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County home boss, residents ask commissioners for portion of oil, gas proceeds

By Leigh Ann Rutledge
FPS Reporter

Gar meeting
A crowd of nearly 100 residents gathered last Thursday at the Carroll Golden Age Retreat to ask questions about development of the land now known as the Commerce Park to Carroll County Commissioners. In the photo above, Commissioner Tom Wheaton (to the right of the television) uses a microphone to answer a question.

Nearly 100 people gathered March 15 for a meeting at Carroll Golden Age Retreat (GAR) to discuss oil and gas development in the area.

The public meeting, held in the upstairs multi-purpose room, was comprised of GAR residents, current and past employees, and concerned citizens.   Flyers distributed before the meeting noted it was “To show public support to the commissioners that a portion of the proceeds from development and sale of County Home property should directly benefit the County Home.”

Carroll County Commissioners, Jeff Ohler, Doyle Hawk and Tom Wheaton attended the meeting to listen to concerns and answer questions.

Dr. Keith Burgett, opened the discussion explaining everyone gathered to voice their concerns and promote the county home since there are a lot of “baby boomers” coming up in the next 20 years and we want to have a home for these people.  He said, “We all care about the county home and the development in the county, which will be good for all of us.”  Burgett asked all in attendance to be polite and have a nice meeting so, “we can save the county home and promote development in our county.”

Ollie Hawkins, supervisor of GAR, told the group commissioners agreed to meet and discuss concerns regarding the county home.  Knowing it would be an emotional meeting, Hawkins began by saying she wanted to show appreciation for Carroll County Commissioners.  “I have been here for 21 years and had commissioners backing who have been fairly supportive, some more than others and we have always had good communications.”
Hawkins said the development of the county home ground has been in discussion since 2011. 

Everyone knew this issue was coming it was just a matter of when, how and how much we would have.  She stated the county home is not going to close and discussion would involve how much property are they going to have available and what portion of any royalties or gas money they may be able to put into a trust.

Hawkins said during her tenure at GAR, they have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) monies which has made many improvements, windows, doors, floors, roof.  “We could not have done any of those capital improvements without that money,” said Hawkins.  “The commissioners are the ones who put the money through to get those funds funneled to us.”  She also noted generous donations, volunteers who worked at the home over the last 173 years, and area farmers helped when the county home had crops in the gardens.  This type of help continues today.  “The community support, past and present is outstanding,” she said.

Hawkins said the county home averages 50 residents and 15 on a waiting list.

She feels in order to keep the county home functioning and keep capital improvements and keep security, changes are needed.  Hawkins said she did a title search and found there is no provision to return funds to the county home from the sale or development of property.

She said salaries and budget take over 50 percent of funds and she does not look for that to change.  Usually employees begin employment at minimum wage but she would like to be able to bump wages up to $8 per hour.  Monthly fees for residents remain $1,600 per month and have not been raised since 1996.  However, she feels rates may be increased $200 per year up to $2,000 per month.  It currently costs $2,700 per resident per month. 

Hawkins submitted questions to commissioners before the meeting and noted she would “like to help try to organize a formal request to the commissioners to retain more acres than has been allotted and a portion of the lease bonus and royalties or income created from property be deposited into a trust to be used for capital improvement for the Carroll Golden Age Retreat.”

Submitted questions included: 
1) How many acres were leased to Rex Energy and the percentage of royalties in the contract and is there a date scheduled for drilling?  Commissioners leased about 320 acres at $3,500 per acre (or closed to $1.2 million) with 20 percent gross royalties.  They signed a no-drill commitment, therefore no well will be located on the acreage.  According to Larry Jenkins, who works closely with Rex Energy, Rex plans to have a well scheduled in the area by the end of 2012.

2) Was money from previous leases or timber harvesting put in general fund?  Commissioners and Don Burns, Carroll County prosecuting attorney, were not able to answer where the money was put since it was years ago.  Commissioner Tom Wheaton said commissioners signed a gas and oil lease when Terry Wagner was in office but that lease had expired.  County Auditor Leroy VanHorne said the money went into general fund.

3) How was the Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) created?  Who appoints members?  Can meetings be more publicly advertised?   Commissioner Jeff Ohler said it is commissioners’ responsibility to notify the media and due to recent events, they have had to meet more frequently than they have in the last five years.  Ohler noted GAR will be on the CIC notification list for all forthcoming meetings.  Commissioners appoint members by referrals from the CIC committee.   Gary Hall, former Carroll County economic development director said the CIC was created approximately 40 years ago to help Fusion Ceramics and Ohio Poly Company get funding to move into the village.  The CIC is made up of a combination of elected officials and private citizens. 

4) Why was Mages Development chosen and not a developer from Ohio?  What is the extra $10,000 on top of the $5,000 sale price on the 270 acres to be developed?  Ohler said with the potential development of the county home property, commissioners and economic development were contacted by several companies who wanted to list the property as a sales broker and were not interested in developing the property.  With the gas and oil boom hitting the area, Mages, a company located in Texas, works with and follows the gas and oil industry.  Ohler spoke with several economic development offices and county commissioners who have worked with Mages in the past and learned they did an excellent job.  He also found out they are not just limited to the gas and oil industry, they work in public infrastructure, hospitals, and have a lot of contracts with Chesapeake Energy.  Commissioners transferred the property to the CIC so they could sign a development deal with Mages.  If commissioners sell property it has to go out for public bid.  Sale price of the land is $5,000 of which at least 50 percent will be returned to commissioners to help fund an upgrade to the sewer treatment plant that will serve tenants in the park.  Mages Group is charging an additional $10,000 per acre development fee on top of the sale price.  Mages is the developer and is responsible for infrastructure, roads, gas and electric.  The county is responsible for providing a sewer system. 

5) Can the allotment for GAR grounds be increased from the current 25 acres to include acreage between the home and cemetery including the cemetery, approximately 50 acres?  Could Select Energy purchase property south of the sewage plant instead of north of the building?  Utilities would still be accessible.  Hawkins said their concern is older people sitting on the front porch watching semis pull in and out of the driveway.   Ohler said he and Hawkins had a discussion 6-8 weeks ago.  He can’t remember if it was at her request or if he just stopped in.  Hawkins said, “You came out and asked, ‘How much of this land do you need?’”  At that point, Ohler stated, “Ollie said she wanted to expand the parking lot and needed at least a minimum of 15-20 feet of where I am presently at.”  They looked at the property line and at that point Ohler told Hawkins if we go straight back to the property line, do you think that would be ok?  Hawkins said, “Yes.”  They also talked about the cemetery and Hawkins said she didn’t think they would need much expansion at the cemetery.  In regard to Select Energy taking another property and GAR getting that property, Ohler said it may not be a possibility but commissioners would install some type of aesthetic buffer, such a pine trees, between the GAR and Select Energy.  Wheaton told the group a new county home is in the talking stages.  The plan would be to build a new facility behind the current facility, allowing operations to continue until a new facility would be completed.  The location of the current county home would then become a parking lot.   He also felt by allocating land behind instead of beside the current facility, future plans would put residents even further from the road.  Hawkins said she did not realize the decision she made that day was going to affect the facility for the next 100 years.  She feels it was not clarified that she telling where she wanted a parking lot was going to define the boundaries.

6) Can the barn and remaining acreage be used for livestock?  If not, why?  The issue involves the stream, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the upgrade to the existing sewer treatment plant.  The stream near the sewer plant is not large and cattle in the stream could be a pollutant.  The cattle would have to be blocked from the stream and commissioners would have to install a costly high fence around it.  Plus GAR would have to supply fresh water for the cattle and ground run-off could also be a problem.

7) Would there be a first buyer clause to be put in the purchase agreement or restrictions for use on property sold at the end of the use by oil and gas companies?  No, the county would not have first right of refusal to buy the property back.  According to Ohler, the buyer is buying the property and they have a right to sell it to who they want to and there are certain restrictions in the county for establishing certain types of businesses.  Ohler feels when the gas and oil companies plan to move on, the buildings left will attract other businesses.   He feels there is a certain amount of risk in new development, but is a firm believer in it.   “If you never take your foot off first base and keep it planted there, what are your changes of getting to second or getting home?” asked Ohler. Commissioner Doyle Hawk told the crowd he feels the gas and oil boom is going to last.  Carroll County is the center of the hub of this whole operation.  The gas and oil industry is going to be in Carroll, Columbiana, Tuscarawas, Harrison and Belmont counties for more than likely 50-75 years.  “It all takes time to get going,” Hawk said.  “ This is not a short lived.  The only way this would be short lived is if the federal government came back and said no drilling.”    Wheaton said the people coming into the commerce park will be serving not just Carroll County, but the other counties as well.  Plus the latest reports say they are only getting five percent of what is actually below ground.

Once Hawkins’ questions were answered, the floor was opened for questions from the crowd.  Resident Pasty Varner asked commissioners about the sewer situation noting years ago residents did not want to hook to the village sewer system.  Wheaton reiterated their mission is to expand their current sewer treatment plant from 10,000 gallon per day to 50,000 per day and not have to have the close to 100 residents from the village limits to the Commerce Park tie in village sewer.  Ohler did note the EPA dictates the daily gallon usage by number of people.

Former employee Jackie Edie, who worked at GAR for two years said she loved it. She said Ollie has been here for a long time and knows what is needed, and the county home needs to be top of the line.  She feels there is a way that this can be done.

Dennis Stickler said he feels those in attendance are concerned about “all this wonderful stuff going on” and that commissioners are not willing to sign any kind of commitment saying they are willing to give some of the windfall back to the county home.  “That’s what we are looking for,” he said.  “That’s why we are here.”

Another question he asked involved the sewer plant upgrade and capacity.  He said the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is going to say the people who are using it now will pay for that maintenance.  So if you are on it right now, your bill is going to up tremendously.  I think you need a guarantee saying you are not going to be the one stuck with this.  He said, “I know PUCO and they will say the people who use it now, today, will pay for it.”

Wheaton said “I’ve said before, I am always willing to support the county home and that’s not a bunch of bull because we have and the county home is a priority.  I would be willing to support the county home with the oil and gas funds but I cannot commit a percentage or dollar amount today because number one, we don’t know how much we are going to have; and if, God forbid, they don’t get anything down there, I don’t think we can commit to an unknown dollar amount and promise an unknown dollar amount or percentage.”  He reiterated hopefully someday there will be a new county home and noted, “someone is going to have to pay for it.”  “There’s going to have to be some funds like oil and gas,” he continued.  “But I cannot commit or give you a dollar amount because I don’t know what it is going to be as far as what will be returned and I hope you respect that comment.”

Ohler said Burns will provide commissioners with a prosecutor’s opinion as to what they can do legally.  Ohler also noted the group is not sure what they can legally do but they are all in agreement and willing to give monetary support.  “We are not opposed to doing that but Don said he has to provide us with an opinion on how (monetary support from oil and gas funds) actually works legally and I don’t think this group is opposed to that.”

Bob Wirkner told commissioners he thinks one of the questions the public has is since the county has already received $1.2million in funds, why can’t a trust fund be established with a portion of those funds.  Ohler said those are the same questions regardless of whether the money is upfront money or royalties.  Nothing can be done until they receive the prosecutor’s opinion.  Ohler told the group, commissioners have allocated $100,000 from the oil and gas money to the façade project, which came in at a higher amount due to an error with prevailing wage during the bidding stage.  Hawkins said she has no permanent improvement funds and they did work on bathrooms to make them handicapped accessible and reinsulated a room.  The bill came to not over  $9,000 and she had $5,000.  Hawkins spoke with her accountant and decided to sent the bill to the commissioners and see what happens.  Ohler said, “And we paid it.”

Lyle Bruce Palmer told commissioners his mother has been a resident at GAR for close to nine years.  He said some of the residents have asthma and emphysema.  He said he often takes his mother to sit on the porch and wanted to know if they could figure out a way to keep the semis, etc. from stirring up the dust because the residents do not need the extra irritation.  He also commended the employees for the care they take of the residents. 

A resident also commended the employees saying they are excellent, kind, good people. 

“Where will the water come from for the businesses in Commerce Park?” asked Todd Rutledge noting the issues with water pressure at the business across the street.  Ohler said in the future he hopes to be able to get water from the village of Carrollton but in the short term, it’s the developer’s responsibility and they are working with the EPA on putting in a mini water system for this development, which will include fire suppression.  He also said there will not be a hotel, gas station, restaurant or retail establishments on the property.  The only way that would happen Ohler noted would be if someday village water and sewer were routed out and the property annexed into the village.

Ohler said their goal for the property is 500-700 jobs, $15-17 million in additional W-2 income and hopefully $30 million in additional tax value.  Commissioners would also like to see GAR be self-sustaining. 

One of  the last speakers of the evening was Larry Jenkins, who grew up on the farm bordering the county home property.  His dad farmed the over 300 acres of ground for many years.  Jenkins told commissioners, “I have been biting my tongue all night.  I like all three of you guys but please answer the questions these people are asking.”  The meeting, he noted, was very bittersweet for him since the sale and development of the property will greatly affect the family farm.  He said he is upset the property is being sold, saying it is a beautiful property and he thinks $5,000 (per acre sale price) is a joke. 

Once again Hawkins said the county home would like to have more acreage, a portion of the bonus money and of the royalties.  Jenkins concurred saying, “That is something that should just be done.  We are all going to be here one day.”

Dean Rinehart, treasurer of the County Citizen’s Fund, told the group he thought the commissioner’s priorities are backwards.  “The county home and farm were for the benefit of the elderly and those whose need it.  Now all of the sudden we are getting squeezed out of 300+ acres down to 25 acres and not getting any benefit from it.  I think we need to turn around and reevaluate the situation.

In closing, Wheaton said once again, “We are committed to do something for the county home.  Unfortunately, we cannot do anything until we receive written word from the prosecuting attorney.”  Ohler also said, “It is the board’s intention to grant money to the Golden Age Retreat.  Because the money will not a recurring income, the money may have to be transferred by grant but we cannot do anything until we receive the prosecutor’s opinion.”

Burgett wrapped up the meeting by thanking everyone in attendance and

Carroll County Commissioners purchased the John Moore farm, containing 286 acres where the county home is located for $13,600 on July 6, 1867.  An additional tract was purchased Jan. 4, 1876, for $3,360.  The Carroll County Hospital (current county home) was built in 1937 with county funds and opened for use in 1938.  A bond issue in the early 1950s, enabled the county to renovate the outmoded facility and add the new building, which was completed in 1954.  In a note handed out at the meeting, it said, “This facility continues to serve the elderly and fragile populations of Carroll County.  We are very fortunate in Carroll County to have this wonderful option to give personalized and loving care for our families, friends or neighbors.”

Hawkins can be reached at Carroll Golden Age Retreat at 330-627-4665.  Carroll County Commissioners can be reached at 330-627-4869.

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