Harrison County talks Children Services cost

CADIZ – Harrison County Commissioners had a full slate Wednesday, with Children Services funding, a decision regarding water sales and citizens complaints against smart meters on the agenda.

Scott Blackburn, director of the county’s Job and Family Services, met with commissioners last week in executive session to discuss potential funding for the expenditures incurred by Children Services.

Blackburn requested $75,000 to cover the cost of having 35 children in custody, triple the average of 10-12.

“This goes a lot further than someone spanking a child too hard; there is no wiggle room on these decisions.”

Of the 35 children, 15 are in temporary custody, 10 are in permanent custody, eight are in family or kinship care and two are in the custody of juvenile court.

One has severe autism and will probably be institutionalized for life, with the cost shared with Mental Health Recovery Board at $1,400 a month for each partner, Blackburn said.

A list provided by Blackburn showing causes for placing children in foster care notes most cases were drug related.

“The average agency foster home care cost is right around $750 per month,” Blackburn clarified. “We currently have seven agency foster homes.”

“None of our agency homes will take teenagers,” Blackburn continued. “So nine teenagers are in group homes costing $3,069 per month.

“It obviously comes upon our county to share the financial burden and responsibility of caring for these children,” said commission Chair Don Bethel. “This is an alarming situation; we are a small county and have city numbers.

“We have one of two choices: Say no, let them go bankrupt and the state takes it over and then bills us for the cost anyway, or we pay it, maintain control and kick the dirt and hopefully everything works out,” Bethel stated.

The fund is under-reimbursed $73,763,01 per quarter, which will be covered by the appropriation from the general fund, officials said.

In other matters, County Prosecutor T. Shawn Hervey announced Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office released an opinion Tuesday on the county’s request for the legality of entering into a contract with Kokosing to sell water.

“The county may sell water,” Hervey explained. “But you would have to do that on your own through your water or sewer district and or as you sell anything else either by competitive bid or auction.

“It is important to know that when we have a contract, when it is reviewed, please don’t sign anything if there are questions if it is legal or not, because it is not legal if it is over $1,000,” Hervey cautioned. “This is the reason why we wanted to check it out because when I read their attorney’s opinion, I was not thoroughly convinced that it was legal.

“There are going to be other business opportunities, but business ethics are different than government ethics,” Hervey added. “We need to make sure we follow what is ethical as a government because the businesses do not care, they want to make a dollar and I don’t blame them.

“In this case with water it’s very specific that we cannot enter into agreements, which is totally different from what we can do with our mineral rights,” he said.

When Commissioner Bill Host asked how the board could get the agreement vacated, the prosecutor explained that his letter in November to the board stated the agreement was void because it had not been signed off on by his office.

“By law it is void and I sent correspondence to Kokosing explaining that as well back in November,” Hervey replied. “Now that we have the answer it is probably prudent that we send a formal letter explaining that, according to the Attorney General’s opinion, this contract is null and void.”

Commissioners also approved an agreement with W.E. Quicksall for the county sewer study. The sum of $10,000, of which the MWCD will pay $8,000, will cover a preliminary study and report for feasibility of a regional sewer district, including the communities of Piedmont, Freeport, Smyrna and Holloway.

“This will let us know if it is feasible to move forward to the next phase,” Bethel said.

The report will be submitted in two to three months.

The board also heard from four residents who expressed their distaste for the new “smart meters” being installed by AEP.

The meters, being installing throughout Ohio, record consumption of electricity in short intervals and then send that information to the utility for monitoring and billing. The idea behind the smart meters, which were approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, is they reportedly will reduce costs and promote energy conservation, due to precise monitoring of electricity consumption and that vehicle trips to take meter readings will no longer be necessary.

“Despite the reported benefits, these meters have sparked controversy because little is known about the potential health effects of the radio waves they emit,” resident Toni Blake stated. “That combined with reports that some have overheated and caused fires is causing homeowners to question their safety.”

“I asked if the units were UL listed and the response was ‘no,'” Charles Blake. “When we refused to have one installed we were threatened and bullied by AEP.”

“We should have the right to opt out of this program; these units are not government mandated,” Toni added.

Bethel said he was unaware of the program but would research the issue.