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Forest provides $66,000 to Washington County

Money comes from mineral leases

By Sam Shawver

Special to the Times

Mineral leases in the Wayne National Forest have provided more than $66,000 for Washington County roads and schools so far this year, and more is on the way, according to a presentation during Thursday’s meeting of the Washington County commissioners.

Wayne National Forest Supervisor Tony Scardina said the county could expect to receive approximately three times that amount from additional mineral lease sales on forest lands that occurred this spring.

“Ohio received 25 percent, or $425,000 from a $1.7 million mineral lease sale in Monroe County in December 2016,” Scardina said, adding that each of the 12 Ohio counties in which the Wayne Forest is located received a share of those funds, based on a formula by the Bureau of Land Management.

He said the counties will also receive a share of the most recent mineral lease sale in March, which totaled $5.2 million.

The mineral payments will help cover an 80 percent loss of funding for states nationally, due to the expected expiration of the federal Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS Act) at the end of fiscal year 2016. The act was originally signed into law in 2000.

Under the SRS Act Washington County received automatic payments of $40,000 a year from commercial activities in the Wayne such as timber sales, livestock grazing, special-use permits, power and mineral leases and forest user fees.

“The county would lose $30,000 a year (with an 80 percent reduction in funding), but due to mineral lease payments the county will receive a lot more,” Scardina said.

In the absence of the SRS Act, payment to the states from national forest land activities has been reverted to the previous law, Payments to the States Act of 1908, which mandates 25 percent of all receipts from forest land commercial activities be distributed to states for public schools and public roads.

Counties also receive Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) monies to compensate for private property taxes lost due to public ownership of national forest lands. The annual amount varies, based on forest monies paid in the previous year and appropriations by the U.S. Congress.

Washington County’s PILT payments are based on the 39,291 acres of Wayne National Forest located within the county. The PILT payment for 2016 was $52,819, according to a chart provided by Scardina.

He also noted that a new Ohio law, proposed to take effect on July 1, would require counties to split the federal funding with 50 percent of those revenues going to schools, and the remaining 50 percent to maintain roads and bridges.

“Fifty percent would be a boon to our engineering department,” said Ron Feathers, county commission president.

The exact amount Washington County will receive from the $5.2 million mineral lease sale in March was not available Thursday.

Scardina said the first mineral lease sales were based on sales of 3,000 out of the 18,000 acres available for mineral lease. He said there has been a lot of interest in the remaining acreage from shale oil and gas entities.

In other business, the commissioners agreed the county should continue with Everbridge, which powers the Washington County Alert emergency mass notification system that provides more than 29,000 local households with alert services in case of a disaster or other emergency situation.

Washington County Emergency Management Agency Director Glen Kelly reported that the county could go with another provider, but Everbridge has had the mass notification contract since 2015 and has provided good service for the community.

Everbridge has submitted a bid to continue its service for $13,999 next year. The company was approved for a $15,081 contract earlier this year.

Another company, Swiftreach, has offered to provide the service for $9,495 a year, but Kelly noted that figure would balloon to $34,498 as it would require an additional $25,000 and more than a year just to transition from Everbridge to a new system.

“Just retraining the local dispatchers and other personnel on how to do mass notification (on a new system) would take a long time,” said Amy Tucker, wired and wireless systems administrator for the city of Marietta.

Tucker has been assisting with the mass notification system, which benefits both city and county residents.

“The cost before training would be $25,003,” said Kelly.

“The only thing that would justify (changing providers) would be if we were not getting good service from Everbridge, and that’s not the case,” said Commissioner David White.

What’s ahead

¯ The Washington County Courthouse will be closed Tuesday for the Fourth of July holiday.

¯ The next regular Washington County commissioners meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday in the commissioners meeting room at the county courthouse annex on Putnam Street in Marietta.

¯ All commission meetings, except executive sessions, are open to the public.

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