Wood commissioners highlight past year

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners noted proposed development of a cracker plant, hiking/biking trail and park development, energy and health insurance cost savings as highlights as they looked back at the past year.

Wood County Commission President Wayne Dunn touted development and progress of what he termed quality of life programs like the networking of hiking/biking trails, growth of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department’s Smiles for Life Program which provides dental screening/referral for low-income residents, and support of area community groups, organizations, fairs and festivals as well as energy and health care savings as highlights of the past year.

“We have streamlined policies and operations of the county, as well as seen savings from our energy programs and in health insurance. Our goals are to have a more active and interactive community emphasizing the quality of life, better health and a better environment,” Dunn said.

“If we are going to present ourselves as a quality place to live we need the healthy activities and a hiking/biking network is extremely important for that. Fortunately we have Kim Coram to help with that and we’ve moved ahead in creating the Alternative Transportation board and made significant strides in the hiking/biking networking,” Dunn said.

He also noted the addition of several acres to Fort Boreman Historical Park as a plus.

“We contributed to a number of groups and organizations, the arts, veteran’s museum which in conjunction with Veterans Park started the veterans picnic,” he said.

Dunn noted the commission’s support of home gardening and energy saving projects as a means of “fostering independence.”

He touted receipt of a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design plaque and certification this year as another source of pride.

“We are setting the example for how a building should be built, and saving utility costs in the long-run,” he said, adding praise for the Wood County Sheriff’s Department for efforts in integrating more fuel-efficient vehicles into its fleet.

“The cracker plant is a huge game-changer and we are excited about the possibilities,” he said of the announcement which came late in 2013. “We all have to work with them to assure we have the community we want down the road. The pluses are tremendous and we have to work with them to reduce any negatives and magnify the pluses, it could change our future,” Dunn said.

Wood County has been chosen as the site for a possible ethane cracker plant which would be built by the Brazilian-based company Odebrecht on the site of the SABIC plant in Washington.

Dunn also praised the clerk’s office for the voter precinct consolidation move, which the commission president said will save time and money.

Dunn said funding concerns with the humane society were been worked out.

“The spay/neuter clinic is a real step forward, the state hasn’t done a lot on this issue, they’ve basically left it to the counties to do what we can,” Dunn said.

The county is required to provide animal control services. Wood County contracts with the Humane Society of Parkersburg to provide those services.

As for the recent effort to develop regulations for gun ranges, Dunn said the county currently has no code in place “to answer the concerns of the community adequately.”

“The commission wants to find a middle ground everyone could live with. We will not be discouraging gun ranges, just making sure they are done in a better fashion, safer in the future,” he said. “Hopefully this will solve the issues before they develop.”

Dunn also noted recent grant-funded projects to address drainage concerns and restore the porches on the front of the courthouse.

“We continue to try to keep the heritage of the courthouse,” he said.

Dunn said one of the disappointments during the past year was the increase in the regional jail bill.

“We have had a number of meetings with everyone, and for awhile it was showing improvement, the cost had gone down, but now it’s back up and it continues to be a concern for the county,” he said.

Commissioner Blair Couch said the county is ever-changing.

“We’ve had a huge announcement that could be a potential change in the whole community with the cracker plant coming into the southern part of the county and the hope that it will bring construction jobs and new businesses,” he said.

“The county commission is prepared for the future, we have a sound financial footing. Our savings are set aside. We are primed and ready to be helpful in any way, shape or form with new business development,” Couch said.

“We’ve seen some changeover in some staff, and have continued to operate at a high level. The professionalism shown by all the county staff has been A-plus this past year,” Couch said.

He noted retirement of Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Manager Terry Moore and the hiring of Jeff McDougle to step into that position.

Also this year, Wood County Clerk Jamie Six retired. The commission appointed deputy clerk Mark Rhodes to step into that position. The job will be on the ballot in 2014, the individual elected would then serve out the reminder of Six’s unexpired term. Wood County 911 Director Randy Lowe resigned to a job in industry. The commission has appointed Assistant 911 Director Carl Sizemore to be the interim director and will advertise the job internally first.

“Mountwood Park remains on solid financial footing, that is one of the county boards I sit on. Having professional management there has allowed us to concentrate on the core business at the park,” Couch said.

He noted with the opening of the Humane Society’s new spay and neuter clinic it is hoped “the population of unwanted animals will be reduced in our community so, over time, this cost goes down for the county.”

Under terms of the current contract, the society will be paid $271,344 for animal control and shelter services. The county also agreed to purchase a truck for the humane society, with the cost not to exceed $27,000.

“There are always opportunities before the county to improve the services for the taxpayers, that’s the bottom line goal of ours to ensure fair and balanced government. It will be exciting to see what the new year holds,” Couch said.

Commissioner Steve Gainer said the commission’s efforts to find a public intoxication shelter after Westbrook Health Services pulled out is a concern.

“The gun range issue, we’ve been working on that for about a year and half now trying to work that out,” Gainer said.

“Overall things have gone pretty smooth, of course money is still tight and that’s a concern. The economy is improving a little bit, so hopefully it will be better in 2014 than what it’s been,” Gainer said.