By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Wood County’s finances are strong – but they are facing some heavy lifting in the next few years.
The county is staring down a potential $4.2 million bill for new voting machines, $6 million to renovate the booking area of the county jail, and more than it can afford to fix its road and bridge repairs.
But the county commissioners assured their audience at the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce’s State of the County Address on Tuesday that Wood County government is quite healthy.
The combination of conservative spending and the highest ever sales tax revenue of $21.7 million last year has positioned the county on solid ground, Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said.
Business looking bright
Wood County businesses are thriving, with many upping production and updating machinery, Commissioner Craig LaHote said. The issue now is the shortage of employees to fill new positions.
“That’s a good problem to have,” he said.
LaHote specifically mentioned growth at First Solar in Perrysburg Township, and a $16 million expansion promising 100 jobs at Continental Structural Plastics in North Baltimore – a company that was considered close to failing a few years ago.
The numbers at county building inspection reached a record high, Wood Haven Health Care has seen major renovations, glass recycling was reinstated last year, and permanent satellite recycling stations will be opened this summer.
Efforts are underway to establish the Toledo Area Water Authority, which would regionalize the Toledo system and potentially serve the northern part of Wood County.
“As commissioners, we believe a cooperative approach is best,” LaHote said. However, if Toledo fails to approve the project, Wood County has other options, he added.
Expenses on the horizon
All electronic voting machines in Ohio must be replaced by the 2020 election. That comes with a hefty price tag of $4.2 million. The commissioners are working with state legislators to find state funding to help with the expense.
The county is also facing a $6 million renovation project enlarging the booking area of the Wood County Justice Center. The current booking area is not large enough to safely meet the demands.
Another expense will be the expansion of the Wood County Landfill, west of Bowling Green. The existing landfill cell has just six years of space remaining. With the expansion permit, the life of the facility will be extended to 125 years.
(A separate story will follow on the road and bridge expenses facing the county.)
Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson reported that of the 931 cases opened last year, 435 ended in indictments. A “significant” number of those – about 70 percent – were directly related to drug abuse, he said.
The term “war on drugs” is misleading since it implies that there is an end to the battle, Dobson said. That has created “unrealistic expectations,” he said.
Wood County is one of the most aggressive prosecutors of drug trafficking, especially in cases where a death occurs. Dobson’s office has been prosecuting those cases as homicides.
“We are vigorous in our prosecution of traffickers,” he said.
Like any war, efforts are made to stop drugs from coming into the county. “In a war, you disrupt the supply runs,” he said. That means watching for traffickers targeting drug therapy sessions or treatment programs to try to hit addicts when they are most vulnerable.
And like a war, there are refugees to be helped. That is where the new Addiction Response Collaboration program comes in. The ARC team responds to overdoses, and tries to link addicts with treatment. The goal is not to arrest the addicts, but to intervene and get them help.
During the first two months of the ARC program, 25 people were assisted. Though local agencies, including the county, helped fund ARC, more funding will be needed to keep the program going, Dobson said.
Kids in court
Wood County Juvenile and Probate Judge Dave Woessner talked about the impact of juvenile court on the community, with more than 3,000 cases last year. Cases ranged from major felonies, to unruly behavior, or traffic charges.
A total of 268 kids were on probation last year, with many of them working off their restitution to the victims by cleaning up football fields after games, or picking up trash along roadways.
The county juvenile detention center housed 264 males and 138 females, the youngest being 10 years old.
The effect of opioids can be seen in many of the 461 cases of abuse and neglect that came before the juvenile court. Those cases ranged from newborns testing positive for drugs, to teenagers raising their younger siblings since their parents were unable to due to drugs.
Woessner commended the work of Wood County Children’s Services and CASA in finding suitable housing for those abused or neglected children.
Meanwhile, probate court saw 820 marriage applications, 71 name change requests, and 538 new estates opened. “Every one of them impacting a family,” Woessner said.
The county’s responsibilities are great, Herringshaw said, including the clearing of waterways and ditches to keep the county from returning to its original Black Swamp status. “Drainage ditches are vital to Wood County,” she said.
Two major waterway projects will begin this year after years of planning – the east branch of the Portage River and Toussaint Creek.
The Wood County Net Plus program is providing non-emergency health transportation to county residents. Commissioner Ted Bowlus pointed out that the Wood County commissioners have objected to state plans to take away local control of the transportation program.
Herringshaw urged those attending to shop locally. “That really is important to fund services in Wood County,” she said.