Top stories in Clermont County in 2015

Future West Clermont High School students participated in the groundbreaking for the high school on May 28.

Future West Clermont High School students participated in the groundbreaking for the high school on May 28.
10. Covered bridge reopens

The only covered bridge in Clermont County, which battled age, a fire, a car accident and overweight trucks, was reopened to the public after a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 15.

Over half of the wooden construction of the Stonelick-Williams Corner Covered Bridge was retained from the original bridge, which was built in 1878, well within the threshold of what has to be retained to be considered a historic covered bridge, County Engineer Pat Manger said.

The bridge was closed on May 22, 2010, after a heavy recycling truck crossed the bridge twice, causing significant damage. The rehabilitation began in 2013, Manger said.

“The community holds this bridge very near and dear to our heart,” said Stonelick Township Trustee Skeets Humphries. It was very important to community members the bridge be restored as close to the original as possible, Humphries said.

In addition to aesthetic upgrades, the bridge has fire retardant on it and was treated chemically for wood boring insects, Manger said. Insects damage many bridges such as this.

The bridge retains its historical Howe Truss bridge design, a rare design patented in 1840. It was also painted the original barn-red color, according to the Clermont County Engineers Office.

9. Jail adds beds

The Clermont County Jail will soon be able to house more inmates.

In the budget this year, commissioners approved the opening of 50 additional beds at the jail for female inmates, which will help with overcrowding.

Through the recession, Chief Deputy Chris Willis said budget cuts forced them to close beds at the jail. He said now, especially because of the increase in drug use in the county, the jail needs more space for inmates

“We’ll still be overcrowded,” Willis said. “This is only going to take care of the females.”

Clermont County Sheriff A.J. “Tim” Rodenberg said the population of female inmates at the jail has increased recently. He believes the vast majority of the increase is related to drug abuse.

Opening the new beds is a fairly easy process which involves re-opening a pod that was build in 1994 and used until 2006, Willis said.

The process of re-opening the pod includes outfitting it, but no major construction, Rodenberg said.

8. UC Clermont hires new dean

The University of Cincinnati Clermont College announced Dr. Jeff Bauer’s appointment as dean on April 1.

Bauer, who began at Clermont College 20 years ago, has many plans to improve the college.

“The college is at a very interesting juncture,” Bauer said.

Enrollment peaked at Clermont College in 2010 and since has dropped slightly, Bauer said. His biggest focus is going to be recruitment and retention of students.

“UC Clermont College will be in good hands with Dr. Jeff Bauer, who has over 20 years of experience at our College as both faculty and department chair. He also has valuable community experience which will serve our students well with local employers,” former dean Greg Sojka said.

Bauer hopes to serve as dean for 10 years, because he believes consistency in the dean position is important. Bauer is a professor of management and marketing and has served as chair of the business, law and technology department since 2009.

Bauer’s term as dean began on May 15.

7. Council tries to decide what to do with Milford Main

Milford Main, the old school building located on Main Street in the city, was headed towards becoming a senior living community in January, before the community expressed their displeasure with the plan.

Milford Exempted Village School District owns the property and was planning to sell it to CMC Properties for development.

Jim Cohen, president of CMC Properties, said the development was meant to take an obsolete building in Milford and turn it into a multi-million dollar, brand new facility.

Several residents expressed their concerns about the development during the Jan. 20 council meeting and during the Feb. 3 public hearing.

Milford City Council members rejected the zone change for the proposed development during their Feb. 17 meeting in front of a cheering crowd of residents.

Council voted 6-1 to reject the zone change, citing concerns with emergency medical services for the increased population, parking and agreements between the developer and St. Andrew Church.

After a fiery debate about process in April, the Milford City Council gave the go-ahead to City Manager Tom Wright to research demolition costs associated with the Milford Main School, a move some council members thought should be handled in executive session.

Two St. Andrew students are leading a coalition of community members, including Milford First United Methodist Church and St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, hoping to convince city council to acquire the property from the school board so that it can be turned into a public park. The Save Our Playground Milford campaign has already raised almost $5,000 to help offset the purchase cost.

6. Bethel implements income tax

Bethel began considering an income tax in January.

Councilman James Rees brought a recommendation from the Finance Committee to the village council meeting on Jan. 8 that the village should begin an income tax in 2016.

The income tax would be 1 percent with no credit, said Travis Dotson, village administrator. The other option was an 8 mill levy.

The village needs a new revenue stream after a police levy for 2.9 mills, or $88,000, expires on Dec. 31, 2015. The income tax will go into the village’s general fund, of which the police use 70 percent, Mayor Alan Ausman said.

Few seats were unoccupied at the Feb. 12 Bethel Village Council meeting, as many concerned citizens came to speak or to show support for those speaking against a proposed income tax.

Council was swayed by the citizens requests and the village started to look for other sources of funding after four of the six council members voted no on passing a proposed income tax on April 9.

Council met on April 16 and voted to put an 8 mill levy on the ballot on Aug. 4.

An 8 mill levy will bring in about $240,000, Mayor Alan Ausman said, which will still leave the police department $200,000 short of being fully funded. However, the current levy only brings in $88,000.

Bethel voters rejected an 8 mill continuous police levy in a special election on Aug. 4. Of the village’s 1,667 registered voters, 196 people voted, with 125 against the levy and 71 for it.

On Aug. 13, the finance committee recommended a half percent income tax on earned income. Council approved the tax on Sept. 10.

“Council was backed into a corner. We have to pay for the police department, so council didn’t have a choice,” said Ausman. “I know they were all very conflicted about it, but I know they saw what they had to do.”

5. Frisch’s sues Clermont resident

Frisch’s Restaurants filed a civil lawsuit in January accusing an employee of stealing from the company for years.

The lawsuit was filed against Union Township residents Michael Hudson and Pamela Hudson, H-3 Development, LLC., and WPMH Properties, LLC., upon the discovery that Michael Hudson allegedly stole from the company during his time as assistant treasurer, according to court documents.

Michael Hudson was a treasurer from 2004 until he resigned on Dec. 17, 2014, according to court documents. He controlled payroll and allegedly increased the funds paid to him by both increasing the amount going into his account and creating a separate payroll file to pay himself more.

The company is estimating that Michael Hudson stole about $3.3 million, according to a press release. Michael Hudson told Frisch’s he is assuming full responsibility for his actions, the January release states.

However, in March court documents Michael Hudson denied the claim he stole from the company.

Frisch’s has filed three counts against Michael Hudson and the other defendants, fraud claim and conversion against Michael Hudson and unjust enrichment against all defendants, according to court documents.

The company is asking for full restitution for the money stolen, according to the release.

Michael Hudson filed an answer to the claims made by Frisch’s on February 17. He said in court documents he did not fraudulently take money and transfer funds to himself, his wife, his children, other members of his family, companies he formed and Pyles.

4. Milacron announces expansion

Milacron LLC announced the addition of 300 employees and a $6 million expansion project in 2015.

Cincinnati Milacron is planning an $11 million expansion at its manufacturing plants in Batavia, Mt. Orab and Cincinnati, announced in June. The company plans to add about 300 jobs in the expansion.

The move is made possible by a ten year, 75 percent state tax credit recently approved by the Ohio Tax Credit Authority. According to REDI, the tax credit will retain 933 jobs in the state as well as adding 294 more. The value of the tax credit is estimated at $2.7 million. These moves are in addition to Milacron planning to take the private company public in an initial public stock offering plan filed in April.

The Williamsburg Township trustees, on Dec. 14, and the Clermont County commissioners, on Dec. 17 approved an enterprise zone agreement, clearing the way for Milacron LLC to grow its operations in the county.

Both bodies approved a 60 percent property tax abatement for 10 years for a $6 million Milacron expansion project.

Of the total investment, $2.4 million will be used for the construction of a 28,000-square foot building addition, according to a fact sheet supplied by the county. The remaining $3.6 million will be for existing building improvements to house additional employees and upgrade the facility to support increased production.

The project is proposed to begin this month, and Milacron has 36 months to complete construction. According to the agreement, Milacron will hire 149 permanent full-time equivalent positions within three years of completing construction. These new positions are expected to net $7 million in additional payroll.

3. West Clermont to build new high school

On Jan. 5, the West Clermont Local School District announced that Amelia and Glen Este High Schools would be merged, creating West Clermont High School, which will open in 2017.

The district broke ground on the new high school on May 28. The district announced on Aug. 17 that the new school would include a HealthPlex.

The merger is an opportunity to reinvent high school and middle school education at the district, West Clermont Superintendent Dr. Keith Kline said.

A new school will be built on property located at the corner of Clough Pike and Bach-Buxton Road in the township, according to Union Township Administrator Ken Geis.

Amelia High School will be renovated to contain both Amelia and Glen Este middle school students, Kline said.

The new high school means an opportunity to provide students with additional services, Kline said.  He said the new school will feature new science labs, upgraded technology and include more programs for students.

The plan is to open the merged middle school and the new high school in the fall of 2017, according to Kline.

The high school building has three pieces: an academic wing, an art performance center and a physical education part, said John Bantjes, board of education president.

The HealthPlex is going to be a 20,000 square foot addition. It will be similar to a recreation center, with features like weight and cardio equipment, a pool and a group exercise studio, and will be connected to the school, Kline said.

The second floor of the HealthPlex will have 3,500 square feet of medical office space. The offices will be used for primary care during the day and urgent care at night, Kline said.

The HealthPlex is a partnership with Mercy Health, which West Clermont has partnered with in the past. It is also a partnership with Midtown Health, who will manage the day-to-day operations. Midtown Health already partners with Mercy Health, Kline said.

2. Heroin affects county

Heroin has had a dramatic impact on the country, but especially on Clermont County. Heroin impacts many parts of society, such as crime, children and county finances.

As of the end of April, half of the removals made by Children’s Services this year have been related either in part or in whole to opiates, said Timothy Dick, assistant director of Job and Family Services.

The court has revised the docket to increase time available for legal custody cases and children’s services cases, including one day a week set aside for permanent custody cases. More than half of the filings for adoption are related to heroin use, Probate/Juvenile Court Judge James Shriver said.

“The grip of the heroin on the individual is greater than anything I have ever seen with any other drug,” Shriver said.

The Clermont Recovery Center may exceed its fund allocation of $1.75 million for the first time this year by about $150-200,000 because of the rise in clients.

The center has seen 1,600 clients already this year, 900 of which were due to heroin addiction, said Clermont County Commissioner Dave Uible.

The budgets for organizations like the Recovery Center, the jail, the coroner’s office and the sheriff’s office are going to be higher because of heroin, but the commissioners are looking at ways to help eliminate the heroin problem, Uible said.

One way is with the Community Alternative Sentencing Center, where non-violent addicts can be sentenced to instead of jail. Uible hopes this will lower recidivism rates. In addition, keeping an inmate in CASC costs about $20 less a day than jail, Uible said.

Another way the county saves money is with grants, like the one the sheriff’s office got for naloxone, a drug used on people who have potentially overdosed to keep them from dying.

Now the sheriff’s office, the first law enforcement agency in southwest Ohio to use naloxone, also known as Narcan, is averaging a save a week, Watson said.

The biggest health concern surrounding heroin is overdose death, said Julianne Nesbit, health commissioner.

However, Nesbit has seen the effects of heroin in other areas, too, largely in the rates of Hepatitis C. The rates of Hepatitis C rose 140 percent form 2009 to 2012, Nesbit said, and she suspects this is due in part to drug use.

Cindy Gramke, executive director and CEO of Clermont Senior Services, has seen a remarkable rise in referrals this year of seniors suspected to be abused, neglected, financially exploited and more.

In 2008, CSS did 124 investigations, in 2013 CSS did 264 investigations and in 2014 CSS did 258 investigations, Gramke said, which is an over 100 percent increase. There are also likely more seniors being finically exploited that CSS is not informed of.

To work on solutions, the Clermont County Opiate Task Force introduced a plan called “Breaking the Cycle: Clermont County’s Response to the Opioid Epidemic” on May 26.

The plan has four elements: increasing the availability of treatment and recovery housing, preventing use of opiates, reducing harm to the public and reducing the supply of opiates.

The Ohio Department of Health released 2013 Ohio Drug Overdose Data recently, showing a 10.2 percent increase in state drug overdose deaths since 2012.

A graph showing average, age-adjusted unintentional drug overdose death rates per 100,000 by county shows Clermont County to have the eighth highest death rate in the state with data from 2008-2013.

The number of unintentional drug overdose deaths in Clermont County rose from seven in 2002 to 65 in 2013, according to the ODH.

Today in Clermont County, heroin is involved more than half of the felony cases.

“I was in the office from 1981-87 as a felony prosecutor and I don’t think we had any cases,” Clermont County Prosecutor Vincent Faris said. “Since I’ve been (prosecutor) two years, over half the felony cases we indict have some connection to heroin.”

1. Eastgate road construction progresses

This year brought new construction, delays and the completion of construction projects to Eastgate

After construction finished in July, southbound traffic on Interstate 275 is no longer being switched to the northbound side, according to Sharon Smigelski, public information officer for the ODOT.

As part of the finished project, drivers wanting to travel southbound on I-275 from westbound state Route 32 are using the existing circle ramp that was closed in 2014. This will eliminate the temporary need for drivers to turn left at the western ramp signal, according to Smigelski.

ODOT will began resurfacing the project roadways from Glen Este-Withamsville Road to Old 74 on the west end because both circle ramps are opened and the flyover ramp is completed, according to Smigelski.

While the tunnel was supposed to open sooner, the newly constructed flyover and tunnel ramps in Eastgate, a $32 million dollar project, opened in September.

“We have a lot of work that’s underway, and a lot more to get accomplished,” County Engineer Pat Manger explained. “But, I think how we went about achieving this goal for this part of the Eastern Corridor is a great footprint for how we want to continue in the future.”

The Clermont County Transportation Improvement District has listed seven I-275/SR32 interchange improvements that will change traffic patterns in the Eastgate area. Project area six, which includes the Eastgate South Drive roundabout, is currently under construction and was expected to be completed in the summer of 2016.

According to the TID website, the project will remove the existing signalized intersection and replace traffic signals with a roundabout that will improve the flow of traffic, enhance safety and reduce congestion.

The project was expected to be completed by October 31 but was delayed because of bad soil, which had to be removed before a wall in the base of the basin could be constructed.

According to the TID website, the estimated construction cost for the project was $900,000. Current construction cost for the project, including project revisions and delays, is approximately $2.26 million.

Beginning in summer 2016, Interstate 275 will be repaved within the interchange area. The mill and fill project will finalize lane designations after all this year’s construction work. Construction is expected to take about a month, and crews will work at night to reduce the construction’s impact on traffic.

Jason Haus, Clermont County resident engineer for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said he feels it’s critical to get the next segment of the Eastern Corridor project, known as segment 4a, going because it will improve traffic flow through the area.

Construction of segment 4a is funding dependent, said Betty Hull, communications counselor for the Clermont County Transportation Improvement District. Some of the components are being led by CCTID and some are being led by ODOT.