2020: A year in review

No doubt, 2020 will go down as one of the most memorable in our lifetimes: A global pandemic. A contentious national election. A major employer coming to Clermont County. And more! As the New Year approaches, we take a look at the challenges and opportunities of 2020.


New Sheriff’s Office Safety and Training Facility
Local officials broke ground on an $852,000, 4,585-square-foot Clermont County Sheriff’s Office Safety and Training Facility in Batavia. The building houses open and private offices, single-user restrooms, a kitchen, a training room, an exercise room and mechanical spaces.

Painter elected president
Commissioner David Painter was elected president, and Commissioner Ed Humphrey, vice president, of the Clermont County Board of Commissioners for 2020 at the annual Reorganization Meeting. Commissioner Claire Corcoran was named to serve as a member.

Overdose deaths again decline
Deaths due to unintentional drug overdoses declined for the third-straight year in Clermont County, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). In 2018, 80 deaths of Clermont County residents were caused by accidental drug overdoses. This compared to 105 in 2017, 96 in 2016, 91 in 2015, and 78 in 2014 – the largest decrease (24 percent) since Clermont County began to see the effects of increased opioid use in the late 2000s.


County upgrades strengthen election security
The Clermont County Board of Elections completed security upgrades required by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. On June 11, 2019, LaRose issued Directive 2019-08, a comprehensive, multi-faceted security strategy for local boards that provides the redundancy required of a strong election system infrastructure. Counties had until Jan. 31 to complete the secretary’s requirements. The effort has made Ohio the national leader in election security. The directive included a checklist of 34 separate requirements that must be met in order to be considered compliant. The specifics of the checklist essentially serve as Ohio’s detailed defense plan against adversaries who seek to disrupt our elections.


New assistant director joins team
Greg Bickford, former Administrator of Sycamore Township in Hamilton County, joined Clermont County as Assistant County Administrator. He brought more than 20 years of experience with Sycamore Township, including six as Administrator. Clermont County has benefitted from his extensive background in economic development and public administration.

Pandemic prompts State of Emergency
The Board of Commissioners declared a State of Emergency in Clermont County in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Extraordinary times require extraordinary action,” said David Painter, president of the Board of County Commissioners. Commissioners Ed Humphrey and Claire Corcoran concurred. The emergency declaration, along with a previous resolution delegating disaster functions in event of an absence of a quorum of the Board, spelled out succession of leadership and the authority of the County Administrator in an emergency.


Innovation helps county endure shortages
Faced with shortages of hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial disinfectant wipes and sprays, Clermont County went ahead and made its own products. Director of Facilities Management Wade Grabowski and Chris Turner, facilities coordinator, tapped local sources for ingredients, looked up mixtures on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, and conferred with a chemist at Clermont County Water Resources.


Many improvements to sewer and water
The Clermont County Water Resources Department’s 5-year capital improvement plan (2020-2024) called for many improvements to water mains, water tanks and sewers. Lyle Bloom, the department’s director, explained the plan to the Board of County Commissioners.  The plan identified 58 water works capital improvements valued at $35.4 million, including 25 water main replacement projects ($22.5 million), elevated water tank inspection, rehab and painting projects ($3.1 million), water treatment plant and well field improvement projects ($3.4 million), new infrastructure/expansion projects ($6.2 million) and petition/assessment projects ($167,000).


Family Recovery Court helps family
Robert Schubert and wife Christina Northern – the parents of six children, ages 15 to 20 months – had lived in a van in back of a Clermont County sandwich shop for 18 months when they came to Family Recovery Court. He signed up for the rigorous year-long program on Aug. 21, 2018, and she joined about a month later. Addiction to methamphetamine knocked them down to the point that their children were placed in foster care on Oct. 17, 2017. Thanks to the structure and support of Family Recovery Court (a part of Clermont County Juvenile Court), they regained custody of their children on Sept. 27, 2019. Robert has been sober since Aug. 15, 2018, and Christina, June 17, 2018. On June 11, the six children joined their parents at a virtual/in-person graduation ceremony at the court. Judge James A. Shriver praised the family, wearing masks due to COVID-19. Family members and case workers watched online via Zoom.

Pandemic affects county budget
Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were estimated to reduce Clermont County general fund revenues from $64.1 million in 2019 to $58.4 million in 2020, said Mary Rains, director of the Clermont County Office of Management and Budget. Rains gave an overview on June 17 during a public hearing on the proposed annual tax budget for 2021. Fortunately, the county had kept a strong fund balance and reserves due to its responsible management of the budget.


County improves emergency communication
The Board of County Commissioners approved a License Agreement with the Great Oaks Career Campus Board that allowed Clermont County to build a 450-foot radio tower for the public safety radio system. Commissioners allocated $782,000 to construct the tower, part of a system that provides coverage for police, firefighters, emergency medical services, buses, engineers and the like. There is no cost to lease the land. “This will allow us to continue communications without any dead zones,” said John Kiskaden, Director of the Clermont County Department of Public Safety Services. “This tower is critical to the communications infrastructure. If we would have to move it, we would have a chain reaction of coverage issues, costing the county additional money to regain the existing coverage.”


Grants assist small businesses
Thanks to Clermont County’s Small Business Relief Program, $1 million in Coronavirus Relief Act (CARES Act) grants were made available to struggling businesses. “We hope these funds will help small businesses during these extremely challenging times,” said David Painter, president of the Board of County Commissioners. “Small businesses are vital to our economy, providing much-needed services and employment to many.”


New economic development director
Michael McNamara sees a bright future for Clermont County as he surveys the economic development landscape. McNamara joined the county as Director of Community and Economic Development. He had served as Butler County’s Development Administrator for five years.


Nestlé Purina to build $500-million plant
Clermont County celebrated one of the biggest economic development wins in county history – a victory in terms of good jobs, tax revenues for schools and services, and an environment where secondary industry will thrive. Nestlé Purina Pet Care Company purchased the remaining 193 acres at South Afton Industrial Park in Williamsburg Township for $6.9 million. This will bring 300 quality jobs. Nestlé Purina will invest more than $500 million in capital improvements at the industrial park site as construction crews and vendors move in to build its new manufacturing plant. Nestlé Purina’s investment will result in monetary gains to the Village of Williamsburg and Williamsburg Township in income tax revenue. Williamsburg Schools will also benefit from negotiated payments in lieu of taxes over the proceeding decades. Likewise the sale of property at South Afton recouped the taxpayers’ investment for infrastructure. The impact of those working at the plant will result in millions of dollars being infused into our county each year.


Election draws many voters
Thousands of citizens took advantage of early voting at Board of Elections offices in Batavia, with lines stretching along the block for days leading up to the Nov. 4 election. In addition to the presidential election, voters approved levies for services for abused and neglected children, senior citizens and those with mental health and addiction problems.

CARES Act funds help many
Clermont County allocated nearly $10 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. Another nearly $10 million in CARES Act funding had been allocated for local municipalities and townships. Funds went to Clermont County Public Health, Clermont County Park District, public and private schools, Clermont County Community Services, Clermont Senior Services and YWCA of Greater Cincinnati. Funds also were allocated for the $1-million Small Business Relief Program.

Major improvements to SR 32
Travel from Eastgate to Batavia without a traffic signal is a big step closer to reality thanks to a recent award from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI). At their October board meeting, OKI approved a $5.4 million grant to the Clermont County Transportation Improvement District (CCTID), which will fund a significant component of the construction work planned for SR 32 between Eastgate and Batavia.