‘State of the County’ paints positive picture

State of the County Address this morning in the courthouse atrium

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

Despite a few aches and pains here and there, the health of Wood County is quite good, according to the county commissioners who presented their State of the County Address Tuesday morning for the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce.

Commissioners Ted Bowlus, Doris Herringshaw and Craig LaHote shared the county’s success of having a high bond rating and low unemployment rate. They encouraged area residents to shop locally – helping local businesses and local government at the same time.

“Even with the changes to the economy, we continue to remain steadfast in our optimism for the future of Wood County,” Herringshaw said. “Our challenges as county commissioners remain the same – serve the needs of an expanding population, continue to promote Wood County as an excellent place for industrial and commercial development, promote prime farmland, and protect the quality of life that the citizens of Wood County have come to expect.”

Herringshaw, president of the board, started by listing some of the county’s priorities as economic and workforce development, public infrastructure, social services, water quality and community safety.

“Wood County has remained fiscally strong due to the commissioners’ conservative approach to budgeting, which ensures that there are sufficient resources to cover all of the county’s mandated services for the citizens,” Herringshaw said.

Sales tax revenue for the county again hit a record amount, just shy of $21 million last year. However, the state has announced that sales tax revenues will be reduced in July 2017 and beyond, due to the removal of Medicaid equipment from items being taxed. That could result in an annual reduction of about $900,000 to Wood County, Herringshaw said.

Gov. John Kasich has replaced the sales tax loss to the state, but has told local governments to deal with the cut, Herringshaw added.

Property tax revenue also remained steady in 2016, with a slight increase of $119,000 over 2015. The casino tax revenue has helped to somewhat offset the reductions in the Local Government Fund and investment income. However, the unpredictability of the funding requires the county to be very cautious, she said.

The 2017 general fund appropriations totaled almost $43 million, which is a $2.34 million increase over 2016 appropriations. The commissioners added $1 million to rebuild the permanent improvement fund.

“Over the years, Wood County has remained fiscally strong due to responsible spending and the cooperation of the elected officials, along with growth in sales tax revenue,” Herringshaw said. That has allowed the county to pay cash for some capital projects instead of borrowing funds. “The net result of all of this is a continued excellent bond rating at Aa2.”

Other topics addressed by the commissioners included:

Water

“We can’t have a ‘State of the County’ without talking about water,” Herringshaw said.

Over the past year, the county has had discussions with citizens, scientists, state officials, farmers and local government officials about the algae issue in Lake Erie and its effect on water quality.

“We are pleased with the research, action and significant attention being paid to this issue,” she said.

Also being discussed is how water is supplied to much of northern Wood County and suburban areas of Lucas County.

“Officials from these areas want a voice in the water supply,” Herringshaw said. “Studies have been completed that show the availability of water resources, options regarding governance of a regional drinking water system, and options if regional governance of the current system cannot be achieved.”

“We are all in this together,” she said. “We would like nothing better than a broad agreement that brings regional governance to this very regional resource. We will work to ensure that the best interests of Wood County residents are met.”

NET Plus Transportation

Nearly 1,000 rides are provided monthly to local residents going to health, mental health and substance abuse appointments through this non-emergency transportation program offered by Wood County Job and Family Services.

Currently this service is coordinated locally. However, the governor’s budget proposes to change the system to a statewide contract with a central dispatch. While that may seem more fiscally efficient, Herringshaw  predicted there would be a loss of accountability to local residents using the service.

“We strongly believe that maintaining county control of this process will continue to yield the best result,” she said.

Bridge replacements

Since 2014, when the Ohio Department of Transportation offered to pay to design and build bridges in Wood County, there have been 17 bridges rebuilt. One more is scheduled to be completed this year. The funding came from the use of federal gasoline tax dollars allocated to the state.

“We are hopeful that this partnership will continue in the future as Wood County has many, many bridges to maintain,” Herringshaw said.

Sheriff’s dispatching

The sheriff continues to handle dispatching for political subdivisions throughout Wood County, maximizing the use of the local funds, LaHote said. The sheriff’s communication center currently contracts with Walbridge, Rossford and Lake Township to provide dispatching.

Capital projects

LaHote listed off some projects completed by the county last year, including improvements at Wood Haven Health Care, replacement of the air conditioning in the courthouse attic, and an accessibility project at the Wood County Historical Museum.

Projects currently underway include more renovations at Wood Haven, a dental addition at Wood County Health District using federal dollars, and an upgrade on all exterior lighting at the East Gypsy Lane Complex.

Economic development

“The economy in Wood County continued to attract private investment and job creation in 2016,” LaHote said. The growth resulted in a county unemployment rate of 3.9 percent in December, below the national average of 4.7 percent.

Growth was seen last year in Rossford, at Nippon Sheet Glass, Industrial Power System, and a potential entertainment district to attract business near the Hollywood Casino. Schutz Container Systems, in Perrysburg, completed a $6 million expansion. Principle Business Enterprises began construction on a $4 million expansion in Middleton Township. And the Home Depot Fulfullment Center in Troy Township continued to add jobs, bringing its total to more than 700 employees.

LaHote said that the commissioners visit existing companies along with the economic development office. “While attracting new companies to Wood County is terrific, working with existing companies to help ensure long-term viability is vitally important for employment of county citizens,” he said.

Ditch clean-out projects

In 2016, there were multiple ditches in various stages of work. Those projects will continue this year, including the Toussaint Creak and Portage River.

“Drainage is vitally important to Wood County and Northwest Ohio,” LaHote said. “Without a well maintained drainage system, the Great Black Swamp would return.”

Wood Haven Health Care

In addition to the building renovations, LaHote also mentioned the rehabilitation programs offered at the facility, including physical, occupational and speech therapies. For the second consecutive year, Wood Haven was given an award as one of Northwest Ohio top workplaces.

Child Support Enforcement Agency

During 2016, the agency provided services to families with 6,451 active cases and collections totaling $18.8 million.

The agency was again recognized by the state for outperforming other similarly-sized counties in its current support collections for the year.

Building Inspection

The number of building permits issued last year was 5,375, which was 533 more than the previous year.

“This reflects continued growth in the region,” LaHote said. “Staff used technology in order to increase proficiency in plan submittals, reviews and inspections in the field.”

Emergency Management Agency

Wood County EMA guided county offices and departments in developing disaster plans for offices and departments in case their workspaces were unavailable. EMA Director Brad Gilbert became the 22nd person in Ohio to be named a state certified emergency manager.

Dog license sales

In 2016, there were 19,962 dog licenses sold in the county. The license sales make up the largest source of revenue for the county dog shelter. Door-to-door license checks were stressed last year.

Renovations to the dog shelter were completed last year, making it better for the canines residing there and the humans working and visiting there.

Department of Job and Family Services

Children’s Services received a research grant to determine the effectiveness of Adventure Therapy for children ages 12 to 18 who have gone through traumatic experiences, Bowlus said.

Also last year, Job and Family Services provided 501 children in kindergarten to 12th grade, from 230 families, with backpacks filled with school supplies plus new shoes for the start of the new school year.

Vivitrol shots for the heroin and opiate epidemic

The commissioners committed up to $25,000 last year toward Vivitrol shots for county residents being released from the Northwest Community Correction Center, to help them break their heroin or opiate addictions and regain control of their lives, Bowlus said.

Financial reporting

Wood County Auditor Michael Sibbersen again received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association – marking the 20th consecutive year for the distinction.

Wood County Health District

The Wood County Health District was accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board, making the district one of only a few in Ohio and across the nation to reach this goal.

Planning Commission

A consulting firm worked last year to update the Wood County Comprehensive Land Use Plan, designed to provide a guide for growth throughout the county.

Also noted by the commissioners:

  • The first electronic newsletter called Wood County eNews was distributed last year.
  • The Got Your Bags Campaign, through the Solid Waste Management District, is continuing. The program encourages local residents to use reusable bags at grocery and retail stores.
  • Several volunteer opportunities are available on county boards and commissions.

The commissioners said they plan to continue their practice of holding open forums. Last year, such town hall meetings were held in Perrysburg, Rossford, Portage, Freedom Township and Milton Township. This year, forums are planned in Northwood, Cygnet, Tontogany and Troy Township.

“Communication is very important,” Bowlus said.

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