Deputy Auditor Says Effects of Energy Boom Are Evident

STEUBENVILLE – From where Lewis Piergallini sits, the change in the local economy over the past year is obvious.

Piergallini, chief deputy auditor in Jefferson County, said as of Oct. 24, year-to-date property sales totalled $152 million. If the current pace continues, he said that number could hit an all-time high of $180 million by the end of 2012.

To put that in perspective, he said property sales for all of 2011 totalled just $60 million.

“Some are skeptical that the energy boom is not coming,” Piergallini said. “I think it’s already here.”

Piergallini said it’s not just the dollar values that are up, but also the number of transfers coming through.

“A lot of things have sold this year,” he said. “The other day, there was a trailer court that we had down for $800,000 and it sold for $2.5 million, that’s the kind of thing that’s happening. We’ve had houses that have been on the market for three or four years for $400,000 or $500,000 that have finally sold. Land values are going through the roof.”

Over the past six years, property sales were “up and down, up and down,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, boom!”

Piggyback tax receipts have hit record highs as well.

“It’s been up every month compared to last year,” said Vickie Winski, chief deputy auditor. “It fluctuates, but it’s always more than compared to last year.”

So far this year, she said Jefferson County has collected a total of $9,150,841 from its 1.5 percent piggyback tax, up more than $900,000 from a year ago.

Anthony Bodo, assistant urban projects director for the city of Steubenville, said permits are up there as well.

“The new Texas Roadhouse, there’s a new hotel that’s going to be built, the college has plans,” he said. “It’s just a lot busier, put it that way. It’s been pretty busy around here.”

“Subtle increases, that’s the best way to describe it,” Progress Alliance Executive Director Ed Looman said. “There’ve been subtle increases – in employment numbers, in sales tax collections, in (property sales) and several municipalities that have wage taxes have seen increases. There is something going on of a positive nature, and I think as we continue to move forward, we’re going to have more and more statistical information that shows the impact it’s having. The impact is going to continue to (grow).”

Looman said he’s met with “probably five development firms in the last four months.”

“They realize there’s something going on in this area and they’re trying to figure out what they can do to get here and (be part) of it,” he said. “They’re calling, wanting to know what it is we need – if it’s residential, if it’s industrial or if it’s commercial. They’re asking all kinds of questions, because they’ve got clients in all three sectors interested in establishing something here or buying property and trying to market it.”

Looman said he’s had three calls in the last month alone “from real estate firms inquiring about large chunks of property for commercial operations, they have clients who are interested.”