Commissioners, challengers face off in March GOP primary
Ron Feathers, seeking his third term on the Washington County Commission, says there's been a lot of business growth locally in the past seven-plus years: all the result of what he says is a hands-off local government approach.
"There are 1300 new jobs in Washington County that have been created since 2013," Feathers says. "That's not the government doing it, that's the businesses doing it. The wages are up for the private sector 23% since 2013."
But Beverly business owner Charles Schilling says the commission should be doing more to promote economic growth.
"Is that something that has been missing from this current commission?" Schilling was asked.
"I believe so. I believe there are some projects that haven't gotten done. I feel like some sewer line extensions in certain areas that could provide economic development for our county."
A big issue in the race for both commission seats has been the merger in the last two years of the County Children's Services office and the Ohio Bureau of Job and Family Services office.
Feathers says that merger has resulted in improvements to the office.
"They were down to, like, 13 caseworkers. Now, they're up to 20. They're also on a union pay scale. All of this was done with the merger, and all of this was accomplished by leveraging the dollars that were out there that we didn't do before."
The move resulted in the elimination of the Children's Services board, which some have complained was political. Schilling hopes to reverse that if he is elected.
"I would like to see what it would take, if it makes sense, to reinstate the Children's Services Board," he said. "I believe dissolving a board that handles bond money was the wrong thing to do. I feel we need to reevaluate the numbers and see if it makes sense."
Schilling says the decision by the current commission to fight the Ohio EPA over the Devola sewer project led to cost increases for its construction. Feathers defends the fight, saying it was at the request of Devola residents.
No Democrat has filed to run for the seat, the term for which takes effect January 3, 2021.
David White says he and fellow commissioner Ron Feathers have saved Washington County taxpayers millions of dollars in their more than seven years in office.
One example he gives is encouraging better cooperation between county departments.
"The departments, which were very distrustful of each other when we came in here," White, first elected in 2012, recalls, "they were suspicious of each other, sometimes for good reasons, maybe even a little jealous of each other, are now very cooperative, they get along very well, they work with each other."
But their opponents in the March 17 primary are making issues about the costs of two recent matters. One is the mandated Devola sewer conversion project. The commission unsuccessfully fought the project for years, after it was approved by the previous commission.
"At first, it was under $6 million to do this project," says Lowell resident James Booth, who is opposing White for one of the two commission seats. "Now, it's $12-14 million for the low-pressure system; it could be over $19 million for the gravity system."
White says the county is seeking a number of options to keep the costs to residents down. He adds a number of plans for constructing the system are still under consideration.
"We're going to look at boring, directional boring, pressurized portions," White says. "All this is designed to not only go for the lowest cost. We want the best system, at the lowest cost, with minimal intrusion."
The other major issue is the merger, completed last year, between the Washington County Childrens Services Board and the Department of Job and Family Services.
Booth questions the costs to the county of the consolidation, which moved the childrens services offices and staff.
"I heard Flite Freimann (of the Children's Services Board) speak of depreciation of the $186,000 that's ordered by the state for the county to provide to Job and Family Services," he says. "That, in my eyes, is taxpayer funds. It's Washington County money."
White says the merger saved the county $400,000 in 2019, with bigger savings expected in 2020. That, while no jobs were lost and most employees got pay raises.
The next term for the seat begins January 2, 2021. The winner of the March 17 primary will be opposed by Democrat and former commissioner Cora Marshall in the November general election.