State capital budget funds local projects

By Aimee Hancock -

SIDNEY — Local community projects will benefit from Ohio’s capital budget, which was signed into law on Friday, March 30, by Gov. John Kasich. The $2.62 billion budget will invest in infrastructure and local community projects throughout Ohio.

Through the budget bill, several projects within Shelby County and surrounding municipalities have been appropriated financial support.

One such project is the addition of a playground at Fort Loramie’s Redskin Memorial Park, which is currently under construction.

According to Village Administrator Tony Schmitmeyer, the park is 29 acres in total and the playground is estimated to take up about 10,000 square feet.

The budget bill earmarks a total of $145,000 to the playground project, which will come out to be roughly half of the current estimated amount necessary for its completion, he said. The rest of the money will come from donations.

“State Sen. Matt Huffman and Rep. Keith Faber were both instrumental in helping us get this money for the playground,” Schmitmeyer said. “They went to bat for us.”

“It’s moving forward,” he said of the park’s overall progress. “(By) the end of 2019, we should have a good percentage of the park completed. We could probably move faster on it, but we’re doing it with mainly village employees and volunteers as much as we can, (so) that process takes longer, but it also saves a lot of money.”

Another Shelby County project set to receive funding from the budget bill is the improvement of the agricultural facility at the fairgrounds. The bill allocated $100,000 to this project.

“The main improvements will be upgrading the electrical infrastructure on the fairgrounds,” said Fair Board President Jeremy Reese. “(It’s) long overdue.”

Reese said the process of applying for the budget bill funding began six to eight months ago with the help of the Shelby County Commissioners.

“We worked with our local commissioners on the long-range plan for the fairgrounds and prioritized it,” he said. “The infrastructure was the most important at the time, with electrical being the most important of the infrastructure issues.”

In terms of general upkeep, Reese said these maintenance projects have historically been made possible by local funding.

“Last year, we just completed the grandstand project,” he said. “The year before, we put up a new rabbit building; so, there’s continuous and ongoing improvements made around the fairgrounds.”

Sidney’s STAR Transitional Treatment House will also receive funding from the budget bill in the amount of $325,000.

“This is a reimbursement formula,” said Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann. “So, we have to put out the money and then get reimbursed for the work that we do.”

Shelby County, Ehemann said, is one of 35 counties throughout the state that have signed The Stepping Up Initiative, which focuses on keeping the mentally ill out of jail. This has served as inspiration behind the creation of the STAR Treatment House.

Ehemann said a need was identified when jail administrators would speak with inmates, who just prior to their release, were apprehensive about life after incarceration. Many of these individuals knew they would be returning to the same environment that led to their lock-up in the first place. This ultimately leads to higher recidivism rates and leaves those addicted to drugs at risk for relapse.

“They’d end up back where they started and their addiction cycle would start all over because they’re back with the same group of people and the same environment that they were in and that’s all they know,” Ehemann said.

“A lot of times (it involves) setting them up with the proper resources so they maintain their treatment,” she continued. “When you look at a lot of the inmates that are in jail, and some of the persons that will be going into the transitional treatment house, they have underlying mental illness that is part of the issue with their addiction.

“Now, as people get out of jail and they’ve got the right mindset and the right program put together, they will just transition over into the STAR House and they’ll do independent living there (with) counselors (as) a resource for them to make sure they do their counseling and drug treatment, make sure they go to work, and work with them on life skills.”

Ehemann said the estimated total amount needed to open the STAR House is about $1.1 million.

“The funding is a cooperation between the Tri-County Board of Mental Health,” she said “We’ve got the state (budget bill) money, and we’ve also got another grant from the state through mental health, so these two funding pots together are going to build the transitional treatment house.”

Ehemann said the process to open the house will take at least six months. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for May 16, which is National Stepping Up Day of Action.

Several projects within Auglaize County were also approved to receive funding.

According to Angela Hamberg, the village of New Bremen economic development director, New Bremen is set to receive funding for four projects within and surrounding the village.

A project to improve the Bremenfest Shelterhouse was allocated $100,000 through the budget bill.

“This particular project is for the West Shelterhouse,” Hamberg said. “It’s the original structure that was built in 1980 and we knew the restroom facilities needed to be updated to ADA compliance.

“With that in mind and knowing that this community projects budget was available through the capital budget bill, we thought about not only making it ADA compliant, but also making an enclosed facility, so we have an opportunity to use the facility in all weather conditions, (allowing) possibly year-round use of the facility.”

Hamberg said the total project cost is estimated at $200,000.

“We understood that Rep. Faber strongly encourages matching dollars,” she said. “So, the remaining $100,000 (will be funded) through local efforts.”

Funds from the budget bill will also be allocated toward the creation of the New Bremen Bike Path.

According to Hamberg, the path will go under state Route 274, similar to the existing bike path that goes under state Route 66.

“The priority is to improve safety measures,” she said. “Before submitting it into the capital budget bill, I did get with the Ohio Department of Transportation. Knowing that we had ODOT’s support, and seeing that as viable project, gave encouragement.”

Hamberg said the $250,000 allocated from the budget bill, along with some funding from ODOT, will primarily finance the project, with local fundraising filling any gaps.

The project also leaves the future possibility of connecting with other bike paths in the area, including the Miami Erie Canal Towpath, Kuenning Dicke Natural Area path, the bridge, and through the Pioneer subdivision.

The capital budget also grants $100,000 in total to enhancement projects on the Miami Erie Canal. According to the bill, $50,000 will go toward clean-up of the Miami Erie Canal Trail, and $50,000 will go toward fitness improvements on the canal’s Towpath.

“We’re looking to partner with Minster because we share the Miami Erie Canal Towpath, so I think this is a really great opportunity for many organizations between our two communities to work together,” Hamberg said.

Fitness improvements include the addition of bike kiosks in three areas: one at Kuenning Dicke Natural Area, one in downtown New Bremen, and one in Minster.

“I think it’s a really great way for people who are maybe outside the community to come in and see the beauty of each of our communities from a two-wheeled view,” Hamberg said.

Other improvements include adding a full workout station at Jaycees Park, as well as core fitness stations along the Erie Canal.

Hamberg said the clean-up of the Erie Canal is a project that would also involve community collaboration.

“Even though it’s not in the village city limits, we see the importance of us partnering and that’s why we wanted to have requested funding through the capital budget bill because we are willing to help fund that in order to improve it for all who could be involved,” she said.

Clean-up efforts would include dead tree removal, dredge work, erosion reduction, and the improvement of hydraulic properties of the canal banks in the area.

By Aimee Hancock

Reach the writer at 937-538-4825

Reach the writer at 937-538-4825