions.
Warner also indicated money was still available to assist Highland County residents with septic problems and repairs, saying that a recent grant of $150,000 from the federal Environmental Protection Agency was earmarked for the 2018-19 fiscal year, and another grant for the same amount had been awarded for 2019-20.
“We still have funding available to help fix household sewer systems that are in disrepair,” he said. “It’s based on income, but the guidelines are pretty generous, a family of five making $75,000 a year can still be eligible for 50 percent.”
He said through inspection of county residential sewage systems, he knew of several property owners who were aware of problems but were “sitting on them, because it’s hard to set down and write an $8,000 check to get a septic system repaired.”
Tracy Evans and Dianna Fordyce of Grow! Highland County met with commissioners to bring them up to date on what the small business development organization has accomplished, and to seek guidance regarding securing future grants.
The local economic development program has been in existence for the past eight years and has helped in both starting up new businesses and assisting those already in existence.
“Based on our most recent statistics, in the last eight years Grow! Highland County has helped to start over 172 businesses,” Evans said. “We’ve helped over 90 existing businesses to either expand or to keep their doors open, we’ve created 138 jobs and retained 114 jobs, and that’s based on the statistics that we have, but I’m sure by now there are more.”
She said the organization helps new businesses create a business plan, assists in tax IDs, graphic and web design, business logos, and offers guidance for social media, advertising and marketing, with services that are free and confidential to the business community.
Fordyce pointed out the effectiveness of Grow! Highland County’s mission in what the organization has done to help business growth in Leesburg.
“Main Street in Leesburg has all those businesses on it, and those were all Grow! Highland County clients,” Fordyce said. “And oddly enough, they’re all women entrepreneurs, and that entire street that was abandoned buildings is now filled with businesses that are thriving, are paying taxes and most importantly, created jobs.”
Grow! Highland County has an annual operating budget of $34,000, which is funded by a United States Department of Agriculture grant and community donations from banks and organizations.
In other matters, one line item budget transfer resolution was approved and commissioners agreed to an engagement letter with Bricker & Eckler Attorneys at Law for legal representation in the county’s dealings with two solar panel farm companies.
They also agreed to sign a letter of support for Highland District Hospital in its current building expansion and renovation project, scheduled for completion in the summer of 2020.
Duncan reminded those in attendance that they would be participating in a service to be held in honor of Highland County veterans of the Vietnam War. The ceremony will be at noon Friday at the Veterans Memorial behind the Highland County Courthouse.
Commissioners then recessed and entered into a pair of executive sessions, both dealing with matters of economic development relating to the Willowbrook and Hecate solar farm projects.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.