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.”
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 a $400 million investment and will create 500 new jobs when complete. This project included a 15-year agreement with Lake Schools for $897,000/year.
- Walgreens is expanding its Perrysburg Township distribution center by 500,000 square feet and plans to employ an additional 350 associates with the $80 million investment. This project includes a 15-year agreement with Rossford Schools for $345,000/year.
- Continental Structural Plastics announced the 70,000 square foot expansion of its North Baltimore facility that will add 100 new jobs with the $30 million investment. This project included a 15-year agreement with North Baltimore Schools for $35,000/year.
- NSG Pilkington North America will spend $265 million to construct a 511,000 square foot float glass plant in Troy Township. This plant will make specialty sheet glass for the solar panel manufacturing industry, primarily for First Solar. This new plant will employ about 110 hourly and 40 salaried employees with production starting in 2020 producing about 130,000 tons of glass annually.
New election equipment
The county commissioners are helping to fund the replacement of the 12-year-old electronic voting machines in the county. The state has given the Wood County Board of Elections $1.3 million for the new voting system, and the county is putting in another $900,000.
“This is a project that is of importance to every person in Wood County,” Herringshaw said.
The commissioners are continuing to work on building projects to replace the county highway garage, and renovate the booking and medical areas of the Wood County Justice Center.
The county has also applied for an expansion permit for the county landfill. The existing permitted space has about six years of life left, but additional acreage can provide about 100 years of landfill space.
“We encourage you to shop locally in Wood County,” Herringshaw said. “The one penny of local tax – less than most of our neighboring counties – goes a long way toward supporting the operation of county government. In 2018, that one penny generated almost $22 million dollars.”
National Day of Prayer
Also at the State of the County event, Bowlus discussed the National Day of Prayer, which will be recognized with a program on the courthouse steps on May 2. The commissioners have voiced concerns about the organizers of the event only allowing Christians to participate in the praying.
“The National Day of Prayer is for every faith,” Bowlus said.
“Our society today is filled with many issues which are used to divide people. Unfortunately, religion has become one of these,” Bowlus said. “Therefore, we believe it is increasingly important to observe the National Day of Prayer in a manner that is open and inclusive of the many faiths of America’s citizens.”
However, a contingent of the national event, called the National Day of Prayer Task Force, has for years sponsored the event at the county courthouse.
Bowlus asked for tolerance to be shown, “even though we may disagree deeply.”
Other elected officials also spoke at the State of the County address, including Wood County Common Pleas Judge Alan Mayberry.
“The state of the judiciary is strong,” he said. However, there are challenges.
“Today the criminal justice system is overwhelmed,” Mayberry said. “It’s overwhelmed because of opiates.”
Court caseloads are dominated by thefts used to support drug habits, and by drug trafficking throughout Wood County.
Mayberry expressed his concern about Senate Bill 3, which has similarities to Issue 1 which Ohio voters defeated last year. The proposed legislation would lessen penalties for serious drug offenses, which Mayberry said would result in increased addictions and deaths, and decrease people getting treatment.
Auditor Oestreich reported on the county conveyance fee, collecting $3 on every $1,000 in real estate transactions. Of that amount, two-thirds goes into the county general fund, and one-third to the county economic development office.
Oestreich also talked about the approximately 20,000 dog license sold annually in the county, with the online registrations becoming more popular, he said.
The auditor also reported on his office’s role in monitoring 705 commercial scales and 1,470 fuel pumps in the county. Last year, his staff found two credit card skimmers at a Northwood gas station, he said.
Wood County Clerk of Courts Cindy Hofner shared information from the auto title office, which saw more than 61,000 titles processed last year – the largest ever in the office. She talked about the technology updates in the clerk of courts office, and the varied responsibilities in the office.
Other information shared at the state of the county included:
- The commissioners continue to support the Vivitrol program and the ARC program, to help opiate addicts overcome their addictions.
- A couple large drainage projects are nearing completion, including the 47-mile Portage River and 34-mile Toussaint Creek cleanup projects.
- The NetPlus non-emergency ride program in the county is averaging more than 1,000 rides per month.
- The county opened 10 permanent residential recycling drop-off locations last year. That has resulted in an increase in 400,000 pounds of recyclables being collected. “The response to this program has just been incredible,” LaHote said.
- Wood Haven Health Care continues to make capital improvements and be recognized for customer service and for being a good employer.
- The Wood County Emergency Management Agency completed an all-hazards mitigation plan last year, which assists local communities mitigating disasters.
- Regional water quality and water source discussions continue, with the Wood County Economic Development Commission and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District being involved.
- More volunteers are always being sought for the numerous boards and commissions appointed by the county commissioners. Volunteers will be needed to help plan the county’s upcoming bicentennial in 2020, Herringshaw said.
- Restoration of the murals in the county courthouse has been completed. “We the county commissioners are stewards of all the county buildings,” Bowlus said. “Keeping this wonderful courthouse in good order is a very pleasant responsibility.”