|Last updated: 6/25/04 3:32 PM|
|Last updated: 6/25/04 3:32 PM|
Published: Tue, Jun 22, 2004
Twenty-nine counties in Ohio, including Columbiana, are part of Appalachia.
YOUNGSTOWN It's a given that Mahoning and Trumbull counties won't enjoy an economic boom by joining the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Although the financial benefits won't be significant to those two counties, commissioners in Columbiana County, which joined the ARC in 1990, say membership has been a positive experience.
"It's been a help, particularly at the intermodal facility in Wellsville and to fund our [emergency] 911 study," Columbiana County Commissioner Sean Logan said. "It's absolutely benefited us."
ARC money helped fund a major portion of a $200,000 study two years ago to implement an emergency 911 program in the county. The intermodal facility, run by the Columbiana County Port Authority, has received ARC money in the past few years to expand the industrial park with a goal making the site a global transportation powerhouse.
The U.S. House approved legislation to add four Ohio counties, including Mahoning and Trumbull, to the ARC. It is also part of the House's transportation bill. The Senate hasn't discussed the legislation. The House and Senate are meeting to iron out differences in the two legislative bodies' transportation bills. Approval of a bill could come as early as next month.
Impact on funding
U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette of Concord, R-14th, is the sponsor of language to add the Ohio counties to the ARC. LaTourette said joining the ARC would help the four counties by providing matching funds for highway and development projects.
Columbiana County uses ARC funds, at times, as "gap dollars," Logan said. That means in certain cases, if a project costs $250,000, for example, and the county has $225,000, it uses $25,000 in ARC funding to pay the rest of the project's cost.
Some Mahoning County officials are concerned about joining the ARC because they are uncertain about the benefits and wonder if it would preclude the county from applying for other types of funding.
T.J. Justice, director of the Ohio Governor's Office of Appalachia, said he had no opinion on LaTourette's proposal. If the four counties are permitted to join the ARC, they aren't guaranteed any money, Justice said.
The ARC's budget hasn't been finalized, but it is expected to be about $66 million, the same amount it was last year. There is a move in the U.S. House to significantly cut that amount, Justice said.
Designation of distressed
If the $66 million figure is approved, Ohio would receive $4.4 million in ARC funding, about the same as it did last year, Justice said. Half of that money goes to the counties in Ohio designated as distressed under ARC rules.
ARC, which has 410 counties in 13 states, considers counties distressed if they exceed the national poverty and unemployment by 150 percent and fall short of the national per capita income by 66 percent or less. Mahoning and Trumbull would not be considered distressed counties by the ARC, and Columbiana never had that designation. (Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania are also in the ARC, and never had the distressed label.)
In 2003, the ARC considered 11 counties in Ohio distressed. By 2005, only five Ohio counties will be considered distressed, all in the southern part of the state.
A Vindicator review of the Ohio projects funded last year by the ARC shows that Columbiana County probably received a small percentage of the dollars doled out in the state.
It's difficult to get an exact figure on how much ARC money went to Columbiana. Columbiana received a portion of ARC money for 11 projects, but the funding was given to several other counties for the same projects, and the ARC doesn't break down how much each county received for each project. Also, county officials don't have ARC figures.
Uses of money
Funding was given to Columbiana, and nearly every ARC county in Ohio, for expanding broadband Internet connections, promoting business, industrial retraining, and enterprise grants.
Assuming each county received an equal amount of the funding for those 11 projects, probably an overestimation for Columbiana, the county received $105,500 from the ARC last year. Of that amount, $40,000 went to renovate the Atwood Lake Resort and Conference Center in Carroll County, and $2,500 went to the National Ceramic Museum and Heritage Center in Perry County.
Commissioner Gary Williams and Logan were confused as to why Columbiana County was listed by the ARC as one of five counties benefiting from the Atwood improvement project. An ARC spokesman said he didn't know enough about the project to comment. But Columbiana and the three other counties listed as benefiting from the project not including Carroll County border Carroll.
There are some positives to being an ARC member, but not much money from the ARC has come to Columbiana County in recent years, Williams said.
Adding four counties to the 29 in the ARC will diminish the amount of money given to nondistressed counties in the state, Williams and Logan said.
"It splits up a very small pie even that much more," Logan said.