Jerusalem Man Injured in Truck/Buggy Collision

A horse and buggy was hit on the morning of Nov. 13 near Beallsville causing severe damage and injuries to both the operator and the horse.

A 1999 Ford Ranger, operated by a juvenile, was travelling north on SR 145 around “Copper Kettle Turn” when it struck the buggy. Abraham P. Hershberger of Jerusalem was operating the buggy at the time. He was injured in the collision and was transported to a Wheeling hospital. His injuries were considered to be non life-threatening.

The buggy suffered severe damage in the collision. The horse suffered injuries as well, and a veterinarian was called to the scene. The animal’s condition was unknown. 

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Unofficial Election Results: Several Races Remain Undecided, SOLSD Levy Fails

According to the website of the Monroe County Board of Elections, the unofficial results of the Nov. 5 General Election are in, with a total voter turn-out of 48.5%.

The unofficial results have the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District levy failing once again. In Monroe County, the For votes were 1,998, while the Against votes were 2,602. Noble County was 27 For and 81 Against. Belmont County was 344 For and 452 Against. That works out to a total of 2,369 For and 3,135 Against.

In a release from the district, Superintendent John Hall stated his appreciation for those who supported the levy and his disappointment with the ultimate results. “We know we are on the ballot every day, and I am confident our staff will handle this defeat professionally and utilize whatever resources we have to the best of our ability,” said Hall.

The release added that the district “respects the community’s decision.” Hall said the Board of Education has no immediate plans to rush back on the ballot and will spend some time listening to the community before decisions are made.

The SOLSD Board of Education election was extremely close, and the second elected board member will not be decided until the official results come in on Nov. 18 or after (if an automatic recount is required). According to unofficial results, incumbent Edward Carleton will return to the board, receiving the most votes in the two contested positions with 1,894. It appears that Janelle Comstock will not return as she finished fourth with 1,719 votes, but she is not yet mathematically eliminated.

At this point, the second position goes to Jackie Hupp who received 1,759 votes. Molly Davis received 1,756 votes. The race is too close to call. In Monroe County alone, there are 73 provisional ballots [ballots that may or may not count and have not been included in the totals yet]. That does not include Noble County or Belmont County provisional ballots. That means it is possible for either candidate to jump in front of the other. If the official count on Nov. 18 finds the two candidates within 0.5% of one another, an automatic recount will be held with results not coming until the end of November.

Justin Isaly, who ran unopposed, will return to the SOLSD Board of Education. He received 3,473 votes.

In the Woodsfield Village Council race, all three incumbents appear to be back in (Dale English, Mike Cox and Carol Hehr) according to the unofficial results, while Rick Shipp will fill the spot vacated by Pauline Delbrugge's retirement. With the top four vote recipients being elected, Dale English received the most votes with 374. Rick Shipp followed with 344, Mike Cox with 333 and Carol Hehr with 300.

Susan Cunion was fifth with 279 votes. It is still mathematically possible for her to overtake Hehr once provisional ballots are counted. Rounding out the voting was Joseph Long (228), Eric Kilburn (218) and Jimmy Williams (165).

Three other elections were too close to call and will not be decided until the official count or after an automatic recount. Those elections are for trustee positions in Bethel, Lee and Salem Townships.

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WES Principal Neil Ritchie Placed on Administrative Leave

 

The Switzerland of Ohio Local School District (SOLSD) has placed Woodsfield Elementary Principal Neil Ritchie on administrative leave. When asked the reasoning for the move, SOLSD Superintendent John Hall simply said, “It’s a personnel matter.”

The leave actually took effect earlier in the month on Oct. 9. Ritchie has been off since. When asked what the timetable for Ritchie’s return was, Hall said, “There is no set time. He will be on leave until such time as we’re able to determine the appropriate measures.”

According to the Ohio Revised Code, Ritchie’s leave is paid. Filling in as interim principal at Woodsfield Elementary is Mike Podlasiak.

 

Community Meeting Paints Dire Financial Picture in SOLSD

On Tuesday, Oct. 8 at Swiss Hills Career Center, Superintendent John Hall led a community meeting on the state of the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District (SOLSD). During the meeting, Hall spoke about his new six-week journey with the district.

Hall began by describing where SOLSD is in its current state. He said that in the current situation, decisions made or not made can affect the organization’s survival.

Superintendent Hall said there were things that the district must do in order to survive. Proclaiming that there have been no decisions that could be made to answer all of the problems that have come about, Hall said, “We are not in a hurry to make any decisions.”

Treasurer Lance Erlwein, who also played a large part in the meeting, introduced himself by saying, “I’m going to talk about the good, the bad, the ugly and the tragic.”

Erlwein spoke of the recent situation at Ormet as being one such tragic event. He said that Ormet has been a contributor to the budget because of the $110,000 in annual property taxes the company pays the district.

Erlwein said the Ormet shutdown, along with the potential loss of students, could be a potential issue. If the 600 employees who live in Monroe County leave the school district, it will be a devastating blow as the district loses $5,700 in funding per student who leaves the district.

In a more general discussion about district finances, Erlwein showed the public a visual with revenues and expenditures for SOLSD. Erlwein noted that 53% of the district’s revenue comes from state funding. He also noted that most of this state funding is solely based on the number of students enrolled in the district.

Erlwein continued by showing that 20% of revenues come from general property taxes from the public and businesses. The other 18% comes from basic utilities, such as the Rocky Express Pipeline.

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Woodsfield Village Allows Re-Zoning of Two N. Paul St. Properties

Two North Paul St. properties were re-zoned from residential to business during the Woodsfield Village Council meeting held on Oct. 7. Due to the decision, a property owned by Dick Yoss at 103 North Paul St. will be re-zoned for the construction of a law office, while a property owned by Gary Rubel at 118 North Paul St. will be re-zoned for an office complex, a motel or a multi-family dwelling.

The most contention surrounded the property on which the old Woodsfield Elementary sits, owned by Gary Rubel. During a public hearing about the re-zoning, residents of North Paul St. largely expressed that their issue was with the lack of clarity and definitive plans for the property.

Woodsfield resident Bill Strickling perhaps expressed the sentiment held by the residents best when he said, “Gary needs to be specific.” He added, “I don’t know if I’m against it. I don’t know anything about it.”

Resident Barb Carsland appeared to get emotional as she spoke to council, showing how much the issue meant to the North Paul St. neighborhood. “It’s about due process. We’re just trying to secure our right to due process,” she said. She closed by saying, “You would be surprised by the openness of the residents on North Paul St. if we just knew what was going on.”

Ashley Schumacher, who said she is a co-owner of a North Paul St. property urged council members to put themselves in the shoes of the residents of the neighborhood.

While a large contingency of North Paul St. residents attended the meeting to show their disagreement with the re-zoning proposal, several also spoke in favor of it. Representing Gary Rubel was attorney Jason Yoss.

Yoss said he understood the issue was an emotional one, but he urged the residents to consider the facts. He cited the lowered property values that would come if the old Woodsfield Elementary School was left vacant. He also said that one of the worst fears of the residents (low income housing) was possible under the current zoning of the property.

Yoss said he was not at liberty to divulge any specific plans for the property, but he assured the plans would be acceptable to the community. He closed by saying, “Voting against this proposal would be a vote against progress.”

Cited by those in favor of the re-zoning were petitions passed around local businesses after Rubel’s plans to re-zone for a hotel were denied last year. The claim by those in favor of the re-zoning was that 357 village residents had signed those petitions.  Also speaking for the re-zoning were Dick Yoss, Jimmy Williams, Walter Kemp, the First Baptist Church and Susan Cunion.

After hearing from both sides, the council passed the re-zoning by a vote of 4-2. Voting “yes” were Dale English, Bill Moore, Mike Cox and Carol Hehr. Voting “no” were Matt Vinskovich and Pauline Delbrugge.

In a conversation that started during the public hearing to re-zone Dick Yoss’ property, councilwoman Carol Hehr urged property owners on North Paul St. to all apply to re-zone their property as business to add value to their property.

The other public hearing held was in regards to the re-zoning of 103 North Paul St. to allow for the new construction of a law office for Yoss Law. 

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Monroe County Sheriff's Department Makes Arrest in Last Week's Auto Theft

A male suspect was arrested on Thurs., Sept. 26 for the theft of a 2010 Ford Excursion, owned by Woodsfield resident Matt Longwell. Greg Lee Dugas, a pipeline worker from Missouri, (and most recently staying at a campground near Longwell’s Keylor Hill residence) was apprehended and charged with grand theft auto and aggravated possession of methamphetamine.

The sheriff’s department was able to apprehend Dugas due to both its investigative efforts and fortunate timing.

The department had received reports of a black Chevy Suburban being involved in “other criminal activity.” Upon investigating, deputies were told by witnesses that they had seen a vehicle matching that description near Longwell’s residence the night of the theft.

Flash forward to Sept. 26. As the department had a shift change, Sgt. Matt Abbott and Sheriff Chuck Black were standing outside talking. They looked down to the Woodsfield Duke and Duchess to see a black Chevy Subarban. Sgt. Abbott went on foot to investigate while Sheriff Black got a car.

Upon arriving, Sgt. Abbott approached the passenger after seeing that the driver was not in the vehicle. He recognized the passenger as Greg Lee Dugas from previous experience with the man. Sgt. Abbott asked the man’s name and was allegedly told a false name.

Sgt. Abbott asked the man to step out of the vehicle as Sheriff Black pulled a cruiser in behind. It was then that Dugas allegedly attempted to flee. Sgt. Abbott was able to secure him by his shirt. Dugas then submitted to arrest after Sgt. Abbott gave a verbal warning and presented his tazer. 

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Superintendent Hall Outlines Three Goals For SOLSD

New Switzerland of Ohio Local School District (SOLSD) Superintendent John Hall made it clear during his first regular session Board of Education meeting on Sept. 19 that he has goals for the district and he wants to see them through. During the meeting, held at Beallsville, which begins the long line of upcoming “road” meetings held outside of central office, Hall established three goals that he believes will put the district on a new, better path.

Hall said the first goal for the district is to improve staff morale. According to Hall, the cuts of employees and other issues with the district mean that staff morale is low. He said that must change if the schools are to operate at a higher level.

The second goal stated by Hall was to “improve our academic achievement.” Referring to the recent state report card that gave SOLSD a failing grade, Hall said he knew the district could do better. “I know our staff is up to the challenge,” he added.

Hall's third goal should come as no surprise to those who have followed the district's struggles in recent years. Hall said the district's finances must improve if the quality of education is to improve.

Hall also said the he has made some unbiased observations of the district during his first few weeks on the job. He had great compliments for the quality of students in the district, calling the student body “generally” mannerly, orderly and eager to learn. “I've been in a lot of districts, and I can tell you there's few other districts where the kids behave as well as they do here,” Hall said.

However, he also identified problems. One of those issues he noticed was fragmentation and division. “There does seem to be a competitiveness that sometimes is unhealthy in the district between the communities. That's detrimental in developing the unity that our entire program needs,” Hall observed.

He cited the biggest issue he has seen is found in finances and support, or lack there-of, of levies. “This district has not had new operating monies since 1985,” Hall said. He stated that the norm for middle or high performing districts is that they ask for and receive new operating monies every three to five years.

Hall said this lack of financial support has been detrimental to the district and in addressing issues that are negatively impacting students. He said of the situation, “Just like in your own household, if you don't have money to fix the pipes, you don't have money to fix the pipes.”

Through all of the challenges, Hall remains optimistic about his new position with SOLSD. “Despite the challenges we face, and maybe because of them, I look forward to my service in this district. We want to raise the bar so that growth for all of our students can occur,” Hall said.

After Hall’s superintendent’s report, the meeting was opened up to public participation. Perhaps the most interesting conversation from the public participation was in regards to what citizens often call “double-dipping” (the rehiring of retired employees).

John Rosnick of Powhatan Point introduced himself by saying, “I came because I’m a taxpayer.” Rosnick said he had heard three to six retired teachers who were on limited contracts were given continuing contracts to keep working while younger teachers were laid off during district cuts. Rosnick also said he had heard they were brought back at the same pay rate, not a new starting rate.

Officials of the district did not deny what Rosnick had heard. Superintendent Hall said, “Contracts have to be followed. In those situations, there were legal, contractual issues. We were following the laws the contract read at the time.” Confirming Hall’s comments was Treasurer Lance Erlwein. 

Commissioners Scramble To Limit Health Insurance Increase

Several factors have contributed to a significant increase in health insurance costs for the county in 2014. The Monroe County commissioners met with Bob Tschappat of the Health Plan to discuss the options during their meeting on Sept. 16.

If everything remains the same with the county's insurance in 2014, the rates will increase on both plans offered by the county by 11%. Contributing to the increase is the much-talked-about Affordable Care Act. A total amount of taxes of $12 per member, per month will be assessed due to federal changes.

However, the biggest portion of the increase will come due to catastrophic claims. Due to several large claims on the HMO plan, rates will increase by $52.38 per member, per month on both the HMO and the PPO. Tschappat explained to commissioners that the catastrophic claims actually caused the Health Plan to lose money on the HMO. To avoid an over-the-top rate increase on the HMO plan, the increase was spread across both plans.

Commissioners showed great concern at the increases, which would affect both the county's finances and its employees' finances. Multiple options were discussed to limit the increase. Possibilities discussed included eliminating the HMO plan and establish two varying PPO plans or increasing the HMO deductible. 

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County Receives More Money From Mineral Rights Leasing

The Monroe County Commissioners signed yet another mineral rights lease as the county continues to garner direct financial benefits from the shale oil and gas activity. Commissioners signed a lease on property owned by the county in Cameron during their Sept. 3 meeting.

The lease is only on three acres of land that were part of the flood mitigation program.  The agreement, signed with Matt Baker of Eclipse Resources, includes a sign-on bonus of $5,000 per acre (for an initial total of $15,000 for the county) and a 20% royalty rate.

Also signed during the meeting was an agreement to purchase a property previously owned by STS and Sales and located at 37835 Township Road 38 in Woodsfield.  After a motion was passed by commissioners, the structure on the property, previously used as a mechanic’s garage, will act as the new impound lot and evidence locker for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.

The purchase price has been agreed upon, but the county may purchase equipment located in the facility. Once the entire purchase is decided upon, the purchase price will be made public.

Commissioners said they decided to purchase the property because it came at a better value than building a new facility. Commissioner Carl Davis cited that they were looking at a $30,000 cost just to do the earthwork on site for a new structure. 

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SOLSD To Rotate Locations of Monthly Board Meeting

The Switzerland of Ohio Local School District (SOLSD) generally holds its monthly regular session Board of Education meeting at the school offices on Mill St. in Woodsfield. However, that schedule is about to change.

In an effort to branch out to different communities within the district, the SOLSD administration and board decided that being present in those communities would be the way to do it.

In a press release announcing the changes, the district stated, “As most of you know, SOLSD is the largest geographic district in the state of Ohio; and this creates countless logistical challenges as we try to manage our operations. One of these challenges involves how we communicate with our district stakeholders in the many attendance areas we serve. We realize many of you simply cannot make the trip to Central Office.”

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