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Jefferson County set to get $12M from latest congressional COVID-19 package

APPRECIATION — Mingo Junction Mayor Ed Fithen appeared at Thursday’s meeting of the Jefferson County commissioners to offer his support and appreciation for the commissioners’ approval of an agreement for the Jefferson County Port Authority to be a conduit bond issuer for a project to upgrade JSW Steel’s Mingo Junction facility. -- Andrew Grimm

STEUBENVILLE — Jefferson County’s anticipated share of the COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress on Wednesday will be approximately $12 million, Commissioner Thomas Graham announced at the start of Thursday’s meeting.

It was noted that while the county had learned about the amount and some of the restrictions, full details about how the money can be used and how the funding will be rolled out were not available.

“We’ll wait and see all the final details,” Graham said. “From my prospective, that’s good news for Jefferson County. I know that’s a lot of money.”

The bill, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden today.

The measure passed both houses of Congress along partisan lines without Republican support in either chamber.

Initial opinions of the measure shared by the commissioners seemed to be somewhat along party lines.

“If I was a senator, I wouldn’t have voted for the bill,” Commissioner Tony Morelli, a Republican, said. “However, we got it, so let’s spend it and be smart with the money. If we were the only ones who got it, I might think differently, but if you turn the news on everyone is getting millions of dollars.

“Maybe we don’t need $12 million, but I can (think of county needs to use the funds for.)”

Maple, also a Republican, voiced concerns about the cost of the bill in relation to needs communities have.

“I don’t normally comment on federal money coming in, but if $12 million is coming to Jefferson County, similar money is going to every other county and I have to be on the side of a lot of those senators and congressmen who said we need to see what needs are out there, not just how much money we can flow out into the system,” Maple said. “If you look at the CARES (Act) money, we tried to flush $1 million out into our communities and we were only able to get $600,000 out.

“To say right now Jefferson County needs $12 million, we don’t, frankly. I can tell you confidently our general fund does not need $12 million. We’re going to do the best we can to help our citizens with it.”

Graham, a Democrat, took a different stance, praising Congress.

“In disagreement with my colleagues, I’m proud of the Congress that passed this,” Graham said. “I’m proud of the president who is going to sign it. I think we do have a lot of needs in Jefferson County in terms of infrastructure, sewers, water lines, broadband and all different kinds of things the money can be used for. I would have voted for it and I am glad we got it.”

Maple pointed out that if funds are going to townships in the county, it will be a needed boost for them.

“Those townships have been starved over the years for needed funding,” he said. “If there is a way to make sure they get represented in this (it would be a positive thing.)”

Morelli suggested finding ways some of the money can be used for recreational opportunities.

“I would hope we can put our heads together as county leaders and spend some of this money for the kids,” he said. “Some type of recreation — our kids have been cooped up looking at computer screens for a year and I think we have an opportunity to think out of the box. I would certainly like to focus on the children of Jefferson County.”

They also praised each other’s ability to disagree civilly.

“I’m glad I sit next to gentlemen and that we can debate these things and have different positions,” Maple said. “When I watch TV, the way some other folks behave when they have different positions is not how (the board behaves.) I appreciate Graham’s position.”

“We have different thoughts on some things … but the three of us work together to try to make our county better,” Morelli said.

One item the board did agree on was the approval of a resolution for the Jefferson County Port Authority to be an issuer of $41 million of tax-exempt bonds for a project that will allow JSW Steel to upgrade the electric arc furnace and caster line at the company’s Mingo Junction facility.

It was noted there is no debt liability to the county.

The port authority held a public hearing and passed a bond authorization resolution at its board of directors meeting Wednesday night.

Approval by the commissioners was required as the “applicable elected representative,” according to bond council Michael Dean of Dinsmore and Shohl, who appeared at the meeting to discuss the process.

Robert Naylor, executive director of the port authority, also participated in the discussion and was praised for his work on the project, as well as other recent projects to come through the authority.

Mingo Junction Mayor Ed Fithen, who attended Thursday’s meeting, offered his support and appreciation for the county’s involvement in the project.

“On behalf of the village, I appreciate what the port authority has been doing with the support of the commissioners,” he said. “Mingo has been struggling since the mill shut down, just barely making it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. This is happening.

“Everywhere you go, people in Mingo think it’s going to be like it was 40 years ago. I keep telling them it’s never going to be how it was 40 years ago, but we’re starting to see things a little bit at a time and this is really going to help.”

Maple said the move is what the port authority was designed to do.

“The port authority really, in my opinion, was built for this sort of activity,” he said. “A way to help private businesses be successful. We as commissioners don’t normally have a ton of opportunities and tools in front of us to be able to help.

“I’m excited for Mingo. This is a great thing to see. Steel is a pretty expensive commodity right now and COVID didn’t help. That money is all local, it’s not going to a company that can spend it somewhere else. JSW has obviously recognized that Jefferson County is good a place to do business.”

Graham called the bond agreement “a good deal for the county.”

“I’m all for helping business when I can,” he said.

Morelli noted it was one of several positive developments recently.

“Things are looking up in Jefferson County,” he said, praising Naylor for the work he’s done in his four months leading the port authority. “This is a great thing for the port to get involved with and I hope there are more future opportunities like this to help businesses grow.”

A proclamation was passed, declaring March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in the county.

The measure was presented to county Board of DD Superintendent Michael Zinno.

“I’m proud to accept the proclamation on behalf of the entire DD community,” Zinno said. “It takes the county board, the private providers, the direct support professionals and our families and individuals to rally recognize ability.”

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