Belmont County Seeks Severance Tax Revenue for Roads
The Belmont County Board of Commissioners is sending word to Columbus requesting aid from the severance tax on oil and gas operations to help address crumbling roads.
The board approved a letter, addressed to Ohio Speaker of the House Ryan Smith, saying Belmont County’s location is in the heart of the shale industry and road use maintenance agreements with companies to provide paving are insufficient.
Belmont County Engineer Terry Lively’s office is funded through the gasoline tax — which has not seen an increase at the federal and state level for more than 10 years — and license plate fees, which the commissioners recently increased with three new $5 levies.
Commissioner J.P. Dutton said the commissioners are looking to the severance tax as a further option.
“We decided at this point to make another push with the legislature to try to make them understand what we’re dealing with here in Belmont County,” he said.
Commissioners said the 4 percent tax has remained in Columbus.
“Being held in Columbus and in some cases actually being spent in some ways that we think is counter to what these funds should be spent on,” Dutton said. “These are really industry dollars that are coming into the state.”
Commissioner Mark Thomas said $15 million was taken a year ago from the severance tax fund to settle a flooding lawsuit of landowners near Grand Lake St. Marys State Park.
“We believe strongly that those funds should be used to assist counties that are currently going through production from oil and gas,” Dutton said. “A portion of those funds should go back to the counties, and we’re going to continue to make this push.”
Dutton also said the board will address the issue further the new governor after the first of the year.
“This can’t be ignored,” he said.
“This is the right thing to do for Belmont County,” said Commissioner Josh Meyer. “Address the situation directly. We’re just asking for our fair share at the end of the day.”
Thomas said the severance tax fund for the state took in $52.1 million during the last fiscal year. He also said a copy of the letter will go to the governor and every legislator in the state.
Lively said additional funding is necessary.
“The severance tax, the purpose of it is to be able to help the counties,” Lively said.
In other matters, the board approved legislation for an emergency project consisting of two landslide repairs on Belmont County Road 46, or New Cut Road, west of Bellaire. The total estimated cost is $394,460. Federal funding sources will cover 100 percent of the cost up to Aug. 11. After this date, federal funding would drop to 80 percent, with the county responsible for the remaining 20 percent.
Lively said the Federal Highway Administration is responsible.
“Federal highway money is being administered through ODOT,” Lively said, adding that the agency is treating the slip as an emergency, so work could begin as soon as next week.
“They don’t have to bid this work…I think there’s a chance that they will have those two slips repaired, at least substantially, before Aug. 11. I think our share will be minimal on those two slips.”
In other matters, the commissioners approved a proposal from BearCom for $896,604.63 for paging and microwave link upgrades for the county 911 center. The funds will be paid for by the county’s 911 levy.
911 Director Bryan Minder said this had been a long-term plan since before the renewal of the five-year levy this past election.
“Back in late 2016, early 2017, we had gotten some quotes for us to do some of the upgrades,” said Minder who also said this will include upgrades to the six microwave tower sites in the county, as well as the paging system used by Belmont County’s fire departments and EMS.
Minder also said the paging terminal at each of the six sites will be upgraded as well, along with the main paging terminal at the 911 center. Minder said they would also add a terminal for fire paging to the Armstrong-Mills tower in Alledonia.
“We have had some issues with poor reception in the southwestern portion of the county,” he said.
“We’re going to replace all of the fire pagers,” he said. “Fire pagers are approximately six years old. There are maintenance issues with them.”
Dutton commended Minder for addressing these issues.
Minder said he appreciates the residents’ rewewal of the five-year levy. He said the work could begin in six to eight weeks. He hopes the upgrades will be complete by the first of the year.
Other guests included Richard Hord of Martins Ferry, who commended Tuesday’s town hall meeting in his town, where the commissioners attended. He also inquired if the planned consolidation of county court and prosecutor’s offices in the former Health Plan building in St. Clairsville also would include the public defender’s office. The commissioners said the plans were still being worked on, but this was unlikely.