Sequester Budget Cuts Hit Health Department, New Director

Those much publicized sequester budget cuts have come to roost in Belmont County.

“They keep cutting our budget but they want more out of us …”

That was the first major hurdle that faced Robert “Rob” Sproul when he was elevated from an interim capacity to full-time deputy health commissioner of the Belmont County Health Department.

A native of St. Clairsville, Sproul took over operation of the health department on an interim basis following the Dec. 30, 2012 retirement of James King as commissioner. Sproul has been with the health department the past six years.

In March the board of health named him to the full-time post. His new position came at about the same time as the infamous sequester federal budget cuts legislation engineered in Washington, went into effect. That controversial issue called for a cut of $85 billion from the federal budget between March 1 and Sept. 30 of this year.

“We got hit by the sequester,” Sproul explained. “We got hit with an 8 percent cut in all of the grants from the federal government through the state.” As a result, his major concern in assuming his new position has been implementing those cuts that affected virtually all of the health department programs.

But the operation of the health department has not changed a whole lot since he took over the first of this year. “Basically,” Sproul noted, “we have been reacting to the stuff like the budget cuts coming out of the state and federal government.” While they adjust to the 8 percent budget cuts, Sproul noted, there has not been a cut in services. Instead, he noted, “they want more out of us.”

After graduating from St. Clairsville High School in 1987, Sproul went to Ohio State University, from where he graduated with a health and science degree. His experience in the health field started in 1992 with the Franklin County Health Department in Columbus. Before coming back home to accept employment with the Belmont County Health Department, Sproul was employed for a short time in the Ohio Environmental Agency’s central office.

He currently resides in Belmont with his wife, Tonya, also a St. Clairsville area native, and children, Alicia, 20, a student at Ohio University, Keegan, 14, and Breanna, 10, both students at St. John’s in Bellaire.

During a trip to the courthouse last week, I casually inquired from a group of people in the corridor about what was happening in the courtroom on the second floor. One of them had a very concise and hard-hitting answer.

“They’re having child support cases,” one of them answered, “you know, for those people who can afford to get tattoos, buy booze and drugs but can’t afford to support their children.”

Covered wagons similar to those that carried early settlers as they made their way westward to make their home, will be rolling again this year when the National Road Wagon Train plods through Belmont County in June.

A year ago at this time interest in staging the wagon train that had run for 22 consecutive years seemed bleak and the two main promoters – Eugene “Doc” Householder, director of the Belmont County Tourism Council and Richard “Dick” Gummere, the wagon master – decided that the 2012 event would be the last because of the apparent lack of interest.

That announcement evidently was the spark that ignited prospective participants who had not attended any of the pre-event planning sessions.

“It turned out the wagon train last year was one of the biggest we ever had,” exclaimed Householder. “There were nine wagons in it, which is more than we usually have. We were real pleased with the turnout. Everybody had a good time.” Besides the covered wagons, there were a half dozen outriders accompanying the train.

As soon as the two-day event ended, the decision was made the wagon train would roll again this year because of what seemed to be renewed interest in the event. A final meeting to plan this year’s wagon train was held Tuesday and the session re-enforced the planners’ belief that there is renewed interest in the event.

Householder noted that Clifford Collins, who was the first to serve as a wagon master and did so for many years before relinquishing that role to Gummere, attended the session to let it be known he would be back to participate again after several years absence.

But Gummere and his wife will be in the role of wagon master when formation begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 8, at the Adam Elizeus home on Country Club Road in St. Clairsville. The train will then head north across National Road for the first stop at the Cumberland Pointe Care Center on Ohio 331.

After lunch served by the care center, the horse and buggy troupe will follow county and township roads before moving onto the National Road briefly for a stop at the Belmont County Saddle Club, where the travelers will prepare dinner and spend the night. On Sunday the train will be on the move again, making several stops, including Barkcamp State Park, then to the center of town gazebo in Morristown, where the Historical Preservation Association is inviting the community to a covered dish luncheon with the wagon train.

Then the final segment of the train ride will take the participants along National Road back to the Saddle Club where the 2013 wagon train ends.

There was a relocation completed in the Ohio Valley Mall last week that was not caused by the impending arrival of Boscov’s department store, as was the case with five other store moves. The Shoe Department moved from an 8,000 square foot location to one with 14,000 square feet in order to expand its merchandise line.

“We’re offering a bigger and better variety of merchandise,” explained Deb Bell of Dillonvale, who has been manager of the store for 13 years since it located in the mall. “We’re also adding more than 6,000 pair of shoes as well as other merchandise for both men and women.”

The new store, located across the corridor from the original store, is known as “Shoe Department Encore.” It reopened for business on Friday.

This is a special day for moms. Give her the whole day off from her many chores and treat her to a dinner. She deserves that and more. Happy Mother’s Day.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: or by phone at (740) 695-5233.