Belmont County Has Financial Bonanza, But State Takes Half

Even a beehive would have to take a back seat to the feverish activity going on in the recorder’s office at the Belmont County courthouse. It’s activity that’s bringing in big bucks.

People are crowding one another and tripping over others as they carry out the work of searching landownership documents for the firms involved in the natural gas and oil boom that has gripped Belmont County. Every inch of counter space in the small office is occupied and some of the busy bodies have set up tables outside the office to do their work.

It’s an almost overwhelming task for Recorder Catherine Nixon and her full time staff of five people and two part-time workers. And since the business boom started she has added two more part time employees to handle the massive load of extra work.

However, all the tiresome and extra work is paying off financially. The office is producing more revenue than it has since Belmont County was established more than 200 years ago.

In 2011, the recorder’s office revenue that is derived from fees charged for preparation of the leases, deeds and other legal documents totaled $718,515.

That’s a huge increase of $248,295 over the previous year, the period before the oil/gas exploration boom got into full swing in the county. The 2010 total amounted to $470,220.

But it is not a financial bonanza for the county as one might think with the extra funds. Belmont County doesn’t get all the money. “The sad thing is the state takes half of the money we take in,” explained Nixon.

In addition to the fees charged for the legal documents, the recorder’s office also assesses a fee of $2 per page for copying documents. “The state even takes $1 of that,” Nixon added. The money the county sends the state goes into the state housing trust fund.

The charge assessed for making copies of the legal documents the abstractors or others prepare was eight times greater in 2011 than it was for the previous year. “Our copying business totaled $18,000 in 2010. In 2011,” Nixon pointed out, “it was $144,000.” She has two part-time employees whose sole function is to make and keep track of the copies made of each document. For example she noted the copying charge for just one gas firm over a three week period amounted to $19,000.

On two days that I visited her office, there were 34 people crowded into the small main room of the office and nine others working outside the office. On the second trip there were 36 in the office and six outside. One literally has to squeeze through the people to get inside the office.

And when one leaves, another worker is right there to occupy the space. That’s the routine for the entire day. “I get here at 8:30 in the morning to open up the office and they’re already waiting to get in,” Nixon observed. “Then when 4:30 rolls around we have to run them out.”

That’s not the end of the day, however. On three days of the week the XTO firm, which represents Mobile/Exxon, foots the bill for having the office open for a couple of hours for their employees only. And the firm also pays to have the office open for a half day on Saturday. “I have two people working and they pay them. They also pay for the security people who have to stay while they are here.”

From June 2011 when the oil/gas lease searches swung into high gear in Belmont County, until the present time there has been a steady monthly increase in the business transacted by the recorder’s office. In June, the total was $47,610; July, $57,744; August, $59,116; September, $75,588; October, $87,382; November, $86,596; December, $99,072. In 2010 the average monthly income totaled approximately $35,000 to $40,000. For the first five months the totals ran up and down from $31,000 to $54,000.

Based on a preliminary report presented her for business thus far this month, Cindy Cervelli informed Mrs. Nixon, “we’re off to a good start this year.” The January report showed the total business for this month had surpassed the $90,000 mark. “And we still have more than a week to go,” Cervelli added, indicating the total could surpass the $100,000 mark for the first month of 2012.

Nixon added the the copying fees likewise were increasing. “We deposited a check for $6,000 on Monday and one for $5,000 today (Tuesday).”

One day St. Clairsville Attorney Greg Hinzey stood in the lobby eyeing the huge throng inside the main recorder’s office. “An attorney doesn’t stand a chance of getting inside to do his work,” I commented to him. He shook his head and uttered, “We (attorneys) come at night.” He added that’s when the crowd isn’t quite as large as during the daytime hours.

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This is the time of year most taxpayers are agonizing and getting their financial records from the past year shaped up in order to satisfy Uncle Sam by filing their income tax.

For those who will need help getting those complicated tax forms completed, there is a free service available. As has been the case the past 10 years, Tax-Aide, a confidential, free tax preparation and electronic filing service will be available at the Ohio Valley Mall, starting on Wednesday and continuing through April 12.

Located in the Crafts 2000 corridor, the office will be open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and appointments are recommended but walk ins will be accepted on a first come-first served basis if the schedule permits. The office hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A dozen volunteers who have been educated for the tax work are involved in the program operated by the AARP Foundation in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service. The program places special emphasis on low-to-moderate income taxpayers aged 60 and older. But taxpayers do not need to be AARP members or retirees to participate.

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When there is an appeal made for blood donations – like the Media Day held last week in Wheeling – my wife, Janis, rolls up her sleeve and is ready to go. At least twice each year for the past five years or more she has been a blood donor – and the Central Blood Bank in Pittsburgh is always happy to see her. She has the blood type that is in great demand.

In fact the central bank keeps in touch with her and sends her emails encouraging her to give blood. She received four or five such requests last year. In fact the day after she donated her pint of blood last Monday at Media Day, there came an email from the bank asking her to schedule another appointment because “the winter months pose a challenge” to a community’s blood supply.

It further stated, “Your blood type (O-negative) is always needed because it is rare and can be given to patients with other blood types, especially in emergency situations.” So when the next appeal is sounded, it’s a sure bet she’ll be there with her sleeve rolled up.

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Hundreds of boxes of a Polish delicacy known as “Paczki” (pronounced Poonch-key) have already been made and a Polish polka band has been lined up in preparation for the celebration of the 14th annual “Paczki Ball” at Riesbeck’s Food Market in St. Clairsville.

Shoppers will be dancing in the aisle at the market on Saturday, Feb. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m. when the Polish band, “The Polkaholics” will be playing the lively polka tunes.

Originally, the sugar-coated, fruit-filled Paczki were made to use up lard and eggs which were prohibited during the Lenten season. The day before Lent begins has been commonly called “fat Tuesday.” Now, the delicacy is more of a lastminute binge of sweets before the sacrifice for the religious holiday and they are available long before the Lenten season starts.

For more than a week now the “homemade” Paczki have been available and Riesbeck’s is quick to point out “it’s not just another jelly donut” even though there is a resemblance. They are dough balls deep fried like a donut but filled with apricot, raspberry, Bavarian creme, poppy seed and the traditional filling of prunes.

“Don’t ask about calories,” a flyer from Riesbeck’s cautions, “you just don’t want to know.” But I can personally confirm – they are scrumptious.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: