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Tax Bill Exceeds $3.5 Million; Some Street Lights May Go Out

December 16, 2012
Al Molnar , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

More than $3 million in taxes has been poured into the economy of Belmont County this year by the Rockies Express Pipeline (REX) that crosses through the southwestern corner of the county on its 1,663-mile route from Colorado to the Ohio River at Clarington in Monroe County.

Three school districts in the county are the major recipients in the amount of tax money received from the pipeline, which took three years to construct and was completed in late 2009.

According to figures obtained from Belmont County Auditor Andrew Sutak, the three school districts received a combined total of $2,455,351; three townships got $296,548 and the county general fund and four county agencies a combined, $820,847. That adds up to a grand total of $3,572,747 in taxes paid by REX this year.

Barnesville School District received $1,254,882; the Switzerland of Ohio School District's share was $1,148,591 and the Belmont-Harrison Joint Vocation School received $41,877 for an overall total $2,455,551 for the schools.

Of the $296,548 received by the three townships, Somerset's share was $141,181; Wayne, $109,721 and Washington, $45,644.

Belmont County's general fund ranked third among the five county agencies that shared in the funds. The general fund was enriched by $127,564, while the development disabilities agency received $388,238 and senior citizens services $166,388. Ranking behind the general fun in the amount of money received were the child welfare agency with $55,462 and the mental health agency with $83,194.

Sutak said the amount of money received by the various groups depended upon the total millage in effect in those entities.

When public officials are forced into a financial squeeze by dwindling funds caused by financial cuts from the state and voters failing to approve tax levies to provide the money needed for the bare necessities for operating a governmental unit, then drastic actions must be taken.

And that is what is being planned for the Pease Township area. Keeping the street lights on at night in the unincorporated areas of the township is a financial responsibility of the Pease Township trustees.

As one trustee declared, if the money is not available to pay the electric bill, then the lights are turned off. And that is what is being considered for the unincorporated areas like Blaine, Lansing, Wolfhurst, Sunset Heights, West Wheeling, Boydsville and other small communities.

"It's something that neither I nor the other trustees want to do," trustee Mike Bianconi declared. "But we don't have the funds to pay the light bill. Our operating levy was turned down by the voters."

But the lights aren't going to be turned off immediately. "If they have to be turned off, it won't happen until January or February," Bianconi pointed out. At the present time Bianconi is meeting with officials of American Electric Power about discontinuing service to those areas. "They can't just throw a switch and turn them off."

Bianconi started meeting with the AEP about the lights situation soon after the November general election when residents of those unincorporated areas voted down a one-mill operational levy that would have provided the funds needed to keep the street lights on. He said residents were being notified prior to the election that the levy was needed for the lights. "They were told," Bianconi stressed, "that if the levy did not pass the lights would have to be turned off. It's something we don't want to do but we're forced to do it if we don't have the money to pay the bill."

Pease Township had three levies on the November ballot. Besides the one-mill levy for operational expenses which includes the street lights, there was a one-mill levy to secure the money for road repairs. "Both went down the drain. So we won't have money for road repairs either," Bianconi added. The third issue was a replacement levy to provide additional funds for the Pease-Colerain Fire District. It received overwhelming approval.

Motorists received an early and most welcome Christmas present from the big oil companies - a price cut in gasoline ranging from 18 to 21 cents a gallon, depending on where in Belmont County you buy. The lowest price we found was $3.199 a gallon in Bridgeport which was 20 cents a gallon cheaper than the lowest price at stations in the St. Clairsville area.

Seeing one or even two white squirrels at one time happens occasionally but three showing up at one time to raid a bird feeder is a rare occasion. MaryAnn Galbreath of 194 Greentree Drive in St. Clairsville, got quite thrilled over the antics the three performed one day last week. "For the first time in the seven years we have lived in St. Clairsville we have had the pleasure" of having three of the rare white creatures in the yard at one time.

"We usually see one or two but never three," she exclaimed. "It is a joy to watch them use their abilities to not only hold onto the fence while stretching over to the feeder to enjoy its contents - black-oiled sunflower seeds - Porterfield's, of course."

And she noted they know immediately when the squirrels are around the feeder. "We have three dogs and they know when the squirrels arrive and alert us." Then she takes a ringside seat facing the feeders because "I absolutely love to watch them."

One of the joys of the Christmas season that I look forward to each year is going to the Wierzbicki Christmas Tree farm to not only get a tree but also to revive a friendship with the energetic owner/operator of the facility, Antonia Wierzbicki, that has endured for over a half century.

Although appearing just as spry and active as she has ever been despite her 94 years, Mrs. Wierzbicki claims her duties with the farm operation are mostly confined with "keeping the books."

She was baking poppy seed rolls - the aroma was a dead giveaway - when I arrived and as we chatted, there was a knock on the door. A customer was there to get a tree. Hesitating only a moment to check her kitchen, off she went to handle the order just as she has done for so many years. It has been a business that has kept her on the go for 65 years. "I can remember when trees were selling for 75 cents," she noted. They cost a lot more now and she says the reason is that the expense of planting and growing the trees has skyrocketed.

She has family members assisting her with the business. Her daughter, Toni, who was the first family member I met when she was taking dancing lessons at the Drumm School of Dance in Bridgeport, assists her but also has her own businesss "Bellisima Floral" on Edgington Lane in Wheeling and also at the farm. "Her wreaths are simply beautiful," the proud mother exclaimed.

There was a different twist to my annual ritual. This time I wasn't getting a live tree and that came as a surprise because she had just given instructions to cut a tree for me. It was a case where the "bosses" in my family decided working with a live tree is too much of a hassle for me so they purchased an artificial tree. But that won't stop my visits to the tree farm.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at:

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