Wood County

Wood County to give 3% raises, update 911 system

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Approximately 1,000 county employees will see 3 percent pay raises next year, an upgrade will begin on the county’s 911 system, and plans will proceed for an expansion of the county jail booking area. Those expenses are part of the $44.6 million in appropriations for 2018 approved Thursday by the Wood County Commissioners. The county appropriations for 2017 totaled $43 million. “In recognition of our most valuable asset – the people who work daily to provide service to Wood County citizens – we agreed to provide a wage increase of 3 percent to employees of all commissioners’ departments,” a letter signed by the three commissioners stated. In addition to the commissioners’ departments, the 3 percent raises will also be extended to employees in the prosecutor’s, recorder’s, court security and public defender’s offices. Most other county offices will be given the equivalent funding to be distributed as the elected officials see fit. The county commissioners have spent the last couple months listening to funding pitches from county offices. “It certainly takes all of us working together to make this happen,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said. “I now appreciate how much work” the county budget entails, Commissioner Ted Bowlus said. Commissioner Craig LaHote also voted in favor of the appropriations, but was unable to talk because of laryngitis. Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar praised the reasonable requests made by county officials. “No one asked for anything unusual,” he said. Some of the bigger items on the appropriation list include $800,000 for architectural and engineering work that is needed to renovate the booking area at the Wood County Justice Center. The other major construction project that came up during appropriation discussions – the moving of the county highway garage – did not receive any funding. The possibility of relocating the facility to the county’s East Gypsy Lane complex needs more study, Kalmar said. The appropriations also include a contract for upgrading the 911 system at the sheriff’s office. The contract is spread over five years, costing just over $1 million. Sharing in this cost are Bowling Green State University ($56,211), Ottawa County ($166,680), and Sandusky County/Clyde ($215,513). “The upgrade is a significant thing to do,” Kalmar said. “It’s an important thing for citizens.” The upgrade is necessary because the current system will no longer be supported by the manufacturer. The new system will have enhanced features, such as allowing people to text “911” for emergencies. The commissioners also continued efforts to rebuild the county’s permanent improvement fund, by setting aside $1.2 million. That funding is used to maintain and improve county owned buildings. New in 2017, was a shift in security at the courthouse complex, which led to some funding complexities. Court security continues to be provided by the existing court security program, while the security of the courthouse complex was taken over by the sheriff’s office. The combined budget for both security programs was set at $415,188. To remain within budget in 2018, both departments will have to schedule carefully using part-time staff. The county budget suffered a hit in 2017 from not being able to collect Medicaid sales tax. That change meant a reduction of $900,000 in sales tax annually, Kalmar said. However, the rest of the county’s sales tax revenue remains healthy, at…

County to address sexual harassment in workplace

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   In response to the growing outcry against sexual harassment in the workplace, Wood County government will soon be hosting a workshop for its employees. The webinar is being offered by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, and will cover the “Top Ten Dos and Don’ts for Sexual Harassment.” The program is being created by attorney Marc Fishel, who regularly represents public employers throughout Ohio on employment related issues. “Their emphasis is going to be – how do we keep public offices from getting into trouble,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. “Are there things you have been doing over time that might get you in trouble?” Though the CCAO promotion material for the webinar said the presentation will review “the most crucial areas that an employer should focus on in order to avoid claims of sexual harassment,” Kalmar said the emphasis will be on avoiding not just the claims, but the actual sexual harassment. “It will focus on how to make sure the culture of your workplace is respectful to all,” he said. The webinar will also discuss how to investigate alleged misconduct, and how to discipline employees if they engage in improper conduct. In a recent article on sexual harassment, Fishel defined the term and gave examples. “Sexual harassment is severe or pervasive conduct that can take many forms, including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and inappropriate sexual comments or references. Often, sexual harassment is physical, verbal or visual and involves an express or implied expectation that harassing actions must be tolerated in order to get or keep a job. Such an expectation also may be considered “sexual harassment” when used to make employment decisions (e.g., giving raises or promotions), or when inappropriate sexual behavior creates a hostile or intimidating work environment,” Fishel wrote. As far as examples, Fishel wrote, “Generally, circumstances determine whether conduct is considered sexual harassment. Examples may include sexual teasing, jokes or comments, massages or sexual touching, certain personal gifts, the display of sexually suggestive material and personal questions about an individual’s sexual life. But note that “sexual harassment” does not need to be lewd or sexual in nature to be illegal. Any severe or pervasive harassment aimed at a person because of his or her gender is considered sexual harassment. Further, a woman subjected to constant physical or verbal bullying and hostility because she is a woman may bring a claim of sexual harassment even if the harassment is not sexually explicit.” No county employees will be forced to attend, but all managers and supervisors will be expected to be there, Kalmar said. “If we offer a training, it’s my expectation that you will be there,” he said of his department. The webinar will take place in the county commissioners’ hearing room, which can hold approximately 70 people. Kalmar said the county’s showing of the webinar is not an indicator that the county has sexual harassment problems. “It’s certainly not rampant. My guess is it’s rare,” he said. “I think the county offices are a pretty good place to work. But it’s good to have it refreshed periodically.” The subject is currently addressed by a policy in the employee handbooks – “as with any other issue you might have,” Kalmar said. The first step is to bring the…

County parks to spend $807,990 on site improvements

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County Park District is planning more than $800,000 in capital improvements to its parks in 2018. More than half of the money – $420,000 will be spent on renovations to the Sawyer Quarry Preserve interpretive center in Perrysburg Township. That park, off Lime City Road, offers rappelling and bouldering in an old quarry. The other big ticket items for next year include $125,000 for bridge and parking lot construction at Baldwin Woods, where seasonal hunting is allowed, near Weston; $50,000 for playground equipment at William Henry Harrison Park near Pembervillle; and another $50,000 for playground equipment at Otsego Park near Grand Rapids. Following is a list of the improvements planned at the park district’s 20 sites: Buttonwood Park – $8,300 for parking lot repairs and miscellaneous. Cedar Creeks – $17,200 for parking lot sealcoat, paint restrooms and miscellaneous. Fuller Preserve – $500 for miscellaneous. William Henry Harrison – $52,000 for playground equipment and miscellaneous. Park headquarters – $2,000 for miscellaneous. W. Knight Preserve – $30,960 for nature center deck repairs, great room acoustic treatment, LOONA room window replacement and miscellaneous. Otsego Park – $61,000 for parking lot sealcoat, playground equipment and miscellaneous. Wood County Historical Center – $10,000 for shelter house repairs and miscellaneous. Zimmerman School – $12,800 for brick repairs, entrance ramp and entrance door replacement. Slippery Elm Trail – $23,850 to paint bollard posts, repair bridge railings; Cricket Frog Cove, miscellaneous; Rudolph Savanna/Midwood for pole barn repairs; and Black Swamp Preserve for boardwalk repairs. Baldwin Woods – $126,000 for bridge and parking lot construction, and miscellaneous. Carter Historic Farm – $17,980 for barn roof beam repair, barn ridge cap replacement , stone path to school, pasture fencing, orchard trees, parking lot repairs and miscellaneous. Bradner Preserve – $14,050 for deck construction, picnic tables, grill and miscellaneous. Beaver Creek Preserve – $3,000 for building furnishings and miscellaneous. Reuthinger Preserve – $7,650 for radiant heat for shop, replacement lighting for shop and miscellaneous. Sawyer Quarry Preserve – $427,000 for interpretive center renovations and building improvements, trail construction and miscellaneous. Other business discussed at Tuesday’s park district board meeting included an update on a request from AEP for an easement along the Slippery Elm Trail for power lines. Park District Director Neil Munger said that the revised request was much more acceptable than the original request, which asked for an easement along the west side of the trail from Quarry Road to the south end of the trail on Cherry Street in North Baltimore. The new request was for a much smaller area, including 0.001 acres near Needles Road plus at the very end of the trail. “This is a much better option here,” Munger said. “I was very happy to hear this.” The original request for AEP was met by opposition from people who did not want to see the trees and brush cut down on the west side of the trail. A representative of AEP plans to attend the park district’s January meeting. “I told him we weren’t really happy with what we were hearing,” Munger said of the original plans. Also at Tuesday’s meeting, board president Denny Parish mentioned that he had received questions about why Wood County Park District does not need to cull the deer population like…

After 10 years, Portage River cleanup to start soon

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The wait is nearly over for citizens who petitioned 10 years ago for a big portion of the Portage River to be cleaned out. On Thursday, the petitioners got two bits of good news. First, the county commissioners from Wood, Hancock and Seneca counties accepted a bid for the project. And second, that bid was $284,273 lower than expected. So after a decade of waiting, the Portage River project will likely get started in January. Four bids were received, with the lowest bid of $374,641 from H&H Land Clearing of Middlefield, Ohio, being accepted by the county commissioners. The highest bid came in at $547,782. Hancock County Commissioner Brian Robertson vouched for the H&H company, which has done work on the Blanchard River. The firm did a “fantastic job” and was “on task and on time,” Robertson said. The Portage River project is the biggest river cleanup undertaken in Wood County in terms of area, according to Wood County Engineer John Musteric. It follows 46 miles of the south and east branches of the Portage River, covering 111 square miles of watershed in Wood, Hancock and Seneca counties, affecting about 8,200 parcels of land. While the size of the project is great, the scope is not. There will be no digging, no widening, no channelizing. The river branches will be allowed to keep their meandering paths. The work will only remove logjams and trees leaning into the river. The cleanup of the Portage River branches is intended to reduce future flooding for properties along that stretch. Duane Abke, with the county engineer’s office, said the cleanup project may start as early as January. “Weather permitting, they like to do it when the land is frozen,” he said on Thursday. The Wood County Engineer’s Office plans to notify landowners right along the river as the project progresses to their properties. “Before the contractor shows up on their door step,” Abke said. The cleanup is expected to be completed by Aug. 1, 2019. The cost of the project will be divided among the landowners of the 8,200 parcels, based on the benefits their properties are expected to experience. The assessments can be paid all at once or be spread out over seven years on their taxes. Since the project bid came in under estimates, the assessments will be adjusted. When county engineer staff walked the river routes after the petition was filed a decade ago, there were approximately 243 log jams, 4,300 dead, fallen or leaning trees. It is believed there are now many more downed trees due to ash borer beetles. The river project has created some concerns from those residents downriver from the cleanup. New Rochester shouldn’t have to worry since there are no logjams between that community and Pemberville, according to the engineer’s office. However, Pemberville may experience more flooding due to its bridges and to some floodplain areas being filled in the past. Once the river project is completed, it will be put under a county maintenance plan.

KKK history in Wood County unmasked by BGSU prof

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   When the Ku Klux Klan took root in Wood County in the early 1920s, the members wore the traditional white robes and hoods, but there was little secrecy about their activities. There was no need to conceal their hatred since the membership roster included many local politicians, businessmen and ministers. Every Ohio county in the 1920s had an active Klan group, according to Michael E. Brooks, author of the book, “The Ku Klux Klan in Wood County, Ohio.” “Wood County is not particularly unique in having a history of the KKK,” said Brooks, a historian who teaches at BGSU. “What is unique is that the records survived.” Included in those records is a membership ledger that was reportedly rescued from a burn pile in 1976. The ledger, which is included in Brooks’ book, reads like a “Who’s Who” of Wood County, with familiar surnames recorded from every community. Brooks explains that economic uncertainty in the 1920s was one of the most significant factors in the rise of the reborn KKK in Ohio. Newspapers told of historically high unemployment rates, declining farm incomes and sluggish postwar economic growth. Membership records in the Center for Archival Collections at BGSU show that nearly 1,400 members paid dues to the Wood County KKK in 1924 and 1925. Once accepted into the Klan, the new members would be fitted for robes and hoods. Measurements would be taken at the local KKK office, and the information would be submitted to the national Klan headquarters for tailoring. No women or children were allowed. A 1927 phone book lists the KKK as having an address at 182½ S. Main St. in Bowling Green. “They didn’t have to sneak around at night. They could parade around in their robes,” Brooks said. “It was fashionable to be in the Klan.” The Klan was welcomed into many local churches during Sunday morning services. Many of the local ministers were members of the organization, like Rev. Rush A. Powell of the United Brethren Church in Bowling Green. Powell, a charter member of the Klan, told his congregation that he stood for the same principles as those held by his hooded guests – against criminal activity, undesirable immigrants and a decline in morality. Recruitment during church services was common. “The extent to which that was going on was very surprising,” Brooks said. Churches were used to add to the “moral legitimacy” of the group. According to records, nearly 40 percent of the Protestant clergy in Wood County were KKK members. People with political ambitions also were not afraid to add the Klan to their resume. “It helped get people elected,” Brooks said. In the 1920s and 1930s, Klan members in Wood County served as mayors, county commissioners, county sheriffs, county judges, county prosecutor, police officers, and village marshals. Also on the list of Klan members were school principals, superintendents and school board members. The KKK used large outdoor open rallies as recruitment tools. The gatherings often included band music, food concessions and games. Klan members, wearing their robes and hoods, would also make school visits. The prearranged visits often used ritual and ceremonial activities, with the Klan presenting gifts like flags and Bibles. Klan chapters purchased athletic sweaters for local high school sports teams, possibly…

County to set up 10 full-time recycling drop-off sites

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Rural Wood County residents will no longer have to store recyclables in their garages or cart them around in their cars to recycling centers far from home. On Thursday, the Wood County Commissioners approved plans to offer full-time recycling drop-off at 10 locations throughout the county. “We know everyone’s excited about having recycling 24/7,” Kelly O’Boyle, Wood County assistant administrator, said Friday. The new recycling drop-off sites will not require sorting of items, including plastic bottles, office paper, newspaper, aluminum and steel cans, cardboard, magazines and glass. Those areas in line to get permanent recycling locations are: Bloomdale and Perry Township Grand Rapids Jackson Township and Hoytville Jerry City, Cygnet, Portage, Portage Township and Rudolph Milton Township and Custar Pemberville Perrysburg Township Stony Ridge Tontogany and Washington Township Weston The North Baltimore recycling site will remain open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. The Bowling Green Recycling Center and NAT near Bradner both already operate as 24/7 drop-off locations. “Our goal is to provide the best service at the lowest cost.  We believe the ability to accept mixed recyclables will provide ease of use to our residents and likely the ability to recycle additional material,” O’Boyle said. The goal is to have the drop-off locations operating by no later than June of next year. A survey conducted in 2015, through a partnership between the solid waste district and Bowling Green State University master’s of public administration program, was conducted to determine the interest in recycling among rural Wood County residents. A total of 2,725 surveys were mailed to rural resident, with 683 being returned. The study found: Rural residents had a favorable attitude toward recycling. A number of the residents said they drive to Hancock and Lucas counties to use permanent recycling facilities. Of those who use the satellite locations, 55 percent said they would increase their use beyond once a month if permanent sites were made available. As it is now, mobile containers are placed at each of the satellite locations so residents can drop off their recyclables once a month. The recyclables are separated at most of the sites by Scouts or other community groups. Those groups are paid a per capita allocation that adds up to roughly $127,000 a year, according to O’Boyle. The satellite site program contracts with the Bowling Green Recycling Center to maintain the locations and transport the materials to the BG site. The contract is $86,400 for the year and expires at the end of this year. Originally, the plan was to set up a pilot program of 24/7 drop-off sites in the county. However, no quotes were received for the pilot. So based on the strong support in the survey results, it was decided to proceed with the 10 satellite sites. On Nov. 15, bids for the monthly satellite locations were opened. The bid from Bowling Green Recycling Center was $88,560, over by more than the 10 percent allowed by law. Therefore, the bid had to be rejected, according to O’Boyle. The current contract with the BGRC is expiring on Dec. 31.

Rover Pipeline ‘goodwill’ checks follow bad spill record

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Officials from Rover Pipeline – the company with 19 Ohio EPA violations so far and $2.3 million in fines and damages – presented some checks Tuesday to help first responders. The $10,000 checks, “offered in goodwill by the company,” are going to the emergency management agencies in each of the 18 counties in Ohio being traversed by Rover pipeline. Wood County is one of those on the route. The funds are to be used to purchase new equipment or offer additional training . “We hope these funds will go toward emergency first responders,” Bill Barth, senior specialist for emergency response with Rover, said as he passed on the giant checks. “We look forward to working with you.” Wood County EMA Director Brad Gilbert is grateful for the funds, but he would just as soon not have to work on a pipeline incident. He may use the check from Rover to help put a state MARCs radio system in the sheriff’s dispatch center. The $10,000 donation will pay just a portion of the total $40,000 expense. “The pressure’s on them to do the right thing during construction and operations,” Gilbert said of the pipeline. “Hopefully we don’t need it for any issues with them.” However, Rover’s accident record isn’t exactly clean. The check presentations come on the heels of Rover Pipeline being cited for a 19th environmental violation. Most recently, the Ohio EPA cited Rover for spilling contaminants into the Mohican River in Ashland County. When questioned about the level of trust counties should have in Rover, the company’s communications specialist said the 19 citations are based on Ohio EPA’s definition of a violation. “We’re showing different data,” Alexis Daniel said Tuesday as the pipeline firm prepared to hand out the giant checks in the Wood County Courthouse atrium to the EMA directors from Wood, Hancock and Seneca counties. The Rover pipeline is being constructed through southern Wood County on its way from West Virginia to Ontario, Canada. Despite the Ohio EPA’s records, Daniel said Rover has “not had an abundance of spills.” “The environment is very important to us,” she said. “We’ve been pretty diligent in following all the extra requirements” that were put in place after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission halted the pipeline work earlier this year. For more than four months, Rover had been under federal orders halting horizontal drilling at new Ohio locations due to numerous environmental violations. Among those was the release of more than two million gallons of industrial waste (drilling mud contaminated with diesel fuel) into a wetland in Tuscarawas County. The pipeline company subsequently dumped that same material into local quarries near sources for public drinking water. In this latest incident, the pipeline construction caused 200 gallons of bentonite-based drilling fluid to be released into a tributary of the Mohican River in Ashland County. Currently, Rover is also in violation of Ohio EPA’s orders from July, which required the company to file for a construction storm water general permit. The company has refused to comply with the order or pay the civil penalty. The state of Ohio filed a lawsuit against the Rover Pipeline on Friday, accusing pipeline operators Energy Transfer Partners, of discharging several million gallons of drilling fluid into local wetlands. The…

Wood County likes its status on low sales tax island

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County is on an island of low sales tax in this region – and officials have no intention of moving from its haven for penny-pinching shoppers. The county is surrounded by neighboring counties with higher sales tax rates, except for Hancock County, which is the same as Wood County. Some officials suspect that at least some shoppers are lured into Wood County because of the lower sales tax. “It’s probably not the first thought in their mind,” but on bigger purchases it could encourage shoppers to cross county lines, Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. The sales tax on a $1,000 refrigerator in Lucas County would be $72.5, compared to $67.5 in Wood County. “We’re like an island,” Kalmar said. “Everybody around us has a higher sales tax,” except Hancock County. In the recent general election, Hancock County voters had the chance to raise their sales tax there by 0.25 percent. The increase was soundly rejected, so that county will remain at the same low rate as Wood. Meanwhile most surrounding counties are 7.25 percent, including Lucas, Fulton, Henry, Sandusky and Seneca. The state takes the first 5.75 percent in sales tax revenue, then counties can raise sales tax up to an additional 2 percent. Counties and transit authorities are the only entities that can collect sales tax. The highest sales tax in the state is in Cuyahoga County at 8 percent, and Franklin County at 7.5 percent. Sales tax is a pretty solid revenue for Wood County. Last year, shoppers paid close to $21 million in sales tax. The receipts are even better this year, coming in at $1.8 million this October – a 13 percent increase over the $1.6 million brought in last October. “It’s a pretty decent amount of money,” Kalmar said. Wood County has benefited from a boom in retail growth, primarily in the Perrysburg and Rossford areas. Many stores that local residents previously had to go to Lucas County to patronize, can now be found on this side of the Maumee River. “Wood County is in a fortunate position because of retail growth in the county,” Kalmar said. Following is a list of sales tax percentages in Ohio: 8 percent – 1 county, Cuyahoga 7.5 percent – 1 county, Franklin 7.25 percent – 51 counties 7 percent – 13 counties 6.75 percent – 19 counties 6.5 percent – 3 counties, Butler, Stark and Wayne Because of the growth in retail, Wood County is seeing an increase in sales tax revenue without increasing the sales tax rate. That additional sales tax revenue is being eyed by the Wood County commissioners as a way to make up for at least a portion of the county’s loss in Medicaid sales tax. Since 2010, the state of Ohio and its counties have been collecting sales tax from Medicaid Managed Care organizations, which provide medical services and equipment. Those sales taxes brought in about $597 million a year for Ohio and other $200 million for counties. But in 2014, the federal government decided that collecting the Medicaid sale tax was not proper. Ohio was told it either had to apply the sales tax to all managed care – not just those serving Medicaid clients – or to none. The feds also…

County discusses new highway garage, jail booking area

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Every fall, the Wood County Commissioners listen to funding requests from county offices. And every year, the commissioners weed through the requests and reject the ones they feel aren’t necessary or can wait. This year, they have discussed yanking a couple biggies – $8.3 million to expand the county jail booking area, and $2.5 million for a new county highway garage and office space. It’s not that the commissioners don’t see the value in those projects – they just don’t see room for the nearly $11 million in the county’s 2018 budget. But in both cases, the commissioners are planning ahead for the possible building projects. The county engineer’s highway garage, located at the corner of East Poe Road and Thurstin Avenue, is at least 60 years old. “Things are showing their age out there,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. “We’re at the point where we’re going to have to do some work there – or move.” Over the decades, the open space around the highway garage, which sits on the edge of Bowling Green State University, has been gobbled up for other uses. So there is no land left at the current site for expansion. The commissioners and Wood County Engineer John Musteric discussed the possibility of moving the highway garage out to county land in the East Gypsy Lane complex. That location already has a fuel facility, and it has good access to county roads. It would also allow the county to sell the land currently used for the highway garage – which should be desirable property on the north side of BGSU. Though the commissioners may reject the $2.5 million request, they did discuss hiring a consultant to study the needs and costs of a new highway garage. That consultant would cost an estimated $10,000, Kalmar said. As for the sheriff’s request for an expansion of the jail booking area – this will not be the first time it got the ax. A few years ago, Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn had to make a choice – add more beds to the county jail or add more space to the jail booking area. The jail expansion was priced at about $3 million and the booking area reconfiguration was priced at about $5 million. And since the county was already spending money by paying other counties to house Wood County’s overflow inmates, the 75-bed jail expansion project won out. A few years ago, the basic architectural work was done on the booking area project, and those plans were refreshed this year – with the estimated cost jumping to $8.3 million. The expansion would reconfigure the booking area to add more holding cells and move the medical area closer to booking. But Kalmar said he does expect an architectural firm to be selected for the booking project in 2018, with possible construction to follow in 2019. The sheriff and Jail Administrator Rhonda Gibson have described how the current holding cells are insufficient for the number of prisoners that get processed at the jail. The issue is worsened when there are “very challenging” inmates who have severe mental health issues, are going through detox, or have serious medical needs. Several times, inmates have to be doubled up in holding cells. “Those…

County prosecutor sets up opiate response team

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County has its first employees assigned specifically to battle the opiate crisis. Sixteen people died of opiate overdoses in the county last year, according to the Wood County Coroner’s Office. In response to a survey of local first responders, 16 departments said they responded to 83 opiate overdoses last year, and administered the life-saving drug Naloxone 60 times. And in an 18-month period, the county prosecutor’s office saw about 130 drug cases. Getting addicts in treatment, and getting them back after relapses are important, Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Dobson said during a meeting with the county commissioners. The average person experiences seven relapses during their three to five years of trying to get free of opiates. On Tuesday, Dobson and Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn announced the implementation of a new program in the prosecutor’s office to battle the opiate and drug epidemic. The program has been named the Addiction Response Collaborative, or ARC. Earlier this year, Dobson – who lost a stepson to opiate addiction – introduced his four-tiered plan for dealing with the opiate epidemic in Wood County. The plan called for the creation of a quick response team, a pre-trial diversion program in the prosecutor’s office, an intervention in lieu of sentencing program in the courts, and the establishment of a drug docket in the courts. The program team includes a Drug Addiction and Abuse Response Coordinator hired by the prosecutor’s office through funding from the Wood County Commissioners, the Wood County ADAMHS Board, and the Wood County Health District. Filling the position is Luckey resident Belinda Brooks, who knows from experience the horrors of opiate addictions and the hopes for recovery. Brooks, whose daughter battled opiates for several years, formed SOLACE of Northwest Ohio, a group that provides services for family members of addicts. Her daughter, now 25, was first prescribed percocets after a serious ATV accident seven years ago. It wasn’t long till she was addicted. Brooks, who knew nothing about opiates, believed it couldn’t be that bad since it was a prescribed medication. She soon saw how horrible it could be. Brooks learned that by hiding the addiction and helping her daughter clean up money problems, she was fueling her daughter’s addiction. “It was three years of complete hell,” Brooks said. “Your lives change forever. You have to change your parenting.” Her daughter’s rock bottom came when she was charged with nine felony counts in Toledo. Brooks cut ties with her daughter and took over raising her grandson. She remembers the words she told her daughter that day. “I love you. But I’m done. Don’t ever call me again unless you’re in treatment.” Her daughter went to jail and they did not speak for six months. It’s now been almost two years since she has been clean. But as a parent, Brooks knows relapse could be right around the corner. “I worry every day,” she said. “The destruction it causes is devastating,” resulting in many aging grandparents taking over care of their grandchildren. Dobson said Brooks was a perfect fit for the new position. “Belinda has been passionately advocating on behalf of this population for years,” Dobson said in the press release. “She’s really already been doing this job without a title or funding….

Study to see if sports complex could score big here

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Parents of young children often pack up the vehicles several weekends of the year to head out to travel ball tournaments. Local economic development officials want to see if they might be able to get a piece of that action. Four entities – Wood County Economic Development Commission plus the cities of Perrysburg, Rossford and Maumee – have invested $15,000 each to have a study conducted on whether or not this area could support a massive sports complex. “I think there is a demand,” said Wood County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Wade Gottschalk. “We all know parents who drive kids to tournaments every weekend. We want to see if there’s enough demand for something of this scope.” Perrysburg Mayor Mike Olmstead suggested the feasibility study after visiting the Grand Park sports campus near Indianapolis. That 400-acre facility includes more than 31 multipurpose and soccer fields, 26 baseball diamonds, and an indoor soccer and events center. “It’s a great idea,” Gottschalk said. That’s why experts in the field have been brought in to do impartial evaluations, he added. If the study finds that such a sports complex would be feasible in this area, then the next question is where, Gottschalk said. Some suggestions have been made that acreage in between Perrysburg and Bowling Green, somewhere along Ohio 25, would be considered. “But we’re not to that point yet,” Gottschalk said. Some signs point to a large sports complex being successful here, he added. There is ample open land, a large population, and good transportation access. “We’ve got better interstate access,” Gottschalk said. The study will look at the number of people likely to be drawn here for tournaments. “How much can we attract from the outside,” he asked. A local sports complex would benefit area residents by shortening their weekend drives to some tournaments. But the big win would be attracting business to the region from those families. “These tournaments draw thousands,” Gottschalk said. “You’ve got hotels being booked. You’ve got restaurants being used. You’ve got stores being shopped at. Those would be new dollars coming into the county.” Gottschalk doesn’t expect the feasibility study to be completed before the first of 2018.

Wood County honors citizens for their contributions

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The best of Wood County was honored on Sunday. Farmers who help educate city folks about agriculture. Pastors who build bridges, not walls. And a retired teacher who is still committed to learning, even if that means going to a “Godzilla” movie. Wood County commissioners Doris Herringshaw and Ted Bowlus led off the 2017 Spirit of Wood County Awards in the courthouse atrium. Following is the list of people recognized in each category: Agricultural leadership: Cathy Newlove Wenig, Gordon Wenig, Paul Herringshaw and Lesley Riker. Liberty through law/human freedom: Dan Van Vorhis. Self-government: Tim W. Brown. Education for Civic Responsibility: Mary Kuhlman. Religion and liberty: Revs. Mary Jane and Gary Saunders. Industrial/economic development: Barbara Rothrock. Lyle R. Fletcher Good Citizenship Award: Gwen Andrix and Amy Holland. “This is one of those things that Wood County does especially well,” said State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, about the recognition of community service by citizens. The agricultural leadership award was presented by Earlene Kilpatrick, executive director of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce. For the last 12 years of the BG Leadership program, the Wenigs, Herringshaw and Riker have welcomed city business people on their farms. The day is a “real and powerful opportunity to educate citizens,” Kilpatrick said. “And we end up smelling like a farm at the end of the day.” “What an amazing experience for each class,” to learn about Wood County’s leading industry, she said. Initially the farm day consisted of simple drive-by tours. But now the participants visit ag co-ops, learn about soil content management and seed purchasing, and see a high-tech dairy operation and show pigs. “They educate us on the true cost of farming in the bountiful and not so bountiful seasons,” Kilpatrick said. “They aren’t afraid to answer questions honestly.” And often the city business people experience an “aha moment,” when the connection is made between their livelihoods and farming. In accepting the award, Cathy Newlove Wenig said one of their goals was to dispel the myths surrounding farming. “We just tried to do what we could to promote agriculture.” The liberty through law and human freedom award was presented by Bowling Green attorney Diane Huffman. She first met Van Vorhis years ago when he was a juvenile court probation officer. He now works for the Ohio Adult Parole System, and is on loan to the FBI Violent Crimes Division. “We’re just lucky to have him here,” Huffman said. Though he normally stays out of the limelight, Van Vorhis is president of the Fraternal Order of Police, coordinates the Special Olympics Torch Run, and the Cops for Kids Program. He was recently named Ohio Parole Officer of the Year. “We can be proud of him,” Huffman said of Van Vorhis. While accepting his award, Van Vorhis said he believes in “keeping Northwest Ohio safe.” The self government award was presented by Judy Ennis to Brown, who was unable to be present to accept. Brown spent most of his adult life in government, first as a legislative aide to Congressman Paul Gillmor, then as Wood County commissioner, then as a state representative. “We know what he has meant to Wood County,” Ennis said. Brown told Ennis that he was the Republican party’s “sacrificial lamb” one year in…

Renewal levy targets child and elder abuse, neglect

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County is on its way to setting a grim record for 2017, as the numbers of child abuse and neglect cases continue to grow. That makes passage of the 1.3-mill renewal levy for Human Services even more critical, according to those trying to meet the needs. “Without it we would have to reduce staff which would be catastrophic because we are seeing record numbers,” said Dave Wigent, director of the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services. Since 1987, the Children’s Services and Adult Protective Services portions of the agency have relied on the 1.3 mills to support their work. The 10-year levy generates $3.7 million a year, and costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $36 a year. The funding provides for child abuse and neglect investigations and, if needed, placement of children in foster homes or other settings. The levy also supports elder services, such as home health aides, homemaker services and investigations of elder abuse and neglect. Since the levy was last passed 10 years ago, Wood County has seen six deaths of children under 3 years old due to abuse. Five suffered from head trauma, and one was smothered. The needs of the protective services at both ends of the age spectrum continue to increase. Following are the statistics for 2016: 894 child abuse investigations. 260 elder abuse investigations. 212 of the child abuse investigations involved drugs. 142 of the investigations were child sexual abuse investigations. 59 children were placed in substitute care such as foster care or group homes. And the numbers look even worse for 2017. The reasons may be two-fold, according to Sandi Carsey, administrator of Children’s Services. In recent years, the opiate crisis has led to more cases, and there has been a real push for the public to report abuse and neglect concerns. “Last year in September, we had 35 children in foster care. This year we have 50,” Carsey said, adding that her office is currently trying to recruit more foster families. Meanwhile, the number of elder abuse and neglect cases is expected to pass 300 this year, she added. “You don’t control your workflow,” Wigent said. “Whatever comes at you, you have to deal with.” While Wood County is seeing record child and elder abuse and neglect, it continues to get little funding from the state, Carsey and Wigent explained. Ohio is 50th in the country for state funding to child abuse programs. “Even if they doubled it, we would be 50th,” Carsey said. Unlike many counties in Ohio, Wood County Job and Family Services only collects the levy taxes when necessary, Wigent said. If the agency does not need the funding for a particular year, it is not collected. “We’re the only JFS in the state that has reduced or suspended collection six times,” during the last 30 years, he said. “We only take the money we need.” And the agency is committed to working with the same millage and not asking voters for more, Wigent said. “We just really need to continue what we’ve been doing, especially in the face of the record numbers we’ve been seeing,” he said.

After years of bumper crop of taxes, farmers get some relief

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   After years of watching their taxes valuations grow like weeds, local farmers are now seeing their property taxes drop. While that is good news for farmers, it’s shifted some of the tax burden to homeowners. Every six years, state mandated full reappraisals are done on all properties in the county. Updates are conducted every three years. Later this month, the Wood County Auditor’s Office will send out notices of the new valuations to local farmers. Prior to 1974, farmers were taxed based on the market value of their land – that’s how much it would sell for, explained Wood County Auditor Matt Oestreich. So 40 acres of farmland on the edge of Perrysburg would be taxed at a much higher rate than 40 acres outside of Bloomdale. That created a lot of pressure on some farmers to sell their land because they couldn’t afford the property taxes. “Farmers were being taxed off their land,” Oestreich said. So the state changed its formula, and started setting valuations based on the amount that could be produced on the acreage. In Wood County, that covers approximately 380,000 acres – with about 81 percent of the county’s total acreage used for agriculture. “The income potential is the same,” per bushel of corn in Perrysburg Township as it is in Bloom Township, said Brian Jones, the Current Agricultural Use Valuation specialist in the Wood County Auditor’s Office. Factored into the valuation are the different soils, with Wood County having about 200 different soil types. Nearly two-thirds of county farmland is Hoytville clay, which is just above average soil quality for farming, Jones said. The CAUV formula worked in favor of the farmers in 2005, when the lowest values in the history of the program were appraised. Farmland was “dirt cheap,” and farmers got the benefit of lower taxes. When the 2008 updates rolled around, the values had doubled. Agricultural land valued at $350 an acre jumped up to about $780 an acre. The tax rates went from $4 to $8 an acre, which was still quite low, so few farmers complained, Oestreich and Jones explained. “It was fueled by good yields, high crop prices and increasingly low interest rates,” Oestreich said. “It was a perfect storm of sorts.” In 2011, the values doubled again, with some farmland at $1,770 an acre and taxes up to $25 an acre. “That’s when we really started to get pushback,” Jones said. “That opened a lot of people’s eyes,” Oestreich said. “Imagine if the value of your house went from $150,000 to $300,000” in a three-year period. “That’s a tough pill for farmers to swallow.” Several farmers accused the government of raising the valuations in order to collect more taxes. A meeting was held to explain the increases to local farmers. More than 500 showed up. The farm bureau and the county auditor’s office explained the valuations were calculated by the state, and that market value was not part of the equation. The CAUV formula takes into consideration crop rotation, yields, crop prices, production costs (such as gas, fertilizer, labor) and interest rates. Then it happened again in 2014, when the farmland valuations more than doubled from an average of $1,770 to $3,930 an acre. That meant the taxes grew from…

Sibbersen served county 40 years in taxing position

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Mike Sibbersen started out at the Wood County Auditor’s Office in a summer job, testing local gas pumps and checking store scales for accuracy. “I remember doing Beeker’s” general store in Pemberville where the scales weighed penny candy. At the end of the summer, Sibbersen was offered two jobs – one teaching and one continuing at the auditor’s office. He took the latter. That was 40 years ago. For the last 24 of those years, Sibbersen has been county auditor – the tax man some people love to hate. “The news you have to convey is not always what people want to hear,” he said. In many ways Sibbersen is the opposite of his predecessor, Harold Bateson, who was boisterous and often confrontational. Sibbersen is measured, certain and exact – on everything from numbers to words. “I have the reputation around here of being a frustrated editor,” he said. “Words are important.” The job has changed a great deal in the past four decades – much of it due to technology and revisions in tax law. When Sibbersen started, in addition to checking weights and measures, he also had to inventory lock boxes of deceased residents for the Department of Taxation. “When I came here, we were still doing personal property tax,” that has been phased out by the state, he said. Now the office inspects all the store checkout scanners in the county to make sure they are accurate. They also have to be on the alert for credit card skimmers. The staff has dropped from 26 to 22 during his time in the auditor’s office. It’s not that the responsibilities are fewer. “Technology has enabled us to do that,” Sibbersen said. The Wood County Auditor’s Office was the first in Northwest Ohio to start selling dog licenses online. “Now everybody’s doing it,” he said. And now citizens are likely to turn to the office’s website before calling in with questions. But the complaints still come in from people upset or confused about their taxes. “It’s stressful for a variety of reasons. You have to convey information that is sometimes a struggle to make clear and understandable,” Sibbersen said. Just explaining how a tax bill is calculated can be incredibly complicated. “It’s a challenge,” he said. “The bar of explanation becomes that much higher.” Sibbersen said he has often reminded his staff not to take the complaints personally. It’s just that the county auditor’s office is much more accessible than other levels of government. “We’re the ones they can get to,” he said. And that’s just fine with Sibbersen. “I’ve always believed in service to the public,” he said. Sibbersen did recall a particularly embarrassing mistake that occurred years ago, before he became county auditor. The IRS had redesigned the W-2 forms, but the auditor’s office did not change the “X” it marked in the box from the previous forms. “We sent out the W-2s with everyone marked deceased,” he said. After four decades with the county, Sibbersen has gained a reputation of being steadfast. Former Wood County commissioner Jim Carter said Sibbersen is the go-to guy for governmental history. “Mike is always the one you want to go to if you want any historical information on county government,” he said….