Gallia commissioners, engineer dispute over grant resolution

By Dean Wright -

GALLIPOLIS — The Gallia Commissioners and Gallia Engineer met Thursday during the commissioners’ regular weekly meeting at the Gallia Courthouse where a disagreement was had over how to apply for county project grant funding.

As the county legislative body, the commissioners ultimately have control of the county’s general fund and whether the engineer’s office can apply for grant funding. Commissioners chose to limit the engineer’s initial proposal to apply for $650,000 to $400,000 to pave county roads. The commissioners are also attempting to garner financial support for the upcoming second phase of its county sewer replacement project. Ideally, the commissioners wished to apply for $250,000 alongside Boothe’s project from the same source of grant funding.

Gallia Engineer Brett Boothe in the previous week’s meeting appeared to discuss a grant application request for Ohio Public Works Commission Issue One grant funding. The commissioners decided to table the conversation to discuss among themselves before reconvening last Thursday before the grant application deadline.

“The OPWC District 15, which includes Gallia County, is made up of 11 counties across southern Ohio,” said Boothe during the meeting. “The OPWC District 15 receives an allocation of funds thanks to legislation passed by a statewide vote. The OPWC District 15 district funds available for 2017 are nearly $5.5 million. These grant dollars are given to entities within the district using a competitive scoring sheet developed by District 15 for ranking projects. The highest ranking projects regardless of the entity in the 11 county region will receive grant funding. If a project scores well, then the project has a good chance of receiving grant funding, else if the project does not score well, funding chances are limited.”

Boothe said he has made it a priority to apply for any and all grant dollars he can to improve Gallia’s infrastructure, specifically roads and bridges. Boothe claimed many engineers in southeastern Ohio came before their commissioners and were not limited in passed resolutions regarding how much they could apply for grants.

Boothe said he was contacted by phone the Friday previous to the Thursday meeting. A commissioner requested that the engineer either reduce the amount of funds he was applying for or felt the commission would likely not approve the engineer’s request. Ideally, Boothe wanted to apply for around $650,000 in grant funds to pave Gallia roads.

Commissioner Harold Montgomery would confirm he did make such a phone call in the meeting to express his opinion as an individual.

“Always in the past it has been looked at what benefits the county overall,” said Montgomery regarding county commissioner decisions. ”While recognizing the importance of paving, we’re under findings and orders (by the Ohio EPA) for sewer (improvements) in the county and our only source of funding (for OPWC funds) is out of Issue One for sewer. You have, as a county engineer, the opportunity to participate in additional criteria for funding. Even if your project is not funded in Issue One, it rolls into the LTIP funding. You might state there is $5.5 million in grant funding from the state (for the district). That is true for the district. But also in that, counties only receive a certain amount that is apportioned across the counties in the district.”

Boothe denied that individual counties received money apportioned by a formula for the sake of being in the district. He claimed money was divided by project scoring. While the district received a certain amount of money based on the population of all counties added together in the district, the individual counties inside received money based on project scoring. The commissioners took a differing position. Montgomery believed the county may only get around $600,000 in grant funding from Issue One based on previous years of awarded funding.

“But you’re asking for all the money,” said Montgomery. “You’re asking for the full-amount of the county’s funding, so to speak, each year.”

Montgomery said there was an exception made for another project in a previous year.

“What we were looking at last week was the opportunity to share in this funding,” said Montgomery. “The county sewer project is going to be submitted, which is a strong project and it’s an important project for Gallia for the future of economic development and the public health and safety of our citizens. Again, we realize the importance of paving roads too. But we also want you to recognize there is a little bit of sharing (to be had) here too. If your application went in somewhere in the range of asking for $400,000 in grant funding and the county sewer project is in the $250,000 range that’s being requested in the grant (both groups may get what they want)…We are just asking for some cooperation here in sharing some of this grant funding.”

Commissioner David Smith said while there may be no written formula for grant funding distribution, he said the commissioners felt they traditionally could expect a finite amount of money to come from the county to the state. That money would be divided in a way that reflected monetary requests from the county’s grant applications.

Montgomery said he felt if the engineer’s projects were not funded, they could be funded by LTIP financial sources. Boothe insisted his project needed to be geared towards Issue One funding to maximize on the recent low costs of paving materials, given categorical stipulations in grant rules.

The commissioners and the engineer would eventually break for lunch and return to speak again in the afternoon.

“Let’s talk cooperation,” said Boothe to the commissioners. “I don’t think it’s much cooperation when I’m being told you take this or leave this. You’re not asking for cooperation. You’re saying this is what we’re going to do, take it or leave it. I don’t think much of that and I don’t think most people do.”

Boothe insisted he wanted the opportunity to apply for funds and that there was no guarantee any project would be funded. He felt all entities applying for the grant funding should be able to do so as they planned and see how project scores were eventually tallied. Smith said he felt if Boothe’s original proposal went through, it would affect the sewer project proposal.

Smith made a motion for the commissioners to approve the engineer to apply for OPWC funding in the form of $402,142 for paving Gallia roads. Commissioner Brent Saunders seconded the motion and all voted in approval. Smith then said Boothe had a choice to make.

“I hope this is what the Gallia taxpayers want,” said Boothe,”that they would rather see the opportunity to go after sewer money than to further the opportunity to have more money to pave and finish the roads in Gallia County. I’ve done everything I can to find money for roads and bridges. I understand where you guys are coming from, but I think all this did was cut us short on money for roads and bridges today.”

Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.

By Dean Wright