State issue will raise money for infrastructure projects

A state issue on the May 6 primary ballot will determine financing public infrastructure, an issue that has passed in the state multiple times.

The state issue is a proposed Constitutional amendment, Section 2s of Article VIII (Eight), which will provide funding for public infrastructure capital improvements through the issuance of general obligation bonds.

Peggy Byers, deputy director for the Washington County Board of Elections, said the purpose of the amendment is to bring money to the local level.

“It’s supposed to give some money back to the local government,” she said. “Townships really feel like they’ve been hurting and this is supposed to remedy some of that.”

If the amendment passes, more money will be up for grabs for Ohio’s 88 counties through bonds: it will mean $1.875 billion will be issued over a 10-year period for infrastructure improvements. There is a stipulation that any principal amount that could have been issued in a prior fiscal year, but was not issued, may subsequently be issued. Though the bonds issued will pay for projects in the next decade, it may take up to nearly three times that to pay them back.

Facilities included in the infrastructure improvements are: roads and bridges, waste water treatment systems, water supply systems, solid waste disposal facilities, storm water and sanitary collection, storage and treatment facilities.

Washington County Commissioner Ron Feathers said he feels there is no need to pass the amendment.

“It’s basically increasing the debt ceiling by half a billion dollars,” he said. “They’re moving it from $1.3 billion to $1.875 billion and they’re doing it by selling bonds and somebody’s got to pay that back.”

Feathers said in the past there have been promises of more local money from the state but it rarely trickles down.

“How many times have they promised ‘We’ll give you more money?'” he said. “Coming down to local townships for local infrastructure, you just don’t see it. There are so many hoops you have to jump through.”

Conversely, Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews is an avid supporter of the state issue.

“I’m certainly in favor of it,” said Matthews, who is a coordinator for Issue 1 support in Washington County.

“It’s been a great program for all involved,” he said. “I wholeheartedly ask people to support it.”

Matthews said that though $1.875 billion seems like a huge chunk of money, if it’s broken down it really isn’t.

“It’s probably not (too much) because you break that down into 10 years,” he said. “I believe the needs are here in Washington County. We’re talking about all the districts in the state, it’s not that much there.”

In fact, Matthews suggests that the number might be a little low.

“It’s probably low; we need more,” he said. “They tried to come up with a figure people can live with. It’s been a great program. Marietta’s had some great results.”

Some of those results include work on the water treatment plant a few years ago, improvements to the Wastewater Treatment Plant and quite a bit of money for roads. Matthews said in 2011, 2012 and 2013 the city received money for city-wide asphalt resurfacing projects: $400,000, $397,000 and $400,000, respectively. He added that more money would be coming in this year, and the city applies for the bonds through Buckeye Hills.

Feathers said that there is still too much taxpayer money in limbo from the last time the bond issue was approved and voted in.

“There’s $1.3 billion out there of taxpayer money they’re throwing around,” he said, adding, “I will not support this or vote for it.”