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Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio

Local Government

Ohio Committee on Drug Use Prevention Education recommends substance abuse learning for grades K-12

COLUMBUS— State officials today released the Ohio Joint Study Committee on Drug Use Prevention Education's list of recommendations on options for implementing age-appropriate substance abuse education in schools across all grade levels.

Attorney General Mike DeWine, Speaker Clifford Rosenberger, and former Senate President Keith Faber created the study committee in August.

“At least eight people are dying each day in Ohio from accidental drug overdoses. This is happening in our cities, suburbs, and small towns, and no community is immune,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “We must educate all of Ohio’s kids early-on and keep repeating the message about the dangers of drug addiction. This report will serve as a road map to help implement comprehensive substance abuse prevention programs.”

The study committee concluded that Ohio schools should provide consistent, age-appropriate, evidence-based substance abuse education for all students in Kindergarten through 12th grade. Although there is no one-size-fits-all curriculum for Ohio schools, the committee offered a number of examples of curriculum that could be used to meet this recommendation.

Because there is no baseline for determining how schools are currently implementing substance abuse education in Ohio, the group also recommended that Ohio adopt a reporting system that requires schools to publicly report how they are fulfilling their requirements to provide substance abuse education.

The committee also recognized the importance of social and emotional education. This instruction teaches good decision-making skills, builds self-esteem, and encourages positive interactions with others, which in turn, could help students resist alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Social and emotional education is currently only provided in schools through the third grade, but the committee recommends these skills be taught across all grade levels.

"I want to commend the members on this joint committee for their thorough and informative work,” Speaker Rosenberger said. “Their collaborative and organized process has brought forward a series of recommendations that can truly make a difference in the lives of Ohio’s students. As we continue to find ways to curtail opioid abuse in the state, there is nothing more important than ensuring that our children are aware of the dangers of drug addiction and how it can ruin their futures and rob them of a healthy, successful life. I want to also thank Representatives Robert Sprague, Terry Johnson, and Heather Bishoff for their work on the committee and to all the members for their efforts in keeping Ohio's kids drug free."

“We know that early education is key to keeping our children from trying drugs, and we must be consistent and unified in our message that substance abuse can devastate their lives and their futures,” said Senate President Obhof. "I appreciate all the work by this committee to ensure this message is loud and strong in every community in Ohio."

The group also recommended that before and after school programs coordinate with schools to reinforce drug-free messages and that schools and communities incorporate ongoing assessments to evaluate current trends and the effectiveness of preventative strategies.

The group recommended that law enforcement continue its presence in schools in an effort to advocate for drug-free lifestyles and that law enforcement and other officials work with parent/teacher organizations to ensure that caregivers understand the importance of substance abuse prevention education also being taught at home.

In total, the Ohio Joint Study Committee on Drug Use Prevention Education issued 15 recommendations. The complete report is available on the Ohio Attorney General's website.

Copies of the report will be provided to schools and communities across the state, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and members of the Ohio General Assembly.

Proposed Solar Array at jail site could save county $10K annually

By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter

MOUNT VERNON — County Commissioners Teresa Bemiller and Thom Collier learned Thursday that installing a solar array at the Knox County Jail could save the county an average of $10,000 a year for the next 20 years. Electric bills currently average $132,000 a year.

Palmer Energy Company, working through the County Commissioners Association of Ohio's Service Corporation, initially evaluated five buildings for solar:
Opportunity Knox Employment Center, 17604 Coshocton Road
Water/Wastewater, 17604 Coshocton Road
Board of DD, 11700 Upper Gilchrist Road
Knox County Health Department, 11660 Upper Gilchrist Road
Knox County Jail, 11540 Upper Gilchrist Road

Melissa Webne, energy analyst with Palmer Energy, said that a site visit ruled out the other four locations because of the distance to the array site. “The farther away the facility is to the array, the larger the cost with wiring,” she explained.

The solar panels will be located on the south side of the jail, close to the electric service box. In addition to the proximity to electric, the jail has the most electric usage, being used 24/7.

KCSO solar array0001

The Knox County commissioners plan to have a solar array installed behind the Knox County Jail. According to projections, the county will save an average of $10,000 annually for the next 20 years by using solar energy. Photo courtesy of Palmer Energy Company

After evaluating proposals from Hull & Associates and Solscient Energy, Palmer recommended Hull & Associates for two main reasons:
The SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) remain with the county. These credits have a value, and the county can keep or sell the credits.
Hull's array is larger. “This does give you the size that we are recommending,” said Webne.

Hull's proposal includes erecting a fence around the array, maintenance and mowing. At the end of the 20-year agreement, the county can negotiate a new agreement; discontinue the agreement, in which case Hull will remove the array; or purchase the array at fair market value and maintain and operate it.

There is no cost to the county; Hull recovers its cost through the kilowatt rate, which is factored into the proposal. Hull takes care of obtaining the required permits. Construction can begin in the spring and takes two to three months to complete. “The actual construction is pretty simplistic,” said Bill Radish of Palmer Energy. The commissioners will start the process by having the Knox County prosecutor review a contract and meeting with Hull & Associates representatives.

County's increasing drug problem affecting children

By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter

MOUNT VERNON — County officials got a glimpse Thursday of how the county's increasing drug problem affects children, and the picture is disturbing. Twins born addicted to drugs, children with lice and spiders in their ear and a 2-year-old left alone at home are but a few examples Probate/Juvenile Judge Jennifer Springer cited.

“Tomorrow [Friday] I am meeting with Columbus officials to see about getting a family court docket started to help families with their issues because we are seeing such an issue with drugs and problems with that,” she said Thursday morning at the monthly elected officials meeting. “Parents are just walking away from their responsibilities. … My docket is full with neglect and abuse cases.”

Springer said that a lack of foster families to take in the children compounds the problem. “We're running out of things to do. It's heartbreaking,” she said, adding that she tries to promote responsibility for parenting. “I will not allow parents to walk away from their responsibilities.”

Additionally, although children born to drug-addicted mothers can become clean with treatment, they have life-long learning disabilities with which they have to cope. These children need placement in a therapeutic foster home rather than a regular foster home, which makes placement even more difficult.

County Prosecutor Chip McConville said his office is busy as well with drug-related and other criminal offenses, noting at least three criminal trials and two grand juries are scheduled. “I anticipate to indict 30-some cases this month. It just is not letting up,” he said. He requested patience from those involved in civil cases.

Sheriff David Shaffer said he expects to have a new drug treatment option for inmates in place by Oct. 3. Modeled off of Licking County's program, he anticipates completing the final details in the next couple of weeks.

He and McConville agreed meth is now much more prevalent than heroin, and that much of it is coming from Mexico. “We see two to three times as many meth cases compared to heroin,” said Shaffer, adding that users turn to meth because it is different, not necessarily because it is cheaper. He did say there has been a decline in finding meth labs but noted meth users are more paranoid and violent than heroin users.

McConville said that the Mexican cartels are so good with distribution, it doesn't matter what the substance is. “The street people are telling me they're getting on meth to get off of heroin,” he said.

Springer said the mental health court should be certified by the Ohio Supreme Court Friday.

State budget may affect county taxes

By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter

MOUNT VERNON — Commissioner Teresa Bemiller told elected county officials on Thursday that the commissioners were “looking with interest” at the budget Gov. John Kasich recently rolled out.

Noting that they really will not know anything until the Ohio Legislature finishes its budget review, Bemiller said that the state is looking closely at counties' capacity to tax. “Meaning if we have not maxed out our tax capability, the state may cut funds,” she said, adding that the commissioners have tried not to increase the local sales tax over the past years. “It looks like they may be forcing a shift.”

“Once again, it looks like the state will look to increase its coffers on the back of the counties,” said Commissioner Thom Collier.

Roughly $1.2 million is left in the general fund after 2017 budget allocations. That compares to $1.4 million last year. Bemiller said allocations were higher this year and include $200,000 transferred to the permanent improvement fund for upcoming projects. “We were thinking about the sales tax cut that may be coming,” she said in reference to the transfer.

One project mostly completed in 2016 involves upgrades to the county's information technology system. Bemiller said that Licking County recently was a victim of Ransomware, a malware that blocks access to files and data until a ransom is paid. “We've made a significant investment in IT this last year; that's why we're doing what we are doing,” she said, referring to Licking County's problem.

Auditor Jonette Curry reported that the unencumbered balance in the general fund as of Jan. 31 is $2.699 million; that compares to $2.546 million Jan. 31, 2016. The insurance fund stands at $2.114 million and the dental fund at $13,789.39. Bemiller said her office has received good reports from county employees using the Swift MD program, with calls/questions answered within 60 minutes or less, and she anticipates the program will save the county money.

Court of Common Pleas
Judge Richard Wetzel of the Court of Common Pleas told the group that he will soon make appointments on conflict cases involving first- through fifth-degree felonies. He said there has been a lack of response from local attorneys interested in providing counsel; reasons include they are not interested in handling criminal cases or do not want to go through the qualification process to handle felony cases. He will therefore be appointing attorneys from surrounding cities.

Wetzel also said he is finishing up revision of local court rules; most revisions are minor and involve changes with public defender regulations.

County Engineer Cameron Keaton said his office is ready to begin beta testing of a new geographic information system. Auditor Curry said that initial review of the system is favorable and that it will interact much better with mobile devices.

Keaton said the recent ice storms hit the county pretty hard, so he ordered 1,000 more tons of salt. He also said that asphalt prices might increase due to a shortage of liquid asphalt cement; companies are locking in 2017 prices now rather than in March as is customary.

He is moving toward more computerization in the engineer's office, using software that tracks inventory, fleet maintenance, workloads and electronic work orders.

Knox County Sheriff's Office
Sheriff Dave Shaffer said that he, too, continues to move toward computerization. He reported that the KCSO will install payroll and scheduling software that provides a quicker, paperless method of calling in personnel when needed. He is also looking at expanding the KCSO's involvement with the Seek Work program through Job and Family Services due to the success of the program.

Clerk of Courts
Clerk of Courts Mary Jo Hawkins said her department is revising security protocols following a recent incident at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The office is also preparing to handle the influx of paperwork associated with the partitioning of Apple Valley timeshares.

County 9-1-1 receives $500,000 grant

By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter

MOUNT VERNON — Knox County 9-1-1 received a $500,000 grant that will make transitioning to a new Multi-Agency Radio Communication System even more feasible than before.

9-1-1 Director Richard Dzik told the Knox County Commissioners this morning that rather than financing $922,000 over eight years as anticipated, 9-1-1 will finance $772,000. In December 2016, 9-1-1 will make the final payment on a previous equipment loan. “So we won't really notice [the new loan payment] in the general fund,” he said.

Dzik said he is also working on agreements whereby the state will reimburse 9-1-1 for MARCS user fees.

The goal is to decide by July 1 which MARCS equipment to purchase, with all equipment being purchased by Sept. 1. An equipment demonstration is slated for June 10. Current scanners in use throughout the community will no longer work after the county switches to MARCS in September.

As of May 31, Knox County 9-1-1 has a cash balance of $616,623.80, essentially the same as at the beginning of the year. Dzik said 9-1-1 recently made a $50,000 loan payment and a $30,000 service payment.

The number of calls, 15,800, are on par with last year. At 73.9 percent, the number of wireless calls continue to increase compared to 15.4 percent from a landline. VoIP calls (calls from a computer) account for 10.7 percent of calls received.

Nationally, 90 percent of calls are answered within 30 seconds; 95 percent are answered within 60 seconds. “Currently we're answering all 9-1-1 calls in 30 seconds,” said Dzik. Locally, nearly 97 percent of calls are answered within 0 to five seconds and 3.3 percent are answered within six to 10 seconds.

Dzik also said the state has rolled out its new rules for 9-1-1; counties have two years to comply. “Most of the stuff the state requires we've been doing for 10 years,” he told the commissioners.

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