"We'll be in a world of hurt if it doesn't pass."
That's the way one Belmont County official summarized what the devastating result would be if the one-mill tax levy for financing a $9.2 million upgrade and improvement of Belmont County's 911 emergency radio communication system is not approved by voters at Tuesday's general election.
Officials who have first-hand knowledge of the 911 operation that was put into effect 14 years ago, say flatly it is antiquated. Police, fire department officials, sheriff's office personnel, emergency medical personnel, and the county's Emergency Management Agency are in agreement that the equipment utilized by them is outdated and needs to be replaced or upgraded.
The proposed one-mill levy would produce slightly over $l million a year. If adopted it would take 10 years to pay off the purchase of the new mobile radios, pagers and other equipment needed to bring the radio communications system up to date.
Robyn Marshall, 911 director, admitted defeat of the levy would be a serious blow to the 911 operation. If that happened, Marshall declared, then the operation of the system "is in the commissioners' hands. They are holding the purse string."
Seeking a continuing levy, Marshall explained, was a decision that came from a tax levy committee that was formed to decide the financing. "They figured it would take 10 years to pay the new system off. By that time they figured the system would need to be updated again."
Representatives from fire departments and various other county emergency-linked personnel have been waging a campaign for passage of the levy knowing that voters will be hesitant to support a new tax hike during the present stagnant economic conditions.
Their efforts received a blow when a member of the board that governs the 911 system came out in opposition to the tax levy. Former county commissioner Mike Bianconi publicly voiced opposition to the issue, alleging that the money that had been available for operating the system was taken away and used for other purposes by the Belmont County commissioners.
Bianconi's claims the taxpayers of Belmont County paid for the 911 system once and now they are being asked to pay for it a second time. He was an original board member when a 0.5-percent sales tax was approved to start the 911 system. Five years ago the percentage was divided, one half going to 911 and the other half to the county to finance infrastructure improvements.
Although he did not dispute Bianconi's public disclosure, Belmont County Commission president Matt Coffland countered that Bianconi was well aware of the financial dealings and the financial condition of the county. "He was a member of the 911 board when it was formed and he was a member of the commission five years ago and agreed to one-quarter of the sales tax revenue going to fund the 911 system and one-quarter to the county's infrastructure improvements. He voted to approve it. It's all documented."
The 911 issue, but more importantly the one-mill renewal for five years for maintaining and operating cemeteries; Mead - one-mill renewal for repairing and resurfacing roads; Smith - additional 2 mills for five years for current expenses; and Somerset -1.3 mills for five years for improving roads.
School district levy requests include: Bellaire - 1 percent income tax for five years for current expenses; Bellaire - 3 mills for five years for capital improvements and general property maintenance; Jefferson County JVS -one mill for 10 years for operating expenses, purchasing equipment and improving buildings; Switzerland of Ohio - 2.5-mill renewal for three years for school improvements and equipment.
Two local options have St. C. Food Mart at 150 E. Main St., St. Clairsville, seeking sale of beer, wine and mixed beverages for off premises sales, and in Bethesda, Scher-Cash, at 101 N. Main St. is seeking sale of beer for off premises consumption.
Ohio Secretary of State John Husted went all out to get the voting public educated about the three state issues on Tuesday's ballot. Three times during the pre-election period Husted sent out a 60-page newspaper size text explaining each of them. Ohioans received the document with their daily newspaper on three different occasions.
The hotly debated Issue 2 proposal took up 58 of the 60 pages because the entire text of amended Senate Bill 5 which puts limits on collective bargaining by public employees, was included. The judges' issue took up one page and the health care issue took the other page.
How effective the publication was is debatable. One ardent political observer commented, "I got through one page and had to quit."
Word has come to me that a 90-year-old former Bellaire resident, George Ault, was a steady reader of this offering for many years and has continued reading it even though he moved to Texas 15 years ago. One of his close friends, Eileen Danford of Bellaire, sent me a note saying: "When he called to let me know he was moving, I asked him if I could help him with anything. He said 'yes, please send me Al Molnar's column.' So I have been mailing them to him weekly." And she added that if I could say "Hello to George Ault in Kerrville, Texas, it would surprise and please him."
So I'll say "Hello" to George Ault and remind him he still has a true friend, Eileen Danford, in Bellaire.
Don't forget to turn your clock back one hour to avoid what could be a somewhat embarrassing situation reporting for work Monday morning.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: email@example.com.