Retailers had given some hints about the 2011 Christmas shopping season but it is official now. Shoppers made the most recent holiday shopping season the best in the past four years as reflected by the increased sales tax revenue that has bolstered Belmont County coffers.
In November and December of last year the sales tax revenue produced primarily from people making purchases for the approaching holidays totaled $1,368,443.68.
That eclipsed the previous year's sales tax total for the identical two-month period by $111,218. But it was $1,197,778 more than the sales tax revenue that came into the county during the shopping period of November and December in 2008 - a time when Belmont County was recovering from the movement of the JCPenney store from the Ohio Valley Mall to The Highlands across the river in West Virginia.
Not only was there a big improvement tax wise from the Christmas season but also for the entire year of 2011. Sales tax revenue - used by the Belmont County commissioners to bolster their general fund revenue - totaled $11,736,466 in 2011. That is almost $400,000 more than revenue produced from retail sales last year and $764,981 better than the amount collected from the tax in 2008.
In 10 of the 12 months of 2011, sales in Belmont County retail outlets produced more sales tax than what was collected during the same two months of the previous year. And if the economy continues to improve this year as it has during the first two months of this year, the county will realize increased revenue from retail sales.
During January and February of this year, the taxes produced from retail sales were more than $150,000 over what was generated during the same two months in 2011. Belmont County's sales tax income is based on a one-percent tax that was levied in the year 2000 and a one-half percent approved by voters a couple of years later.
There's going to be some preliminary work started on the multi-million dollar renovation of the Ohio Valley Mall on Monday but the full scale work on the project will be started one week later on April 23. A contractor on the project was selected by the Cafaro Co. last week.
One of the major phases of the construction will be the addition of five skylights to the huge shopping center. That will make a total of seven, since there already are two. Another major phase, in addition to the overall reconstruction of the entranceway, will provide a softer walking surface for shoppers in the mall.
Carpeting will be installed throughout much of the corridors. "I'd say the carpeting will cover about 90 percent of the corridors," explained mall manager George Diab. Also included in the project will be a new ceiling, a modern lighting system, new roofing, additional soft seating areas, children's play area and resurfacing of much of the huge parking area surrounding the retail center.
And as was promised when the project was announced, most of the work will be done at night.
From many sources come reports advising the public about the continually rising price of gasoline, but there is somewhat of a contradiction to that in St. Clairsville, where it is costing motorists quite a bit more to buy gasoline than it does just 10 miles away on the riverfront.
Early last week my travels took me to Bridgeport, Martins Ferry and Bellaire and in each of those communities the price of a gallon of the precious commodity ranged from 20 to 32 cents a gallon less than the price charged at the stations in and around the county seat.
A couple stations in Bellaire took the prize for having the lowest price - $3.679 - and even though my gas tank gauge registered three-quarters full, I couldn't pass the opportunity to fill up. In Bridgeport and Martins Ferry, the gasoline cost ranged right around $3.799, which was 20 cents lower than in the St. Clairsville area.
But a report on the best price came from a friend who sent me an email noting that in Steubenville, a station was selling it at $3.599 a gallon while at one of the company's stations in St. Clairsville had the price at $3.999 - a 40-cent variation.
All of that pricing activity took place early last week. By week's end the picture changed somewhat as most stations in the St. Clairsville area lowered their prices by at least 10 cents on the gallon.
Couldn't help but notice during that riverfront excursion that one gasoline station located at Aetna Street at the corporation line between Martins Ferry and Bridgeport, had the office windows, doors and the gasoline pumps all boarded up and out of business. It's a busy intersection but one where there are several other service stations located.
An expo - centered on the oil and gas drilling operations that have energized and enveloped Belmont County and the entire tri-state area - has the potential of being the largest such event ever held in the county or even this entire area.
As of late last week a total of 176 exhibitors had applied for space for the Ohio Valley Regional Oil Gas Expo 2012 set for Wednesday, April 25, in and around the Carnes Center on Roscoe Road about three miles west of St. Clairsville. A building located in the Belmont County Fairgrounds will also be used for the event.
With exhibitors from all over the nation as well as from Belmont County and the Ohio Valley area seeking to showcase their businesses for the benefit of the nation's major oil and gas companies who are settling in Belmont County, organizers of the Expo were forced to purchase tents to house some of the exhibitors after the huge Carnes Center was filled to capacity.
Eighty-one of the exhibitors will be located inside the Carnes Center; 44 exhibitors will have their wares on display in two tents set up next to the Carnes Center and 43 others have outdoor spaces. "There is still outdoor space available for other exhibitors," commented Belmont County Commissioner Ginny Favede, who launched the plans for the Expo in December.
Key officials connected with the oil and gas industry in Ohio as well as some political figures are expected at the event, which will open with a shale geology update from two experts. The two-hour program will be held from 9-11 a.m. It will be held in the Wise Building beside the Carnes Center.
Then from 1-4 p.m. an education conference will be held in the Wise Building which will provide attendees the opportunity to learn more about the industry from individuals with experience and expertise in working with the oil and gas drilling operations.
Speakers at the conference will include Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Program Foundation; Tom Stewart, executive director of the Ohio OGA; Dr. Bob Chase of Marietta College, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown; Joe Barone of Shale Directories and closing with a presentation by the Youngstown Pipe Co. Gov. John Kasich notified Expo officials he would be unable to attend the session.
On Tuesday, April 24, the day preceding the Expo, a vendors reception at $40 per person will be held in the Carnes Center. Catering it will be Undo's Catering Service. Guest speaker at that time will be David Mustine, general manager of energy for the Jobs Ohio organization.
There will be a special appearance at the Expo of professional race car driver Steve Park, who was been with the NASCAR circuit since 1996.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: email@example.com.