Population Dip Alters Town Election; Tax Bills Reflect Changes

When the massive, nationwide campaign was launched during the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower to rebuild and modernize the nation’s highway system, it was enthusiastically greeted.

Big cities were eager to get the interstate system to alleviate the huge traffic jams that virtually strangled movement on their streets. That same attitude came from smaller cities and towns because faster traffic on the new highway would bring them closer together.

Bridgeport was one town that gained and suffered from the road projects. Its gain involved the elimination of huge traffic jams that at times had drivers waiting as much as an hour to get through the town on U.S. 40 or Ohio 7. It gained a nationwide reputation and efforts were made by trucking companies to totally avoid going through the town. Without a change in the major highways, that was virtually an almost impossible task.

In 1954 Bridgeport had a population that put them close to what was needed for city status. The 1950 census had them just under 5,000 population mark and the feeling was that by the 1960 census, city status could be reached with a population of more than 5,000.

Of course, it never happened. First it was the relocation of Ohio 7 that took out a big chunk of Bridgeport’s population as well as two of its major businesses – Scott Lumber Co. and Cleveland Graphite Bronze. Also affected were several other large businesses like an A&P Store and the Bridgeport Eagles Club, which back then was one of the largest clubs membership-wise in Ohio.

Then along came the Interstate 70 construction project and it took out more of the population as well as numerous businesses.

Today, Bridgeport has a population less than 2,000. I didn’t realize the significance of that until talking to William Shubat, director of the Belmont County Board of Elections, about how the ballot was shaping up for the May primary election.

Shubat explained that while candidates have filed petitions for offices in Martins Ferry, Bellaire and Shadyside, no primary election will be held because there are no contests for the offices. All those filing are uncontested candidates.

How about Bridgeport? I inquired. “Bridgeport’s election won’t be held until November.” Shubat asserted. He added the reason for that is because “Bridgeport’s population is under 2,000 and their election will be a non-partisan one in November.” In other words candidates in November will not be identified as being either Democrat or Republican as they have been in previous primary elections.

Bridgeport’s election will be the same as in Brookside, Bethesda, Morristown and other Belmont County communities whose population ranks under the 2,000 mark. Those voters cast a ballot only in November since their elections are non-partisan.

Bridgeport mayor John Callarik admitted he was not aware of the election change. “I knew our population was down pretty low,” Callarik noted, but added that he wasn’t aware it would affect how elections would be held.

“If our election is in November and not in the May primary, it’ll give us more time to find some other candidates,” Callarik said in reference to the village council. “We need some new faces in council. It (the change) won’t bother me. I have three more years before my term ends.”

For the past two years the Belmont County auditor’s office has been involved in the reappraisal of all property in Belmont County, a project required by state law to be conducted every six years.

“It is done,” auditor Andy Sutak explained. “It was finished in 2012 after two years of work.”

And when Belmont County property owners received their tax bills recently, most of them found their real estate tax was somewhat larger than last year. Some were hiked a little and some a little more. “There’s no way to set a percentage on how much they increased,” Sutak explained.

But the hike in value of property was not the only reason the tax bills were higher. A one-mill tax levy approved by voters last year for the 911 system caused the increase for everyone owning property in the county.

In St. Clairsville, approval of a replacement levy for the Cumberland Trail Fire Department was another reason why tax bills were higher in that city. Property owners in other communities in the county where new tax levies were approved last year also are seeing the results on their tax bills.

Sutak reminds taxpayers that if they are not satisfied with the new valuation of their property, they may file a complaint with his office. Such complaints must be filed by March 31.

And if you haven’t yet paid that tax bill, you have just three days to do it. The deadline is Wednesday.

While we’re still dodging snowflakes in this area, a few hundred miles south, a long-awaited activity is taking place – baseball’s spring training camps are in operation. In fact the first exhibition game for the Pittsburgh Pirates is on Friday.

With M&M they have in the outfield, it looks like a powerhouse. That M&M isn’t a reference to a favorite candy treat, but to McCutcheon and Marte who may become almost as famous as those chocolate tidbits.

With Andrew McCutcheon and Starling Marte, along with some other acquisitions made during the winter, the Pirates look like they’ll be contenders for the full season and not just two-thirds of the season as was the case last year.

When the Pirates winter caravan came to the Ohio Valley Mall in December, I had an opportunity to have a very brief chat with Bob Nutting, principal owner and chairman of the board of the Pirates, who was on hand when hundreds of Pirates fans lined the mall corridors to get a chance to speak to and get autographs from McCutcheon, manager Clint Hurdle and other members of the Pirates family.

As he prepared to turn his attention back to the huge outpouring of fans, I threw one final question to him. “How are the Pirates going to do this year?” I asked, Without any further comment, he grinned and held high his right index finger to indicate No. 1 – first place. I hope so.

For the first time this winter, Belmont County Engineer Fred Bennett had to purchase 2,000 tons of salt at the end of January. Until that purchase, Bennett said salt left over from last winter was used to treat county roads as a result of several snowstorms in December and January. Last winter the weather was comparatively mild and little snow was produced. So the unused salt supplies came in handy for the county as well as other cities and towns in the county. “That should last us he rest of this winter,” Bennett said of the recent salt purchase.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: amole0420@aol.com or by phone at 740 695-5233.