Highland County commissioners proclaimed July 19 as Edward Lee McClain Day. Pictured (l-r) are commissioners Gary Abernathy and Jeff Duncan; Greenfield Exempted Village Schools superintendent Quincey Gray; Greenfield city manager Todd Wilkin; and commissioner Terry Britton. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners proclaimed July 19 as Edward Lee McClain Day. Pictured (l-r) are commissioners Gary Abernathy and Jeff Duncan; Greenfield Exempted Village Schools superintendent Quincey Gray; Greenfield city manager Todd Wilkin; and commissioner Terry Britton. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and Gary Abernathy proclaimed Sunday, July 19 as Edward Lee McClain Day during their Wednesday, July 1 meeting.

Greenfield Exempted Village Schools superintendent Quincey Gray and Greenfield city manager Todd Wilkin accepted the proclamation.

As reported by Angela Shepherd for the GEVS district, the annual ceremony — which was the brainchild of 1955 McClain graduate Larry Roosa — “began in 2016, a year after McClain High School alumni, residents, students, staff and visitors celebrated 100 years since the high school was dedicated and opened to students. The beloved high school was a gift from Greenfield native, industrialist and philanthropist Edward Lee McClain and his wife, Lulu.

“In the years that have followed, the day honoring the McClains has been held during the third weekend in July in conjunction with the Greene Countrie Towne Festival. While the festival will not be held this year given the restrictions resulting from COVID-19, Edward Lee McClain Day will still be held during that third weekend, this year on Sunday, July 19 at 1 p.m.”

Gray told commissioners that this year’s Edward Lee McClain Day celebration will be held at the base of the marble staircase at McClain High School.

“It is a time to recognize the contributions of Edward Lee McClain and everything that he did for the town of Greenfield,” Gray said. “This year, we will have a special guest, Danny Long, who will be presenting a piece as Edward Lee McClain. Then, we will of course be sharing the proclamation and have a short reception, and then we’ll be offering tours.”

The superintendent added that the district is “very excited” to host the special day another year.

“It’s an amazing school and an amazing story behind it,” Abernathy said. “It’s an impressive building to go through, and it’s still quite a gem.”

Gray agreed, saying that the additions that have been built to the school over the years often require more repairs than the original structure “because of the quality” of its construction.

Wilkin pointed out that the school was dedicated 105 years ago and has remained “the heart of the community” for over a century.

“You often hear ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’” Wilkin said. “Edward Lee McClain had that vision.

“The McClain school itself is the heart of the community. We’re very thankful we have this opportunity to share with the school in this celebration. Edward Lee McClain was an entrepreneur, and he was a good leader for Greenfield. It’s good to remember him on that day.”

Duncan read the proclamation, which recognized Edward Lee McClain for “contributing greatly to local education more than a hundred years ago” and McClain High School for “beginning its second century of providing a quality education for the Greenfield Exempted Village School District students.”

“We encourage all citizens to recognize this man’s lasting contribution to local education,” Duncan said.

After Duncan finished reading the proclamation, former Greenfield councilman and mayor — and current Highland County commissioner candidate) — David Daniels yelled, “Go Tigers!”

To read Shepherd’s story about the annual celebration, go to: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Edward-Lee-McClain-Day-set-for-July-19/2/20/58113.

• • •

Prior to an executive session with commissioners, Hecate Energy development associate Jared Wren gave an update on the company’s ongoing projects in the Highland County area.

Hecate’s “300-megawatt solar-powered electric generation facility will occupy up to 1,919 acres within a 3,400 acre project area about 3.2 miles northwest of Mowrystown,” in the Buford area, according to the Ohio Power Siting Board. As previously reported, an additional 35 megawatts was approved last fall. The City of Cincinnati announced Nov. 21 that Hecate’s project, “the largest municipal solar array in the country,” will be constructed in Highland County to serve the city of Cincinnati’s residents and city facilities, according to a press release.

For the 300-megawatt project, Wren said the company expects to begin construction in the early third quarter of 2021.

“We’re moving forward on the major items associated with the Ohio Power Siting Board certificate,” Wren said. “Some of those included are vegetation maintenance plans, complaint resolution processes, emergency response process, major pre-construction items that we have to comply with.”

Those items will be posted on the public docket on the OPSB website, Wren added, “so folks can see those in real time as we file them.”

Abernathy asked why “it’s going to be another year, basically,” before construction begins. Wren said the delay was “largely COVID-associated,” including “supply chain interruptions associated with major components.”

“There are still components that come from all over the world,” Wren said. “Given the state of the virus and the disruption of global trade, it has thrown construction activity for a loop. We’re trying to make lemonade, as it were, and continue to move this project forward. We’re working on the items that we can control and satisfy the certificate stipulations to make sure that we’re ready for next year.”

The Cincinnati project is also “moving forward with the Ohio Power Siting Board process,” according to Wren’s report, with construction currently slated the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Hecate will soon be conducting a public outreach program for information on the Cincinnati project, with a virtual open house planned to speak with individuals living near the project area and other interested community members.

“The biggest difference, given the virus situation and the governor’s limitation on public gatherings, is we will be moving forward with a virtual public information session,” Wren said. “We’ll be doing that virtually, through a couple different avenues, in order to make sure that as many people as humanly possible have access to information prior to filing the application.”

For both projects, Wren said Hecate is “eager to move forward” and bring jobs to southern Ohio.

“We’re excited about the prospect of putting folks to work down here,” Wren said. “Eighty percent of the folks that work on the project have to be Ohio-domiciled. We’ll have some outreach associated to make sure we can find the right people and get them to work on these projects.”

Following Wren’s update, commissioners voted 3-0 to enter an executive session with Wren to discuss economic development.

• • •

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners discussed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for the county and local municipalities. According to county auditor Bill Fawley, Highland County received $1,002,332.83.

Of that million dollars, half of the funds are for Highland County and its departments; 33 percent is available for distribution to the municipalities in the county; and 17 percent can be distributed to the townships, Fawley said. The approximately $501,000 allotted to Highland County can be shared with “local entities such as the health department, DD, the fair board” or whichever agencies the county sees fit.

As previously reported, Hillsboro city council voted in a special meeting last Thursday to pass a resolution seeking their County Coronavirus Relief Distribution Fund allocation.

“The $501,000 is already over into your fund,” Fawley told commissioners. “The city of Hillsboro has given me a resolution. I hold this money until I get a resolution. I received Hillsboro’s resolution yesterday, so I have seven days to then send them their 104 thousand-and-some-odd dollars.”

Fawley said there are strict limitations on how the funds can be used.

“Some of the townships I’ve talked with are saying they probably won’t even apply for this because this has to be spent on direct COVID expense,” he said. “We can use it to pay for hand sanitizers. We can pay for the spit shields that have been put up in different locations, those kind of things.”

The auditor explained that if any of the entities receiving funding in the county do not spend their money by October, it is then returned to the county, which can “redistribute it to some of the political entities that are using the money.” There is no deadline for the municipalities and townships to pass a resolution seeking the funds, although he said they “don’t want to get too close to the October deadline” for returning funds to the county.

Any funds remaining by Dec. 28 will be returned to the state, he added.

“That’s what’s important for people to understand is this isn’t like we’re a million dollars richer,” Abernathy said. “It’s very specific, targeted to either reimburse ourselves for COVID-related expenses that we didn’t budget to do in the first place.”

Fawley also explained the various channels the funding process has to go through. For the municipalities and townships, once they apply for and receive their allotted funding, “they’re responsible. It’s up to them to deal with Budget Management, to deal with state auditors, all that stuff.” However, for the county, any distribution authorized by the commissioners “falls back on us to keep track of,” Fawley said.

“We’ve never had anything set up like this, since I’ve been around, in state government,” Fawley said. “Any receipt that you want to use to reimburse somebody, [commission clerk Mary Remsing] has to make a copy of that to Budget Management. They’re getting that pretty much on a daily basis, if expenditures are being made.

“If they’re using part of your money, that has to be turned into your office, Mary sends it to Columbus, then the board would take action on whether you want to pay that or decide not to. It’s going to be a little confusing at the beginning.”

Adding to the confusion, Fawley said, is a lack of communication between the federal and state levels.

“We’re still continuing to get things from Budget Management that are saying ‘we haven’t heard yet from the federal government, so we don’t know how the Treasury Department is going to determine this issue,’” Fawley said. “We have some of that where OBM’s trying to guess as to what it will be, but we may find out in a week or two they’ve changed their minds.”

Another area of confusion is whether fire districts will be getting separate funding or whether they can apply for these funds, the auditor said, and the Office of Budget Management has “never been in a position to distribute money and keep track of it,” either.

Abernathy said that the funding is “most irresponsible money toss I’ve ever seen in my life, throwing money at something when nobody has any clue, number one, do they really need this in this area, and number two, what are the guidelines for using it.”

“Apparently our country just became flush with money all of a sudden,” Abernathy said. “We can’t, frankly, come close to spending this million dollars. Somebody comes up with a great, justifiable idea to do it, I’m all for it, because if we send it back, it’s not coming back to the taxpayers, I promise you that.”

The commissioner added that it would have made more sense for the state to ask each county to send documentation of COVID-19-related expenditures. “We would calculate all the shields we’ve put up and all the extra equipment we’ve had to buy, which probably doesn’t amount to $10,000,” he said. “We could have sent that and gotten a $10,000 reimbursement, instead of a million [dollars].”

Duncan said that a department head meeting was held earlier this week to discuss possible requests for funding from county offices. “I think we’re still looking at how the requests are supposed to be handed in,” he said. “We’re blessed that we got a little more money than we anticipated coming in, so that should help.”

Duncan also thanked Fawley for his assistance. Britton reminded local department heads and municipalities that it is “crucial” to maintain detailed records on all of the CARES Act reimbursement.

“The record-keeping and reporting responsibility on this money will be very crucial because it will be audited, I’m sure,” Britton said. “You want to make sure that anything you do, make sure you do sufficient record-keeping.”

• • •

In other discussion, Britton reminded Highland County residents to complete the 2020 Census.

“They’re still working on the census throughout Ohio, and we are sitting right now at about 61.5 percent [response rate],” Britton said. “If you haven’t filled out your census form, please do so. It’s greatly needed for the county from the financial side of it, just to make sure we have those numbers for grants and all the different funding.”

• • •

Commissioners approved the following resolutions, each by a 3-0 vote:

• A request from Job and Family Services for a reimbursement of funds from Children Services Fund S-3 to Public Assistance H-03 in the amount of $179,347.73 for July 2019 to September 2019.

• A request from Board of Elections for an additional appropriation from unanticipated revenue to Contracts and Services in the amount of $5,000.

• A request from Highland County Board of DD for a budget modification within S-00 DD Developmental Disabilities in the amount of $5,000.

• A request from Highland County Board of DD for an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds in the amount of $116,000.

• A request from Auditor for a budget modification within the Auditor’s budget in the amount of $4,000.

In addition to the executive session with Wren, commissioners also held an executive session with Mike Kindell, County Employee Benefits Consortium of Ohio Senior Benefit Specialist for the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, to discuss personnel compensation.

Commissioners also met with county health commissioner Jared Warner Wednesday. For that article, see http://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Highland-County-commissioners-OK-health-levy-renewal-issue-for-November-ballot-hear-latest-COVID-19-news/2/20/58331.