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Wood County Commission considers American Recovery Act funds

PARKERSBURG — There are a number of needs throughout the community which the money from the American Recovery Act can benefit, Wood County officials said Thursday.

The Wood County Commission discussed possible uses for the money the state and the local area will receive. The state is getting around $1.2 billion. Wood County will receive $16.2 million with $320,000 going to North Hills, $22.45 million to the City of Parkersburg, $2.69 million to the City of Vienna and $1.19 million to the City of Williamstown.

“There are a lot of questions we will have about appropriateness of spending these funds,” Commission President Blair Couch said. “We have been trying to find determination in what we can use those funds for. We certainly don’t want to be audited and find out we spent them inappropriately.

“We want to make a transformational change to Wood County by the use of those funds. There are a lot of folks who need help and we just want to be sure that whatever we do is appropriate.”

Law firms have reached out to the commission who said they can help with interpretations and legalese in figuring out what they can spend the money on. Officials are looking at how the firms would be expected to be paid for these services.

The commission has already discussed the need for a new health department building as the current building is over a century old. County officials would hope state allocated money could help with that project as the department serves six counties in the area.

The commission is looking at engaging with certain people and groups within the community to see where the needs are, including the Wood County Economic Development Authority, Downtown PKB, various volunteer groups and more.

“I think there will be a phase when we invite people in and do something at the Judge Black Annex,” Couch said. “I would say we are probably a month away from that.”

The commission has received requests from the Smoot Theatre, the Oil and Gas Museum, the Mid-Ohio Valley Airport Authority and others.

Commissioner Robert Tebay said he has been contacted by a couple of the local public service districts about building repairs and more. The Lubeck PSD is requesting roof repairs on its main water treatment facility as it is leaking and causing damage inside.

“I think that would be a proper use of funds,” Tebay said.

He also warned that inflation is on the rise and that can impact a number of projects if they wait too long.

Couch suggested giving the local PSDs the same amount of money and letting them decide how to spend it as long as they meet the spending guidelines. He said they won’t be able to use the recovery money to offset water/sewer fees or rates or for pay increases.

Couch said he will be meeting with Wood County School officials soon.

Officials said they have gotten requests for things like go-cart racing. Couch said that would be something a private business could do, but falls outside the scope of what these funds can be used for.

He also wants to meet with local cities to see if there are projects they could do together in partnership.

“We need to meet with stakeholders, people with an interest in these things,” Couch said.

Commissioner Jimmy Colombo said he wants to see projects that can benefit a lot of people for a long time to come.

“We want to be able to benefit all of the taxpayers in Wood County as a whole,” he said.

The county is looking to hire a finance director that could keep track of where that money is spent and provide the appropriate documentation to track it.

Groups making requests to the commission for funds will need to be able to justify it in what is allowed to be used for this funding, especially since the county will be held accountable for how it is spent, Wood County Administrator Marty Seufer said.

“They will have to understand the guidelines,” Couch said.

Brett Dunlap can be reached at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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