Jobs Key to Development; Seniors Program Changes Opposed

“We have a lot of irons in the fire.”

That was part of the reaction from well- known Barnesville businessman T. J. Jefferis to the final approval given for establishment of the Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) just east of Barnesville.

“There are people all over wanting different things,” Jefferis related, then rattled off a number of states – including Texas, Oklahoma and Wyoming – from where business people have contacted him about what is available in the county. “These are mostly oil and gas people,” he stated, adding that and their goal is more business and more jobs for this area.

Jefferis is the private developer of the 201-acre JEDD which was approved by both Barnesville village council and the Warren Township trustees last week after six months of wrangling over various aspects of the district. Belmont County has land and a financial contribution to the district involved.

Jefferis said as soon as a $150,000 sewage line is installed from Barnesville to the district – a project that should begin within a month – he plans to construct two buildings adjacent to the former Bob’s Chevy building which he leased in February to a Pennsylvania firm, Force Inc., an oilfield service company.

At the present time Jefferis said he does not know who or what will be occupying those two new buildings but stressed, “I have prospects.”

More than 150 acres of Belmont County-owned property as well as a $50,000 financial commitment from Belmont County are involved in the agreement creating JEDD.

Land comprising the JEDD includes the 95-acre former Belmont County Children’s Home property on Ohio 147 in Tacoma, 65 acres of county-owned land located behind the former Bob’s Chevy building, 30 acres owned by Jeru Real Estate and leased to Force Inc., and 11 acres located adjacent to the Emerald Pointe Nursing Home owned by Jefferis Real Estate.

A property transaction is now being prepared which would transfer ownership of the county’s 65-acre site to the Belmont County Port Authority, which would then have the ability to sell it to Jefferis.

Discussions have been ongoing with Barnesville Village Council and the Warren Township trustees since late last year for establishment of the district located in the general vicinity of the former Bob’s Chevy agency on Ohio 147. At the time Jefferis leased that building, Force officials said they had 40 new trucks on order and they had plans to hire 75 to 100 employees. Their hiring of truck drivers already has been started.

One sticking point that played prominently in the discussions was a restriction on residential development on the county-owned portion of land. Belmont County opposed the restriction and stressed it would pull out its land from the project if that language remained in the agreement. The restriction was then withdrawn.

Information emanating from those discussions included the possibility of a hotel being constructed in that area. Asked about that report, Jefferis only comment was “we’re looking at a lot of things.”

On Wednesday, when asked about plans for the area, Belmont County Port Authority director Larry Merry, who has been representing the county in the JEDD talks, was ecstatic about the possibilities for the area. “We have had many inquiries,” Merry declared. “In fact I’m meeting with a prospect for that area on Friday.”

Merry heaped praise on Jefferis and his son, John, a member of Barnesville village council, for their contribution to the JEDD development. “I wish I had a T.J. Jefferis in every community in Belmont County,” he exclaimed.

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Belmont County isn’t the only place the T.J. Jefferis influence was being felt. Last week the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District conducted a public auction at which seven school buildings were sold. One of the largest acquisitions was by the Jeru Real Estate firm. which Jefferis confirmed was his agency.

His purchase was for the Woodsfield Elementary School on a bid of $130,000.

Immediate reports began circulating that Jefferis planned to construct a hotel on the school site. Asked about that possibility, Jefferis chuckled, “You’re pretty close.” He noted, however, no plans have been developed for the school site as yet, but added, “We’re working on that.”

He volunteered information that he has another project under consideration. “We’re also working on a development in the Morristown area.”

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Reaction to the surprise move by the Belmont County commission to add two people to the administrative staff of the senior citizens program can be expected at the commission’s regular meeting on Wednesday, at a special town hall meeting on Thursday – or at both.

An immediate reaction came at last week’s meeting when Commissioner Ginny Favede vehemently opposed the request by the Department of Jobs & Family Service to increase the administrative staff by two people, claiming the move is “disingenuous to the public. I feel strongly and adamantly against this.”

With Commissioners Matt Coffland and Chuck Probst casting affirmative votes, the request from DJFS for two additional staff for the seniors program was approved. Making the request were Director Dwayne Pielech, Fiscal Manager Vince Gianangeli and Human Resources Administrator Lori O’Grady.

Commissioner Matt Coffland defended the action, claiming that when the DJFS took over the seniors program seven months ago, an immediate savings was created by cutting the program’s administrative staff; but since then the staff has become overloaded with work due in part to the growing number of seniors involved.

Following the meeting, Favede said she was “very much concerned” about the action taken by the board. “They (DJFS) can’t handle it (seniors program). They’re overwhelmed.” She said what was done was “wrong.”

Wednesday’s regular meeting is at 10 a.m. at the courthouse and the town hall meeting has been scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Martins Ferry Veterans Memorial Recreation Center on Fourth Street.

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The immediate St. Clairsville area was left without a farmers’ market location for the first time in many years when the Ohio Valley Farmers’ Market launched its 2012 season last week with a market in Bellaire and a new one to open in Morristown on Tuesday.

In May the OVFM announced that “after much consideration, we have decided to move our Tuesday market.” It had been located for two years in the Ohio Valley Mall parking lot and prior to that it was on the courthouse plaza in downtown St. Clairsville. Originally it was located at the former fairgrounds in St. Clairsville.

Tuesday’s market will be at the new site at the Bel-Morr Market located on the Belmont-Morristown Road at the I-70 exit 208. Cathy Murdy, who operated the market last year at the mall, will be back to manage the Bel-Morr market from 3-6 p.m.

The Bellaire market on Saturday is at the parking lot on 32nd Street from 9 a.m. to noon.

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It has been a long time since I have written anything about the white squirrels – mainly because they have stopped running around in my yard. Guess they didn’t like the free publicity they were getting.

But in the past three weeks I’ve received reports from two different sections of St. Clairsville that the animals are still around. One report came from an employee at the Belmont County courthouse, who reported there were two baby white squirrels in a nest behind the former Thoburn Church building. The other came from the residential section on Ohio 9, just south of the I-70 bridge. That’s near the National Road Bikeway where the white squirrels continue to be seen.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: