Commissioners have questions

STEUBENVILLE – Jefferson County commissioners said Thursday the board will ask the county prosecutor’s office for an opinion on how the Community Improvement Corp. was formed.

Progress Alliance, the economic development arm of the CIC, is in the process of dissolving after the commissioners pulled funding from it and pledged it to the newly formed county port authority.

County Commissioner Thomas Graham said it was the commissioners back in the 1960s that formed the CIC, but Edward Looman, former Progress Alliance director, said the CIC was formed by a group of business leaders.

The CIC board of directors met for a final meeting last week, and board Chairman Bob Chapman announced the economic development group would conclude operations and hire an attorney to legally close the organization.

County Commissioner Tom Gentile said the port is interested in purchasing the computers and software used by the CIC. He said the county is willing to purchase the equipment. But Gentile and Graham at the port authority meeting earlier this week said the CIC cannot sell its equipment.

Looman said Progress Alliance is first to dissolve. He said the CIC dissolving may take a little more time. He said an attorney is looking into how the CIC will dissolve.

County Commissioner David Maple said he is in favor of the port authority and doesn’t see the rush to dissolve Progress Alliance and the CIC.

“It can still exist in name without the funding,” he said.

Graham acknowledged that a lot of anger has been expressed by the commissioners and CIC members on how the issue is being handled.

“For the betterment of Jefferson County, I would like to get beyond this and the emotional aspect,” Graham said.

Maple said he doesn’t want a bad result coming from a rush to dissolve Progress Alliance and CIC.

Looman said the economic development projects in the works are still moving forward and he noted there are calls still being received about prospective businesses.

Gentile said he is hoping for a seamless transition between the CIC, Progress Alliance and the county port authority.

Maple said the issue hasn’t idled any economic development activities in the county.

The commissioners met in executive session with the committee that has been studying the purchase of the Towers building on Market Street.

The committee recommended the county make an offer to purchase the building as a way for the county to save money on rent payments for county offices already in the building and others departments and agencies paying rent for other office space.

Graham said Petrola Family Real Estate had wanted $1.7 million. The committee recommended offering $700,000. The county and Petrola Family Real Estate have been going back and forth on the purchase price, Graham said, adding both sides are close to an agreement.

The commissioners, after meeting with the committee Thursday, agreed to make a final counteroffer for the building.

Commissioners also discussed the pending water line extension project in Bradley, located outside Smithfield.

Shannan Gosbin, county water and sewer department director, said the Rural Community Assistance Program recommended the U.S. Department of Agriculture become involved in the financing for the $1.2 million project. Gosbin said the USDA usually only gets involved in large projects, such as the $10 million Crestview-Belvedere sewer project currently under construction. She said the county could finance a new water tank in Smithfield as part of the project. She said the USDA process of getting funding is extensive and lengthy.

Commissioners also:

Signed a road-use maintenance agreement amendment with Chesapeake Exploration for a new gas well site. Springfield Township Road 265 is designated as a haul road. Chesapeake will have to make improvements to the road prior to construction and well operations.

Signed the certificate for attorney fees for January for indigent criminal defendants in the amount of $26,517.

Agreed to fund a probation program for county courts. Judge David Scarpone of Dillonvale county court said the pilot program for the probation officer would cost about $70,000. The courts generate about $53,000 in fees and fines to help fund the program.