County gives nod to lights
Board approves grant to tavern to help with field lighting project
Taylor County will tap into power line funds to give a boost to a local tavern to bring lights to their softball fields.
After a lengthy discussion at Tuesday’s county board session, supervisors voted 12 to 5 in support of giving Cindy’s Bar and Grill $10,000 from the power line impact fee fund. The power line funds are an annual fee paid to the county from American Transmission Company for impact of the Arrowhead to Weston transmission line running through the county. The funds are designated to be used for outdoor or recreational improvements. By county rule, spending money from the fund requires a two-thirds majority vote. What sets this grant apart is that the recipients are a business rather than a club, nonprofit or government entity. This was a point of disagreement for those speaking out against the request.
Both Gene Knoll and James Gebauer expressed concern over giving funds to a private entity. Knoll also said he visited the property and questioned if the lights were already installed. Owner Virgil Berndt clarified that while the poles were installed the project is not yet completed.
Supervisor Mike Bub spoke in support of the project stating the upgraded facility will help tourism and recreation in the county. The lights will allow the facility to host larger tournaments and for existing tournaments to expand the number of teams they can have. Bub said the people who come for these events spend money at local stores. He compared the investment to help improve the tavern’s fields to economic development incentives routinely made to attract new businesses and industry.
“We are so busy trying to attract new businesses that we forget to support the ones that are here,” Bub said.
Supervisor Chuck Zenner also spoke in favor of the grant request stating he feels it is a unique opportunity and will have other benefits in the community such as increasing the number of people staying at area motels.
Supervisor Rod Adams noted that Berndt is less concerned with making money on the fields but rather is passionate about softball. Many of the events at the fields are charitable in nature with the causes or benefits getting the proceeds. “As far as I am concerned it should be $20,000, not $10,000,” Adams said. “What is the point of having money and sitting on it?”
Supervisor Rollie Thums said the board would be setting a precedent either in supporting or rejecting the request. He expressed concern about the board being put in a situation where they would decide what was an essential versus a nonessential business in the community. “I believe very strongly about this,” he said, noting that there were many things to weigh into the decision.
County treasurer Sarah Holtz who is active with the Holway Sluggers group spoke in support of the grant request noting the strong support Berndt gives in the community and to their organization’s efforts. “I think this is an awesome thing,” she said.
Thums requested the board vote by ballot. He said he felt people should vote how they feel rather than based off of what others in the room voted.
When the ballots were counted, supervisors Earl Hinkle, Myron Brooks, Dave Roiger, Gebauer and Knoll were opposed with Jim Metz, Ray Soper, Thums, Adams, Lisa Carbaugh, Tim Hansen, Diane Albrecht, Lester Lewis, Cathy Lemke, Scott Mildbrand, Zenner and Bub in favor.
Taylor County moved forward with using community development block grant funds for the purchase of a transitional housing facility in the city of Medford despite an objection over the lack of written rules of operation and policies.
Taylor County Supportive Housing, an independent non-profit entity, was awarded the grant funds to purchase and run a transitional housing facility which will be called Taylor House. The facility will assist with people facing housing security issues providing a place for them to get back on their feet and into secure longterm housing.
Because of the way the grant works, the county needed to approve the location being considered before the purchase can go forward. An ad hoc committee of county board members and city officials worked to find a location and earlier this month the city planning commission approved a conditional use permit for the facility at 232 S. Fourth Street, an existing currently vacant tri-plex.
Bub said he supported the efforts and felt they were needed and supported the location, but repeated his request to have the group provide written guidelines. He said he has asked for these guidelines since the effort started more than a year ago and still has not gotten anything.
Jessica Mudgett speaking on behalf of Taylor County Supportive Housing said the group has been busy looking for an actual location to purchase and renovate and has not had time to develop written guidelines for how it will operate. She said this will be done after they have a location and can hire an employee to manage it.
Hansen noted that in the conditional use permit, commission members included a review after a year to see how it is progressing and deal with any concerns or complaints that may have arisen.
Lewis noted the county’s role is as a funnel for the money to get to the nonprofi t group. He said that if it does not get spent on this group, the money would go back to the state.
In the end, Bub was the sole vote against approving the purchase.
Taylor County will stay the course for requiring employees to wear masks, with the recognition that many are taking them off when in their office spaces and not working with customers.
The discussion was prompted by the idea that while still existing, the pandemic was becoming less of a concern due to the expansion of access to vaccines. Lewis noted Taylor County was in a race with Clark County to be the worst county in the state when it comes to vaccination and said as a result it was necessary to keep some restrictions in place.
“When will ‘normal’ be?” asked Bub. He said every time they appeared to be getting close to the goal line there is a new goal line being set. “What is the solution, when does it end?” he asked.
Hansen said his personal metric would be for when everyone has had the opportunity to get a vaccine if they choose to. He said currently there is a waiting list of 133 people who are waiting to get a vaccine through the county health department. Hansen said the CDC and health officials are projecting that by June 1 everyone should have access to getting the vaccines if they want them.
Zenner suggested keeping the mask rules in place for county employees until everyone in the county had the chance to get the vaccination if they want it.
“I think it should be up to us as a person,” Holtz said, noting that they have plastic screens between them and the public and that the number of community members coming to the courthouse is less than it used to be.
“Let’s ride out the storm,” Metz said, noting that a number of people have had close family members hospitalized or who have died from COVID-19.
In related actions supervisors voted to formally disband the emergency committee which had been set up a year ago to handle employee issues and set policies for dealing with COVID-19. In recent months their work has largely been taken over by the county’s executive committee.
Going forward the executive committee of Metz, Zenner and Mildbrand will deal with COVID-19 issues that arise and need attention between county board sessions.
The board also approved, after a series of amendments, a new version of the rules for how board members can appear at meetings via remote devices. While in-person meetings are encouraged, having members appear via online platforms such as Zoom have become common. The change in the county rules was to more closely bring it in line with how they are actually conducting business. Under the new rules, committee members must alert the committee chairman within 24 hours of the meeting to let them know they will be appearing remotely. This step is primarily to ensure that the technology is available in the meeting space.
In other business, board members:
_ Approved issuing $5 million in general obligation bonds as part of the county broadband project. The county worked with their bond counsel at Huntington Securities to issue the 10-year bonds. Finance director Larry Brandl reported the county did very well with a true interest cost of 1.478%.
_ Approved an ordinance to update the human health hazards code for the county to include “micro-market” self service food vending areas. Hansen noted the changes bring the county’s ordinance in line with state codes.
_ Approved annual proclamations including April 18 to 24 as National Volunteer Week, the second Saturday in May as World Migratory Bird Day, and May 2021 as Older Americans Month. Hansen reported that he asked the county’s attorney to look into if they can permanently designate these days rather than issue a new proclamation each year.
_ Received word that Taylor County would be receiving about $4 million in funds under the federal stimulus package, the county will have until 2024 to spend the money. Lewis noted that the federal government has not developed guidelines on how the money may be spent but he noted that expansion of broadband was specifically a goal of the funds. He suggested a portion could be used to further support the county’s existing broadband project or allow the county to cut back on its borrowing for the project. “It would be nice if we could build roads with it, but we can’t,” Lewis said. Bub suggested the county establish a special committee or bring it back to the county board for how the funds are spent. “I think the whole county board should have input on how we use these funds,” he said.
NOTE: Additional retirement plaque presentations will run in next week’s issue of The Star News.