October 20, 2014

Medina
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Year in review: Officials reflect on 2013

Medina County officials reflected on 2013 and accomplishments and goals, including a courthouse renovation project, widening of state Route 18 and U.S. Route 42 in 2015, completion of six-year property reappraisals, and more than $8 million in delinquent taxes collected.

Commissioners
Medina County finished a $2.3 million courthouse restoration project started in 2011.

The final phase was the clock tower on the courthouse, which cost $331,000 and was finished in early December.

County Commissioner Steve Hambley said the completion of the project is a source of pride for the entire county.

“Obviously, the expense itself is noteworthy, but it’s the center of the county, it’s the icon for Medina itself,” Hambley said.

The courthouse, built in 1841, was almost torn down twice in the 1960s. Resident opposition convinced leaders to build a new structure next door and save the existing courthouse.

“Not every county has treasured their courthouse,” Hambley said. “The fact that it’s still a functioning courthouse is outstanding.”

Hambley said another milestone in 2013 was the announcement of major widening projects for state Route 18 and U.S. Route 42, slated to start in 2015.

“We’re on the state list and it’s promised funding,” Hambley said. “We’re at the point it’s going to be done.”

Hambley credited ODOT District 3 Director Alan Biehl for working with county and city leaders to get the projects under way.

The widening of a 1.5-mile stretch of Route 42 (North Court Street and Pearl Road) will cost $47 million to be funded by bonds backed by Ohio Turnpike toll revenues.

The city of Medina is kicking in an additional $1 million to fund the project. When complete in September 2016, the road will have two lanes each for north- and southbound traffic and a center lane for left turns.

The other project is a widening of 1.5 miles of Route 18, east of Medina.

Commissioners said other important county accomplishments include the opening of the Medina County fiber network. The county Port Authority owns the 151-mile, 144-strand fiber-optic loop that can provide high-bandwidth connections to businesses, local governments, schools and libraries.

“Getting that line open and getting customers online was a big thing,” County Commissioner Adam Friedrick said. After the line opened in April and in May, county commissioners voted unanimously to join the network for cable service, saving the county about $600 monthly over its previous service.

Friedrick said he expects development and infrastructure to play a big part of county business moving forward into 2014. In addition to the fiber-optic lines, Friedrick said creating a Community Reinvestment Area in Granger and Montville townships was successful and will help encourage business development at a benefit to the township and county.

“I like working with development leaders and the port authority to see how we can facilitate growth and job creation.”

Auditor
County Auditor Mike Kovack said his office had a busy year, citing the completion of the six-year reappraisals as a major accomplishment.

The project took 2ᄑ years and included home sales from 2010, 2011 and 2012. On average, property values were lowered about 4 percent.

“It’s good news for taxpayers,” Kovack said.

He said that while property sales were down in 2010 through 2012, they were up 2013, showing a recovery starting to take place following the economic recession and mortgage crisis that hit in 2008 and 2009.

“We sort of bottomed out in 2011 and 2012 and were seeing values start to appreciate again, so that’s a good thing,” he said. Foreclosures also are down countywide by about 24 percent.

“That’s tremendously good news,” Kovack said.

Home sales in 2013 are up by about 13 percent and represent about $600 million in sales.

Kovack said programs his office instituted to help homeowners in 2009 have contributed to the recovery and his office is seeing a decrease in the number of families served.

The auditor’s office teamed up with nonprofit Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People or ESOP to provide counseling for people who are behind on their mortgage payments.

In 2013, 402 families were served by the program, many referred to the auditor’s office through the court system.

Kovack said more than 100 of those families were able to receive federal “restoring stability” funds totaling more than $2.5 million in mortgage assistance countywide.

“We were glad to be able to come up with funds to keep people in their homes,” he said. “We also help work with families on their finances.”

One disappointment last year, Kovack said, was the Ohio General Assembly’s elimination for all new levies of the 12.5 percent property tax rollback.

“These laws were written in the period of several days with no input from auditors across the state,” Kovack said.

The change, which was included in the state budget bill passed in June, means a levy that would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home $150 annually now would cost $171.50, he said.

Now, Kovack said, “The local property owners will pay more and the state will pay less.”

Recorder
More than 1,200 veterans have received county-issued ID cards in the last three months thanks to a program instituted in September by County Recorder Colleen Swedyk.

Medina joined a handful of other Northeast Ohio counties in issuing the ID cards, which show a veteran’s branch of service and service dates.

“In every county it’s come on board the veterans are really excited about it,” Swedyk said.

Veterans can file their discharge papers, known by their government form number “DD-214” at the recorder’s office and get an ID that’s good for six years.

“They can get discounts at restaurants and on food for being a veteran, but some only had their discharge papers as proof of service,” Swedyk said. “The card is convenient.”

When veterans file their discharge papers with the county recorder, they also have a local place to go in the event their discharge papers are ever lost.

Swedyk said the program has been popular and heard there is hope that businesses that belong to the Greater Medina Chamber of Commerce may work to start offering discounts to veterans now that many have cards to prove their service.

“That’s something that’s still in early talks, but it would be nice to have more local businesses offer discounts,” she said.

Treasurer
County Deputy Treasurer Anne Murphy listed several accomplishments for 2013:

• Treasurer John Burke’s office collected $8,027,058 in delinquent taxes in 2013.

• The treasurer’s successful investment strategy provided $386,000 in additional revenue to the county, which was $56,000 more than projected.

• Most recently, the Treasurer’s Office held a counterfeit currency training seminar for county employees.

• Staff were trained in voter registration, meaning residents now can register to vote at the treasurer’s office.

• Staff helped county residents collect more than $250,000 in unclaimed funds from the state.

• County residents’ use of the treasure’s office’s website to make online tax payments increased by 150 percent this year.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.