Wood County Commissioners

Wood County on solid footing – bond rating bumped to Aa1

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News The Wood County Commissioners have achieved an enviable ranking – moving from an already respectable Aa2 ranking to an Aa1 rating from Moody’s Investors Service. Thanks to the county’s cash reserves, large and diverse tax base, and low debt burden, Moody’s made the decision to upgrade the county just this week. That’s the best rating ever achieved by the county, and will put the county in a favorable position with investors. “It’s great news for the county,” Wood County Auditor Matt Oestreich said. Helping to bump up the county’s rating was the new pipeline tax revenue coming into the county. Rover Pipeline recently became the largest taxpayer in the county, with an assessed value of $57.5 million. “A diverse tax base is great for everybody,” Oestreich said. This was just one of many positive pieces of news shared Wednesday at the annual State of the County Address, sponsored by the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce and held in the county courthouse atrium. Commissioners Doris Herringshaw, Ted Bowlus and Craig LaHote recognized the continued solid strength of the county. “Wood County has remained fiscally strong due to our continued conservative approach to budgeting which ensures that there are sufficient resources to cover all of the county’s mandated services for citizens,” Herringshaw said. Last year, sales tax revenues brought in a record amount just shy of $22 million. The county adopted a budget of $46.4 million, which was about $1.8 million more than the previous year. “Wood County has been financially resilient due to responsible spending and the cooperation of the elected officials, along with growth in sales tax revenue,” she said. “This has allowed us to pay cash for certain capital projects instead of borrowing.” Wood County Commissioners Ted Bowlus, Craig LaHote and Doris Herringshaw at State of the County Wednesday morning The county commissioners presented several updates to those filling the atrium. Roads and bridges The county is trying to invest more in road and bridge maintenance, LaHote explained. Two actions have been taken in the past year – increasing the county’s vehicle license fee by $5 and creating an overweight vehicle program. The license fee increase is bringing in about $650,000 more a year. The commissioners are sending about $6.5 million more toward roads and bridges, including $2.1 million from the general fund, $1.8 million from building inspection, $300,000 in conveyance fees from economic development, $1 million from sales tax over the next five years, and $100,000 from the auto title fund. “We strongly believe that putting these revenue sources to work repairing and building roads and bridges is an excellent investment in Wood County,” LaHote said. Industrial and business growth The county commissioners continue to make visits to local businesses and industries with Wade Gottschalk, director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission. “These visits are very important for maintaining good communication, to help ensure a strong economic base and continued good employment opportunities for county residents,” LaHote said. “The only continued real difficulty expressed by employers in the county is their inability to find workers.” The following businesses are growing in Wood County: First Solar recently began construction on a new 1.2 million square foot manufacturing plant for the next generation of solar panels in Lake Township. This project involves…

Christians only can pray at BG National Day of Prayer

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Across the country, the National Day of Prayer invites people of all faiths to pray for the nation. But not in Bowling Green. Here, only Christians can pray. About a month ago, the Wood County Commissioners sent a letter to Kristel Asmus, who has organized the annual National Day of Prayer on the steps of the county courthouse for 20 years. The letter expressed the commissioners’ concerns about area residents who feel the local prayer observance fails to include all faiths. On Tuesday, the commissioners met with Asmus to discuss their wishes that the event be more inclusive and less divisive. But Asmus was unwilling budge. Others are welcome to attend, but not participate in prayer. “Just so you know, I’m not changing,” she told the commissioners. That puts the local National Day of Prayer event at odds with most others around the nation – and at odds with the original intention for the day. The annual observance, held on the first Thursday of May from noon to 1 p.m., was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry Truman. The National Day of Prayer invited people of all faiths to pray for the nation. However, a privately-funded “task force” was created later to “mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America’s leaders and its families.” The task force’s logic was that since America was “birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible,” then only Christian prayers were welcome. In Bowling Green, the event continued as usual until a leader of the local Mormon church became head of the Bowling Green Ministerial Association. Asmus, who coordinates the annual gathering, said he was not allowed to pray at the event. “We believe in the total Bible,” she told the commissioners. “The Mormon belief is not Christian.” Asmus, who represents Dayspring Assembly of God in the ministerial association, said she sought confirmation from the National Day of Prayer Task Force. She presented the commissioners with the reply from the group, concurring with her decision. The letter stated that Mormons could not participate in leadership teams or participate publicly in the prayer event. “They do not believe what we believe,” she said. “I could not invite them to participate.” “That started this whole thing,” Asmus said to the county commissioners. Some churches, she said, want all faiths to be included. But she continues to refuse. “I cannot invite a Muslim to pray to Allah. I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” she said. The purpose of the day is for Christians to pray for the nation and its leaders. “The Mormons can come to be part of the audience,” she added. “But to come to the podium and pray, I want them to believe in God.” Asmus also presented the commissioners with a commitment form from the National Day of Prayer Task Force, that she requires all participants to sign. The form requires a lengthy statement of faith. “I’m going to stand by this. I’m not going to change,” she said. “I’m just going to invite the Christian churches to pray.” Commissioner Ted Bowlus asked Asmus about her unwillingness to include others. “My understanding is, Mormons follow the Bible,” Bowlus said….

County commissioners debate budget requests for 2019

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As the Wood County Commissioners Office works on its budget for 2019, some of the funding requests were debated on Tuesday. Should the county pay an extra $67,800 to have the airport runway striped? Is $43,000 an acceptable amount to pay for a mower/snowblower? And what about that $46,980 for high-speed garage doors for the county parking garage? Commissioners Doris Herringshaw, Ted Bowlus and Craig LaHote were presented with the funding requests that weren’t slam dunks in the 2019 budget. Much of the budget is routine each year – wages and operational costs. So that leaves the “extras” for the commissioners to decide. For example, the Wood County Regional Airport, which normally gets $26,345 a year from the county, requested an additional $67,800 for runway striping. “It’s been a considerable amount of time since the commissioners gave them additional money,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. The runways recently received a low rating by the Ohio Department of Transportation, but was then turned down for a grant from ODOT for the striping, Kalmar said. The airport has also requested funding from the FAA, though no word has been heard on that request, Kalmar said. LaHote said the poor rating of the airport runways could have an economic impact on the airport, if fewer planes use the facility. Bowlus suggested that the county wait to see if the FAA may fund the work. Kalmar was asked to get more information before a decision was made. The commissioners agreed to fund the request for an industrial mower with a snowblower costing $43,149 for the East Gypsy Lane Road complex – though it was not without discussion. “I’m always aghast at the price” of such equipment, Kalmar said. “I grit my teeth. But they do last a long time.” In defense of the price tag, he said the mower/blower would be used year-round, and would have a cab with heat and air conditioning. That description led to the commissioners reminiscing about the days of hats and sunscreen. LaHote reasoned that the equipment is needed. “It’s a busy area over there and it’s getting busier.” Not making the cut on Tuesday was the proposal for two high-speed garage doors for the garage under the county office building. The cost was set at $46,980. The doors there now take about 19 seconds to rise, Kalmar said. Adding to the cost of the doors is the fact that the doors would have to be raised on the outside of the building since there is no room for the doors to retract into the garage, he explained. Kalmar and assistant administrator Kelly O’Boyle were sent back to the drawing board to find less expensive replacement doors. At the request of Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn, the commissioners went along with the request for $15,995 to purchase an ID card reader, plus ID cards for county employees. The cards will also work as key fobs for employees. The commissioners agreed that the ID cards should be required for all county employees – except in the case of other elected officials who will decide whether or not their staffs will use the ID cards. The commissioners also approved the request from Wood County Emergency Management Agency Director Brad Gilbert for $23,000…

Tax break approved for new glass plant in Wood County

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Plans for a new glass plant in Wood County are a little more crystal clear. On Thursday, the Wood County Commissioners approved a request from NSG Pilkington for a 100 percent tax abatement for 15 years. The same deal was approved Wednesday by the Troy Township Trustees. And agreements have already been made with Eastwood Schools to get $344,000 a year, and Penta to get $44,000 annually. The new 511,000-square-foot glass plant, estimated to cost $270 million, will create 150 jobs. “We are excited to have you break ground and be in Wood County,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said. NSG Pilkington, formerly LOF, considered sites in Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan before deciding on the Troy Township site. The location is off Pemberville Road, just south of Garling Road, and south of the Home Depot warehouse. The company conducted a “rigorous site search,” said Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission. “He’s been a big help,” NSG overall solar project manager Todd Huffman said of Gottschalk’s assistance. Wood County Planning Director Dave Steiner said the efforts by economic development officials to have the site “shovel ready” paid off for this project. “It’s nice to see this in an area already slated and ready to go,” Steiner said. The new plant – dubbed the “Falcon Project” – will be designed to support the company’s solar energy customers. The biggest of those customers is First Solar – for which NSG has created a “unique” glass product. “I’m excited to be a part of an initiative that’s creating clean energy,” Huffman said. More manufacturing space could not be “shoehorned” into the Rossford NSG plant, Huffman said. So the search began for an additional site. Huffman, who grew up in Perrysburg, said he hoped the new plant could be built locally, “but the numbers have to make sense.” The approval of the tax abatement by the county commissioners helps those numbers align. The new plant – like the Rossford location – will be in operation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “You can’t turn off a furnace and turn it back on,” Huffman said. The new plant will put to use the latest technology for coating the glass for more light transmission. The company is also expanding in Vietnam, to support First Solar growth there, Huffman said. Of the 150 jobs created, 110 will be hourly and 40 will be salary. After the meeting with the commissioners, Huffman said NSG has already started looking for key people for the new plant. “We recognize labor markets are very tight,” he said. However, Huffman said NSG has a reputation as a great place to work – which may help the new plant fill positions. “I want to make sure we’re the preferred place to work in Northwest Ohio,” he said. Huffman predicted many of the new workers will need to travel to existing plants in Illinois, North Carolina and Vietnam for training. Some people from those plants may also travel here to help with the training, he said. NSG Pilkington was recognized earlier this year by the Wood County Economic Development Commission as the county’s Corporate Citizen of the Year. “We do the right thing for people,” Huffman said. “We do the right thing…

County jail expansion plan locked in at $17.6 million

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   For years, Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn has been saying the county jail needs some changes and a possible expansion. The price tag for that work at the Wood County Justice Center is $17.6 million. But once it’s done, Wasylyshyn promised he won’t be back with any more jail requests for the county commissioners. “We think this will get us many, many years,” the sheriff said Thursday as plans for the jail expansion were presented to county commissioners Doris Herringshaw, Ted Bowlus and Craig LaHote. The project can be divided into two separate proposals. One is the expansion and reconfiguration of the intake and medical areas of the jail. That would cost an estimated $8.6 million. The second part of the plan adds on an expansion of inmate cells plus renovation of the security pods. That would raise the overall price tag to $17.6 million. The jail currently has 220 beds. The expansion would add another 78 beds. The commissioners asked for more time to review the expansion plans. Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said the commissioners support the plans for revamping the booking and medical areas of the jail, and have already appropriated funds for the architectural and engineering of that part of the project. But the actual addition of inmate beds is not so certain. “The question is do they want to take one step more,” Kalmar said. The jail averages 165 to 180 inmates a day. However, all inmates can’t be housed in any cell. For example, high security inmates can’t be placed in minimum security housing. Females can only be housed in female units. Relatives cannot be in the same area, nor can inmates being held for the same crime. So while the jail has 220 beds now, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can house 220 inmates. Justice Center Captain Rebecca McMonigal compared it to a Rubik’s cube. Wasylyshyn said the addition of more beds would benefit the county. The county has operated a jail since 1820, and that’s not likely to change. “We’re always going to be in the jail business,” he said. Even if the county does not need all the beds, it can rent the extra to area counties facing overcrowding in their jails, the sheriff said. This year, the jail will take in close to $350,000 from other counties housing prisoners here. Some come from as far as four hours away, he said. The expansion plans call for more security housing and more female beds. Currently, the jail has just 32 female beds. There are currently 36 female inmates in the jail – so four are using cots. “We do what we have to do,” Wasylyshyn said after the commissioners’ meeting. “Every county needs more female beds,” said Garry McAnally, of Wachtel & McAnally. “If we build female beds, they will come,” Wasylyshyn said of inmates from other counties. But the more critical need is the revamping of the inmate booking and medical areas – which the commissioners appear to agree need changes. The intake area, which was designed and built in 1989, is too small for the current inmate numbers. When the number of inmates being processed is too great, the prisoners are put together in cells. “Our biggest concern is just having…

County moves money to pay for roads and bridges

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   In March, Wood County Engineer John Musteric reported that the county’s roads and bridges were in dire condition. They suffered from too many repairs needed and not enough funding. That announcement sent the Wood County Commissioners on a search for county funds that could be moved over for road and bridge improvements. And on Monday, the commissioners reported that they had come up with nearly $6.5 million to be used during the next five years to build and repair county bridges and roads. “We look forward to much progress in improving our roads and bridges,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said during a press conference announcing the funding. Herringshaw said it was clear that the county engineer’s office would never catch up with road and bridge repairs under the current funding system. The commissioners agreed earlier this year to enact a new $5 vehicle license fee, with the revenue going to road and bridge work. But Herringshaw said it was clear that wouldn’t generate enough funding to meet the needs. The county roads and bridges are at a crisis, Musteric said this past spring. “We’ve been in a crisis mode for a long time. We’ve got so much to take care of and maintain.” The county has 245 miles of roads to maintain, plus 441 bridges with an average age of 41 years. More than 20 bridges have passed the century mark, with the granddaddy of them all being the 133-year-old bridge on Custar Road south of Sand Ridge Road.“We’re way behind, way behind,” Musteric said in March. But the newly found funding will help, he said Monday. The road and bridge funding will come from the following sources: – One-time transfer of $1.8 million from Wood County Building Inspection cash balance. – One-time transfer of $300,000 from the conveyance fee that funds county economic development. – One-time transfer of $100,000 from the Wood County Clerk of Courts’ auto title fund. – $200,000 each year for five years from county sales tax revenue. – $650,000 annually from the new $5 vehicle license fee. Musteric said much of the funding will be spent on the road and bridge needs south of U.S. 6, where safety has become an issue. “These are your roads. I’m here to protect them and improve them,” he said. Nearly three-quarters of the county’s road conditions are currently rated marginal or lower. Nearly half of those are ranked as poor or serious. Bringing those roads up to fair condition would cost an estimated $39 million. The county engineer’s office is studying pavement preservation practices. The lifespan of average pavement is 25 years. To catch up, the county would need to pave 35 miles every year – costing about $10.3 million each year. Instead, the county has been spending about $1.1 million a year on paving. When it comes to bridges, the county plans to replace four this year, costing about $1.2 million. That is just a drop in the bucket, with 441 bridges in Wood County. More than half are over 50 years old, and 52 bridges are ranked in poor or worse shape. The cost to replace those 52 would add up to $20.8 million, Musteric said. At the pace the county is going, it would take 90 years to…

President of NAT Transportation concerned about possible recycling location closure

To the users of NAT Recycling: For more than 20 years, NAT has supported, with the assistance of The Wood County Solid Waste District and The Bowling Green Recycling Center, the operation of it’s recycling center. This has been “a loss leader” for our trash business; in other words, it has been at a monetary loss for NAT. But, the users, made up of the homeowners of southeast Wood County, have appreciated this service and the Waste District supported the program. Recently, The Solid Waste District, with the approval of the Commissioners and Administration, has arbitrarily decided to discontinue its support of certain transportation and processing costs of material recycled from NAT to Bowling Green. This was done without conferring with NAT or The Bowing Green Recycling Center. Neither NAT or BGRC have the funds to assume these costs on a long-term basis nor have we requested additional support. This was despite for more than 20 years NAT’s processed tonnage has and still is, second only to BGRC in the Wood County area. In the meantime, the Waste District’s unencumbered funds (cash available) are at an historic high. Citizens should remember, by Ohio Law, the Office of the Wood County Commissioner’s is responsible to provide access to recycling through out Wood County. And we provide a heated, well kept all weather 24/7 location for Southeast Wood County. We, Mike Fairbanks and I, will be studying how this loss of funding will effect NATs operation of the 24/7 recycling, but without the FULL support of The Wood County Waste District, at this time we see the closing of our recycling program in the near future. We ask you to express your thoughts to your Wood County Officials by calling the Wood County Administration Office (Andrew Kalmar; Doris Herringshaw, Craig LaHote, and Theodore Bowlus) at (419) 354-9100; or the office of The Wood County Solid Waste District (Mrs. O’Boyle) at (419) 354-9297. Thank you for your time and understanding. Mick Torok President of NAT Transportation

Voters to decide 2 county levies in fall – though 1 is still in limbo

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County voters will decide the fate of two county-wide levies this fall. The county commissioners heard from both groups last week. One levy is a reduced renewal levy – dropped from the current 2.95-mills to 2.45 mills for Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The other is still a mystery. A request had been made for an increase from a 1-mill to a 1.3-mill levy for Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services. The commissioners seem to be on board with the Wood Lane request. But they have expressed reservations about the increased levy request from ADAMHS. During the presentation by Wood Lane officials, Superintendent Brent Baer talked about the “dynamic growth in services” that the board is seeing. And Martha Woelke, of the board, said great deliberation went into the levy request. “We did everything we can to maximize state and federal money,” she told the commissioners. The board has been able to reduce its levy collections some years, but feels that 2.45 mills is the lowest it can go for the renewal. When people with developmental disabilities waive their right to institutional care, they are picked up by community based services – like Wood Lane. That agency then identifies their needs and develops plans to meet them, Baer said. The waivers allow for federal funding, but the community agency must still pick up 40 percent of the costs, said finance officer Steve Foster. “Our commitments are for the life of an individual,” Baer said. Demands are growing as the population here is increasing. “Wood County is one of the few counties in Ohio that’s growing,” Baer said. About five years ago, there were 226 consumers on waivers. Now there are 425. Baer expects that number to double again in the next five years. The board may need to be back in five years, asking for a greater levy, but this should do for now, Baer said. It’s not often that a county board approaches the county commissioners about lowering a levy request. “I’ve never had to do one with a reduction,” said Sandy Long, the clerk of the board of commissioners. The commissioners like the idea of asking taxpayers for less for Wood Lane. But they aren’t completely sold on asking taxpayers for more for the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services Board. The Wood County Commissioners – who have to certify the need for levies before they are placed on the ballot – have asked the ADAMHS board to consider other options for the November ballot issue. The current 1-mill levy generates about $2.9 million. The levy replacement plus addition of 0.3 mills would bring in an additional $1.3 million. According to a letter last month from Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar to ADAMHS Executive Director Tom Clemons, the commissioners aren’t rejecting the request for the 1.3-mill levy. However, they would like the ADAMHS Board to consider other options. Those options, according to the letter, plus the original request are: 1.3-mill replacement levy for 10 years, which would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 approximately $45.50 a year. 1-mill replacement levy for 10 years, which would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $35 a year. Replacement…

County worried about taxpayer fatigue impact on levy

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Concern about taxpayer fatigue has led to a request that the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services Board reconsider its proposed levy. The Wood County Commissioners have asked the board to consider other options for its November ballot issue. “We just want to make sure that what they put on the ballot, people will be in favor of,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said on Wednesday. “Our concern is – what if it doesn’t pass?” The ADAMHS board had asked that a 1.3-mill replacement levy be place on the ballot. In order for the issue to appear before the voters, the county commissioners have to certify the need for the levy millage. Last month, Tom Clemons, the executive director of the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, made his pitch to the county commissioners for the agency’s levy request. At that point, Herringshaw said that the commissioners had to discuss the levy request. “We want to make sure it is the right fit for Wood County and for the ADAMHS board,” Herringshaw said. The current 1-mill levy generates about $2.9 million. The levy replacement plus addition of 0.3 mills would bring in an additional $1.3 million. According to a letter from Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar to Clemons, the commissioners aren’t rejecting the request for the 1.3-mill levy. However, they would like the ADAMHS Board to consider other options. Those options, according to the letter, plus the original request are: 1.3-mill replacement levy for 10 years, which would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 approximately $45.50 a year. 1-mill replacement levy for 10 years, which would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $35 a year. Replacement levy at an amount between 1 mill and 1.3 mills for 10 years. Two separate levies, with one being a 1-mill replacement levy for 10 years, plus a new levy of 0.3 mills for five years. That lower levy would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $10.50 annually. If the opiate crisis is still creating a big demand for services after five years, the ADAMHS Board can put that small levy back on the ballot, the letter stated. Clemons said the additional funding is needed to keep up with growing needs for services. Some of the biggest issues include dealing with the opiate epidemic, providing more mental health housing, and improving crisis intervention services. At the same time as seeing rising costs for services, ADAMHS is also seeing a drop in help from the state and federal government. A decade ago, state and federal money made up 60 percent of the ADAMHS budget. Now the local levy dollars have to bear the burden of 75 percent of the budget. “We have made prudent reductions in our budgets,” he said. “We are conscientious about using taxpayer dollars.” The commissioners and Clemons will meet later this month to discuss the levy options.

BG gets county lease option for community solar field

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green already has the largest solar field in Ohio. Now it’s working on building the largest community solar project in the state. If all goes as planned, this solar field will sit on 70 acres just west of Wood Lane, just north of East Gypsy Lane Road near Interstate 75. The project requires teamwork, since 50 acres are owned by the Wood County Commissioners, and 20 acres are owned by the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities. This project is intended to be a “community solar project,” which means city residents and businesses could sign up to be a part of the project and get electricity from the kilowatts generated at the solar field, according to Bowling Green Public Utilities Director Brian O’Connell. “It would allow you the lease of the output for a year,” said Daryl Stockburger, assistant director of the Bowling Green Public Utilities Department. That would make this project different from the 165-acre solar field recently constructed on city land at Carter and Newton roads. Bowling Green gets a portion of the power generated at that solar field – enough to supply nearly 5 percent of the city’s energy needs. By building a “community solar” project, all of the energy created at the proposed site could be used to power Bowling Green, O’Connell said. The East Gypsy Lane site is appealing because it is close to existing city facilities that can be tied into. There would be no need to build several miles of power poles and wires. “We have the infrastructure near there,” O’Connell said. The “community solar” concept is a growing trend across the nation, according to O’Connell. Bowling Green residents and businesses could sign up to be part of the project – on a purely voluntary basis. “Instead of putting solar on rooftops, this could be done at a lower cost,” O’Connell said. Bowling Green officials have been looking for open space for more solar panels. “Peaking energy is important to us,” O’Connell said Tuesday. “We’re looking for new ways to do more solar. But finding large parcels of property close to the city is difficult.” Then the city found that big chunk of land right in its backyard – and close to its city electric service. “This would be an ideal location for this,” Stockburger said. So on Tuesday, city officials asked the Wood County commissioners to give them a three-year lease option, which will allow the city to discuss the project with solar developers. “If you don’t have the land, they can’t give you an accurate price for the layout,” O’Connell said. The Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities has already signed off on the lease option for its acreage. “We would be glad to move forward,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said about the county’s acreage. The agreement will be reviewed again by the county prosecutor’s office prior to it being signed. “Exciting change is in the air again,” Herringshaw said. “It’s a nice partnership,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. Ideally, the acreage has room for enough solar panels to generate 10 megawatts of energy. The panels would likely rotate with the sun during the day to maximize the energy generated, O’Connell said. Bowling Green’s share of the power from the larger solar…

Wood Lane makes preliminary pitch for November levy

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Many groups come to the Wood County Commissioners to get the board’s blessing before putting a levy on the countywide ballot. Very few are able to report that they will be asking for lower millage than in the past. Wood Lane Superintendent Brent Baer explained the situation to the county commissioners on Thursday. Over the last decade, the agency serving people with developmental disabilities has been able to trim back its levy collections. The board has rolled back its current 2.95-mill levy on multiple years – including collecting just 50 percent of the millage this year. However, more people with developmental disabilities are seeking more services to live their lives. That means the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities will likely be on the ballot this November. But instead of going for the same millage, Wood Lane will likely ask for a lower amount, possibly 2.45 mills. “We believe that allows us to be fiscally responsible” and continue to provide quality services, Baer said to the commissioners. The Wood Lane board will discuss the millage at its June 21 meeting, then come back to the county commissioners to get their blessing for the ballot. “Your services certainly do make a difference to families in Wood County,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said. “We hear that over and over.” As of earlier this year, Wood Lane was serving 1,007 people. Broken down into age groups, those served are: 114 age 0-2; 95 age 3-5; 316 age 6-22; 171 age 22-30; 124 age 31-40; 74 age 41-50; 86 age 51-64; 27 age 65 and older. Baer explained that Wood Lane has seen “significant growth” in those being served, especially among the very young. “We start at birth with early intervention services,” he said. More people needing services means more staff to serve them. “We’ve had pretty significant growth in the overall level of staff,” Baer said. More early intervention is needed for children with autism, and for children affected by the opioid crisis, he added. As the children age, Wood Lane School gets involved for youth up to the age of 22. “Anyone who runs a school for people who have significant developmental disabilities has additional costs,” Baer explained. But Wood Lane has no intention of not offering school services. Without them, children would be placed back in their home schools – which would just shift the costs to those districts. Or they would be cared for at home, where little socialization is offered. “We just can’t let that happen,” he said. Wood Lane School does have extra costs due to its student population, Baer said. For example, during a recent performance of the “Princess and the Pea” opera for students, three individuals had significant seizures within an hour. Adequate staff with proper skills must be available. The agency also offers Family Support Services such as respite care, help with home modifications, and special diet assistance. “It’s a bit of a lifeline between the county board and those who receive services,” Baer said. Requests for those services are also growing. The agency provides homemaker care, transportation to work and medical services, plus vocational services. One of the big challenges is to find safe, affordable and accessible housing for their consumers. “We continue to be overwhelmed by…

First Solar site promising 500 new jobs gets tax break

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The future is looking bright for the First Solar facility proposed in Lake Township. The Wood County Commissioners voted Thursday to grant a tax abatement request that would relieve the company from 100 percent of its eligible property and inventory taxes for 15 years. The solar panel company has plans for a $400 million facility, with 1.2 million square feet of space, and 500 new jobs. “It’s nice to see this major project go forward here in Wood County,” Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission, said during the meeting with First Solar officials and the county commissioners. The new plant will be located at the southeast corner of Tracy Road and Ohio 795 – just down the road from the existing First Solar facility in Perrysburg Township. Lake Township officials have already signed off on the tax abatement, and the two school districts affected by the tax break have already made deals with First Solar. The agreements will result in Lake School District getting an additional $898,000 a year – enough to allow the school board to forgo the next levy planned for the ballot. Penta Career Center will receive $72,000 a year. In addition to creating 500 new jobs at the site, another 500 construction workers are expected to be employed to build the facility. Clarence Hertzfeld, plant manager for the Perrysburg operations, said the new site will have an estimated employee payroll of $30 million. “It will essentially double our output capacity,” Hertzfeld said of the new location paired with the existing site. First Solar’s main customers are large commercial and industrial power producers. “We compete in all the global markets,” Hertzfeld said. Jay Lake, who handles First Solar manufacturing workforce development, said the company hopes to leverage more of the “great workforce” in this region. Wood County Planning Director Dave Steiner was asked by the commissioners to weigh in on the tax break request. Steiner said he saw no problems with the request. “They’ve been a very good corporate citizen,” Steiner said of First Solar. Wood County Commissioner Doris Herringshaw welcomed First Solar’s expansion plans. “We are certainly glad you decided to stay here,” she said. Hertzfeld said First Solar appreciates the county’s cooperation in making the new facility possible. “We’re extremely excited about what we’re endeavoring here,” he said.

County approves $5 hike in license plate fee

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The Wood County Commissioners unanimously Thursday (May 17) voted to increase the cost of getting a license plate by $5. This will bring the county portion of the fee to$20 or $25 depending on the community. The state fee is $34.50. County Engineer John Musteric said the Permissive License Fee increase will generate an additional $632,660. That money will all go to road and bridge projects, he said, not for personnel or operating expenses. The county, he said, is facing a shortfall of about $3.7 million meet the needs of county road and bridges. “This will only be a drop in the bucket, but every little bit helps,” Musteric said. After a study of road conditions, the engineer’s office determined 74 percent of the county roads are in marginal or worse conditions. To address all that work, would take about $6 million a year. The office now spends $2.3 million. Also, 52 of the county’s 441 bridges, which have an average age of 41 years, are in poor or worse conditions. To catch up, the county would need to replace nine bridges annually, at about $400,000 each. That’s double what it can do. This comes at a time when the cost of materials is increasing. Musteric said his office has tried to make cost savings where it could, including not replacing employees who leave and doing in-house work that had been outsourced. One county resident Wade Kemp commented on the license fee increase. He said he supported it but wondered why he had to pay the same amount for his motorcycles as for his truck or his neighbor had to pay for a recreational vehicle. That is set by the state, assistant county prosecutor Linda Holmes said. Commissioner Craig LaHote noted that if the state allowed the county to levy an additional 3.2-cent-a-gallon gas tax, it would provide the revenue needed to fully fund the road and bridge repairs. Given the fluctuating price of gas, people wouldn’t even notice it Musteric said. Kemp noted that as federal fund economy standards go up, and people use less gas that will take a bite out of revenues from the gas tax. Musteric said that’s especially true with the increasing popularity of electric cars, and hybrids. LaHote said some states charge more for a license plate for an electric vehicle. California, Musteric said, charges by weight for registering vehicle. Board President Doris Herringshaw said that the commissioners did receive a couple telephone calls on the issue, both in favor of the increase. This was the second of two public hearings on the issue. The first hearing was held last week. The fee will go into effect sometime around the first of the year after it is reviewed by the state.

$5 license tax goes unchallenged at public hearing

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Talk of raising taxes normally raises the dander of local taxpayers. But when the Wood County Commissioners held a public hearing Thursday morning on a proposed $5 license tax, no one showed up to complain. The commissioners took that as a sign that local residents realize the poor condition of county roads and bridges. The public will have one more chance to voice opinions during the second public hearing on the tax set for May 17, at 10 a.m., in the county commissioners’ hearing room. The new tax was requested by Wood County Engineer John Musteric, who is tired of just spinning his wheels on endless road and bridge repairs. The $5 permissive vehicle license tax will be used only for road and bridge expenses, Musteric said. “Every little bit helps,” he said on Thursday. According to local county officials, state and federal government have no appetite for raising gas taxes themselves. And the revenue brought in by gas taxes isn’t growing to meet expenses, since more fuel-efficient cars mean less gas is needed to traverse the state. But the state has given local governments the option of tacking on the new tax. “They recognized the stagnant funding of local transportation systems and that counties were struggling to keep up with the need for bridge replacements and road repair,” Musteric said. The proposed $5 increase is projected to bring in an additional $632,660 annually for road and bridge repairs. Musteric pledged to the commissioners that the additional funds would be used only on capital expenses, not on personnel or operating costs. Currently the state registration fee is $34.50, and the local permissive fees are between $15 and $20, depending on the community. The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents has not been increased since 1993, and the state gas tax of 28 cents has not been increased since 2005. “Our revenues have been stagnant,” Musteric said. Meanwhile, the cost of building and maintaining roads has continued to grow. Since the last state gas tax increase, the cost of asphalt has jumped 58 percent, steel has increased 35 percent, concrete has gone up 10 percent, and road paint has jumped 38 percent. “So we have to do something,” Musteric said Thursday. To deal with stagnant or declining revenue plus rising costs, some counties have enacted county road and bridge levies. Wood County has not. Some counties have dedicated a portion of their sales tax revenue for roads and bridges. Wood County has not. According to Musteric, the county engineer’s office has tried to do more with less. The office has reduced the number of employees from 52 in 2006 to 44 in 2018. He is also trying to turn over some of the smaller roads to township maintenance, and transfer bridges inside municipalities to their care. The operating budget for the engineer’s office has barely budged since 2006 when it was $7.6 million, to 2017 when it was $7.75 million. Musteric said the county is in an impossible position of catching up on road and bridge repairs. Following are some statistics about county bridges: County owns and maintains 441 bridges. Average age of the bridges is 41 years old. Bridges 50 years old or more: 149. Bridges 75 years old or more: 68….

Rumor about farm equipment fees spreads like weeds

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As the weather warms and farmers start itching to get out in their fields, the Wood County Commissioners want to make one point perfectly clear – there will be no blanket fee for farm equipment on county roads. During discussions about an overweight truck program for the county, an initial annual blanket fee of $100 per vehicles was considered. However, the commissioners quickly nixed those plans, and removed any blanket fee for farm equipment from the overweight permit plan. While the word about the initial farm fee proposal spread like weeds in a soybean field, the word about the fee removal seems to have missed some people, Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said Thursday. In fact, the rumors worsened, with some farmers now believing they will have to pay $100 each time their vehicles travel county roads. The commissioners have heard that many farmers plan to show up to protest the non-existent fees at the next town meeting held by the commissioners on Monday at 5:45 p.m., in the Center Township Building. The goal of the Overweight Vehicle Permit program is to protect county roads and bridges from damage.  Overweight vehicles that travel state routes are required to obtain a permit from the Ohio Department of Transportation.  These same overweight vehicles travel state routes legally, then exit onto county and township roads with no permits or regard for the capacity of the roads or bridges. The only permit fee that could affect farmers is for vehicles that exceed 87,000 pounds – most likely semi-trucks hauling grain. “This is to protect our assets,” Wood County Engineer John Musteric said of the overweight permit program recently during a meeting with the county commissioners. “We’re spending a lot of money to improve these roads and bridges.” While many of the proposed county fees mirror amounts charged by the Ohio Department of Transportation for overweight traffic, the initial farm fees do not. The commissioners agreed that the blanket farm fees be discarded. “You don’t want to be the farm police,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said during that meeting. Grand Rapids area farmer Dan Potter said there would not be a meeting room big enough for all the unhappy farmers if the county enacted blanket fees. He explained that ODOT exempts all farm equipment driving down the road from overweight fees. No farm equipment weighs more than the maximum allowable weight of 80,000 pounds, Potter said However, some semi-loads of grain may be overweight. But there is no way for farmers to determine the weight of the loads prior to them being weighed at the grain elevator. “We know that coming out of the field it’s impossible to tell,” said Shane Johnson, of the county engineer’s office. Commissioner Craig LaHote suggested that the new overweight load program information be given to local grain elevators, so they can inform the farmers who bring in heavy loads. The goal of the program is to redirect heavy traffic away from roads and bridges that are not able to handle the loads. “This is really nothing new,” Musteric said. “All we’re trying to do is protect our assets. We know people are overloaded and they’re going across our load-limited bridges. We’re concerned, and the commissioners should be, too. It’s your…