By Carol McInitre
CARROLLTON – Two veteran county commissioners are looking forward to 2018 with a sense of confidence.
Commissioners Jeff Ohler and Robert “Bob” Wirkner both point to a project that will bring water and sewer to the Commerce Park on SR 9 as a big step for development in the county.
“Water and sewer are critical infrastructure,” said Wirkner. “Whatever blossoms from the project – industry, housing allotments – it’s all good.”
“This will be the first time we’ve been able to market the property and say water and sewer is available,” said Ohler. “It puts us in a position that we can develop that area. There is about 260 acres out there.”
The project is a collaborative effort between the county, village of Carrollton, Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), county Developmental Disabilities board and hopefully, grant dollars.
ODOT signed an agreement with the Community Improvement Corp. (CIC) to purchase 20 acres of land at the northeast end of the Commerce Park, bordered by SR 171 and SR 9, for $300,000.
Ohler said ODOT pledged $1 million towards a nearly $3 million project to extend the water line (which already serves buildings in the Commerce Park) to the site and extend the sewer line from Centreville Village to the site.
“The county DD board is in dire need of a new sewer plant and pledged $100,000 to the project,” Ohler said.
The CIC pledged $200,000 of the sale price to the project, which leaves the county a balance of about $600,000.
They waiting to hear from two grants, one from JobsOhio that has a potential to provide $250,000 and another from the Governor’s Office of Appalachia for $150,000, which would reduce the county’s share.
“We plan to use part of the $900,000 we received from the sale of Atwood Lodge as our share,” Ohler said. “I think I’m happiest because we will be able to fund the project without debt.”
The village will own and maintain the lines.
When asked about the possibility for development at the Commerce Park due to the hilly terrain, Wirkner said the land might not be the most applicable for economic development as far as industry is concerned, but it may be suitable for housing allotments.
“If we find that is the case, we may be able to sell the land for housing and look at purchasing property elsewhere that is more suitable for economic development,” he said.
As for the Northern Corridor Project that was scheduled to bring water and sewer lines south along SR 43 from Malvern, Wirkner said the county was not able to secure enough grant money for the project, which would leave the county to finance the majority of the project.
“As a board, we were concerned about taking out a loan of that size and paying the debt service. For now, that project has been set aside,” he said.
Wirkner pointed toward the Regional Transportation Improvement Plan, known as the RTIP, as a difference maker for Carroll County in the future.
The project, which includes Carroll, Stark and Columbiana counties, aims to extend US 30 and provide a four-lane connecting route from Carrollton to the new portion of US 30 by the year 2030.
New state legislation was passed and signed into law that provides a funding alternative for RTIPs in the state known as a tax financing district (TFD).
Much like tax increment financing (TIF) incentive district, a TFD works by exempting a percentage of the increased value of nonresidential property within the district and requiring property owners to remit service payment equal to the amount of the taxes that would have been due if not for the exemption. The service payment revenue must be used to fund transportation improvement in accordance with the cooperative agreement for the RTIP.
“Improvements to US 30 and a feeder road from Carroll County are critical infrastructure and are critical to meeting the basic needs and improving the quality of life for people in our county,” Wirkner said.
“An example of the need for improved infrastructure would be a person in the back of an ambulance trying to get to Canton to a hospital,” he said. “Minutes count in that situation and you want the shortest and best route to get there. Many of our people travel to that footprint of the state for specialized medical care and others travel there for work. It would improve their quality of life if they had better roads to travel to get there.”
Although a specific route for the Carroll County connector has not been decided, he said the road would offer another layer of opportunity to the county. If you add the railway, which is already in place, it really enhances our opportunity for economic development.”
Cleveland State University is in the process of completing an economic impact study for the RTIP on US 30 that reaches 40 years into the future.
“It will detail the benefits if the road is built and tell us what we can expect if the road is not built,” Wirkner said.
Another major project for Wirkner is the Next Generation 911 project, which has been ongoing for five years. Wirkner expects the county to become Next Gen certified by the end of the first quarter of 2018.
“Next Gen is a huge leap forward in technology and our ability to serve the people of Carroll County,” Wirkner stated. “It can be a life saver and we, as a county, are leading the charge.”
The county is involved in a pilot project for Next Gen and is in the first wave of counties to become certified.
“I was on the original committee that brought 911 to Carroll County. I know what 911 can do and know the benefits of Next Gen. This project is preserving our PSAP (Public Service Answering Point) and allows us to keep our 911 dispatching in our county. Who knows our county better than the people who live here and who can do a better job of serving our residents? No one,” he stated.
Both commissioners said the county remains solid financially, thanks to the funds brought into the general fund by oil and gas development.
“If we didn’t have oil and gas development, we would be making cuts of some kind to balance the budget,” said Wirkner.
“That ad variorum tax has definitely helped the general fund as well as royalties from oil and gas leases on county-owned property,” said Ohler. “We are hoping in the long term the Rover Pipeline will bring additional tax dollars to the county as well as school districts in the area.
Ohler pointed to the new Carrollton Schools complex as another tool to help spur economic development in the county.
“Carroll County is not one of the places where economic development just lands,” he said. “Companies have to have a reason to come here. When companies are looking at communities they look at such things as the school system and quality of life. A new school will move us forward in that area and help the overall package we can present to prospective employers.”