About 25 law enforcement officials from throughout Belmont County were on hand for a special meeting at the Ohio Valley Mall last week to begin a training program designed for one purpose - how to handle situations involving disasters like those that have plagued other parts of the nation.
"This is the first county-wide training session for people that would be involved in responding to and handling big emergency situations," explained Belmont County Sheriff Dave Lucas.
Lucas said the meeting was the first of several he plans to have in the coming months "to get everybody on board so they'll know how to handle an emergency situation."
Without mentioning specifically the "emergency situations," it was obvious he was referring to the mass murders committed in schools, theaters, colleges, and on the street in a downtown business district that have claimed the lives of many men, women and children.
"This training is not something new," Lucas pointed out. "This is something that has been going on for years in the schools and elsewhere." But he noted that since the Sandy Hook School massacre in Connecticut, "the people in the county think we have to get something done locally."
With the training sessions, Lucas hopes to get law enforcement representatives from the smallest to the largest towns and cities in the county to participate. "Then, sometime this fall with the cooperation of the Ohio Valley Mall, we'll stage a mock disaster situation," Lucas said. He added in that way each individual will get familiar with the role they'll have to perform.
"The main thing right now," the sheriff added, "is I want to get everyone in Belmont County involved. The mall is cooperating with us all the way."
Not all the jingling that could be heard during the Christmas shopping season last year came from jingle bells. Some of it could have been the rattling of coins being poured steadily into cash registers from holiday sales.
Based on the sales tax figures that have been revealed for the November-December shopping period, Belmont County enjoyed its best Christmas shopping season in at least six years with retail sales soaring to record levels.
Sales taxes generated from retail sales in Belmont County during that two month period in 2012 totaled $2,265,937.41. That was $213,406.01 more than was collected during the same two-month period in the previous year 2011.
But it was not only the Christmas shopping season that boosted the sales tax revenue for the county. In every month of the year the 2012 sales tax was higher than for the corresponding month in 2011. The tax revenue for the entire year of 2012 was $13,107,462.51 which was $1.5 million more tax than the retail sales in 2011 produced.
The sales tax figures show that the county has shown a big recovery in tax revenue since the year the county was feeling for the first time the effects of the JCPenney store leaving the Ohio Valley Mall.
The $13.1 million in tax revenue produced by the retail sales last year was a whopping $8.1 million more than what was realized in 2008, the first year of JCPenney's departure from the mall.
Since the departure of JCPenney the county has shown a steady, yearly increase in sales tax revenue and it is likely that with the arrival of two major stores at the mall this year - Boscov's and Rural King -retail sales will get a shot in the arm that could result in even a greater revenue increase next year. Rural King is already in operation at the mall and Boscov's is due to open in time for the next Christmas shopping season.
The Belmont County Tourism Council has approved the largest allocation ever of grant funds - $77,400 - to various Belmont County organizations to finance their tourism related activities this year.
Under its Grants Assistance Program (GAP), the council approved the funding applications of 36 organizations. Requests of 19 were rejected. The 55 applications that were submitted for the GAP funds was the largest number ever received during the 13 years the funding program has been conducted. The successful grant recipients should receive their funds by the end of the month.
In addition to reviewing the grant applications, the council held its reorganizational meeting and all current officers were retained. They are Floyd Simpson, president; Richard Thompson, vice president; and George Diab, secretary-treasurer.
My apologies to Lacey Paxton Shanks, a member of American Legion Post 159 in St. Clairsville, for aging her in this corner last week. She served two tours of duty during the war in Iraq and not in the Vietnam War as was mentioned here. She will detail her experiences during the salute to Vietnam War Veterans on March 30 at 11 a.m. in front of the Belmont County Courthouse.
"We'll miss you at this location."
That sign in the display window of the Pac Sun store in the Ohio Valley Mall serves notice that not all of the stores being affected by Boscov's department store moving into the mall later this year are being relocated elsewhere in the shopping center. The store will close and leave the mall the end of this month.
The corner location of the Pac Sun shop and its neighbor, Payless ShoeSource, will be renovated to house Victoria's Secret. That project is expected to take about seven months. During that seven-month period the store will be temporarily located in the space that last month was vacated by Velocity sportswear. That space is being readied for Victoria's Secret to relocate.
Vacant spaces in other sections of the mall are also being remodeled in preparation for the moves by Books-A-Million and Payless ShoeSource. Raven Rock Workwear is moving into a space between H.H.Gregg and CVS Pharmacy. Kitchen Collection has already been moved into a new location.
Unfortunately the first day of spring or even the first week of spring failed to bring on the warmer climes as most residents were hoping. So another event planned on April 1 will surely provide the area with a spring feeling. That's the day Kirke Porterfield will take the winter wraps of his popular ice cream store on National Road and open for business.
And Porterfield assures me that is no April Fools joke since he has two young ladies, Taylor Mik and Aly Holub, coming home from college to operate the establishment for the summer.
St. Clairsville Attorney Joseph A. Vavra has been appointed to the board of commissioners of the Belmont Park District that oversees the operations of the Carnes Center at the Belmont County Fairgrounds. His appointment by Probate Court Judge Mark Costine fills a vacancy on the five-member board that was created late last year.
Vavra earned his law degree from Capital University, graduating in 2009. He has since been in practice with his father, John A. Vavra, who also serves as Belmont County Eastern Division Court judge.
Vavra has already attended a couple of meetings and is looking forward to the challenges the board is facing.
One of the first is seeking a manager for the Carnes Center. Since Chris Orris left the manager position last November, board members Gerald Campbell and Dwight Jenewein have been handling the managerial duties.
He views the Carnes Center as a developing tourist attraction. He feels that will become reality when the popular events that now are being staged at the center are attracted "on a more consistent basis."
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at: 740 695-5233.