STEUBENVILLE - A report from a committee appointed by Jefferson County commissioners to investigate the possible purchase of the Ohio Valley Towers was discussed during Thursday's commissioners' meeting.
Commissioners asked local businessman Dave Hindman, chairman of a committee investigating possible purchase of the towers in downtown Steubenville by the county, to deliver a preliminary report Thursday on the status of the committee's findings. Commissioners said they decided to do so after what they said were unfounded rumors the county already had purchased the building.
County commissioners established the committee last year, comprised of seven local professionals, to examine whether it would be economically feasible to purchase the building instead of paying rent for several county departments housed there.
"Some people are under the impression we've already bought (the building)," said Commissioner Thomas Graham, adding that wasn't the case.
Hindman confirmed the study was ongoing and any possible purchase was contingent on how much the county would have to pay for the structure.
"Our recommendation is to (make an offer)," Hindman told commissioners. "Beyond that, we don't (recommend taking any action)."
Hindman also said the building would have to be purchased for between $700,000 to possibly $900,000 to make sense for the county. He added the asking price of $1.7 million for the towers is too much for the county to pay.
"If we were able to purchase the building for ($700,000) that would be a win-win for everyone," said Hindman, adding he didn't appreciate having to discuss publicly the issue until the committee had all the facts for its final recommendation.
Hindman continued by saying the committee had no choice to make the matter public prematurely because of unfounded rumors regarding the issue.
"Until you get all the facts, you don't say anything," said Hindman. "Some of the rumors out there are 180 degrees from being correct."
Commissioner Tom Gentile said the matter is being investigated because one county department currently is paying $84,000 in rent there annually, while another department's rent at the towers is $2,000 per month. Hindman said committee members represented a cross section of county businessmen and professionals who understand the issue.
"We represent the taxpayers," he said. "The other (committee) members are stakeholders in the county."
"I think you're right (in obtaining information)," said Commissioner Dave Maple. "We haven't taken any action, and we won't until we completely review the (committee) findings."
Graham echoed Maple's comments.
"We're going to study (the committee's report), call you back in here and then make our decision," said Graham.
In other matters:
Commissioners defended their decision to take over Smithfield's water system, adding it made economic sense for the county to do so.
Smithfield Council voted to turn the system over to the county in September, and the county will take over the system and forgive $150,000 owed to Jefferson County for water service to the village.
During a previous commissioners' meeting in September, Gentile said the county would make improvements to Smithfield's water system allowing the expansion of the water system into the county's southern portion.
"It would cost us $250,000 to bypass Smithfield (to serve other county residents)," said Gentile, adding Smithfield's system was tied to other water customers served by the county. "I don't understand the criticism. It's a great deal for the county and Smithfield. I don't understand the opposition."
Gentile also said the county's takeover is costing substantially less than other county water projects expanding its system.
"We have no intention of raising (water rates)," he said. "We will make $200,000 a year after we take it over. We will be in better shape by taking it over than not. It's a no-brainer. It's a win-win situation."
Graham also said the county has a moral obligation to supply water to county residents whenever possible.
Maple also agreed it makes economic sense to take over the system.
"For us to continue to sell a product we don't get paid for is illogical," Maple said, adding taking over the system is a good return on the investment.
Commissioners also approved purchase of a 33-seat passenger bus for $101,070 and a 43-seat bus for $97,000, both from from Myers Equipment Co.; agreed to a $54,215 contract with Ohio-West Virginia Excavating Co. for rehabilitation of a bridge on Springield Township Road 278; approved a $88,902, year-long contract between the Jefferson County Job and Family Services and the Jefferson County sheriff for security services; and issued a proclamation designating October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
It was announced the Jefferson County Courthouse would be closed Monday in observance of Columbus Day.