GALLIPOLIS — Representatives from local, state and federal government appeared in Bossard Memorial Library Friday morning to visit with area residents and give them updates on their respective projects as part of the 22nd annual Town Hall Legislative Event put on by the Gallia Chamber of Commerce.
AT&T also sponsored the event.
Gallia Chamber of Commerce President Meagan Wood introduced the event.
“We have a tremendous staff and I would be really remiss if I didn’t thank them for all that they do behind the scenes at Chamber events and and members,” said Wood.
“Libraries are repositories of information so what better place to have this forum than at the public library,” said Bossard Library Director Debbie Saunders. “We view the library as the community center of Gallia County and we love serving you.”
Saunders said around 70 parking spaces would be available in the following few weeks as the library continues its parking lot expansion into the old Willis Tire property. In 2019, the library will be bringing another exhibit to the library “Space: A Journey to our Future” to Bossard in collaboration with NASA.
BJ Smith, AT&T director of External Affairs, was introduced next and thanked the community and welcomed them to the event. Josh Bodimer, the Gallia County Community Improvement Corporation president, served as the event’s moderator.
“On the broadband front, it’s been something I’ve worked on since I joined the legislature,” said State Representative and Speaker of the House Ryan Smith. “I know how much it holds us back in the rural areas and I think the we are making progress through different initiatives. I have a bill sitting in (Ohio) Senate now that would give us $98 million to build out the broadband network. The problem is, and I don’t think this will surprise anybody, (businesses) won’t run fiber up the bypasses it’s just not a good return on investments. How does government come in and close that divide? Much like the Ohio co-ops did back in the 1930s when we needed to get electric to people, now we need to get broadband to people in some of the more remote areas. This bill would allow government to come in and subsidize those plans to not necessarily get fiber to everybody but high-speed broadband, nonetheless.”
Ohio Senator Bob Peterson was unable to make the event and sent his condolences as he had multiple engagements simultaneously happening.
Bodimer introduced representative for US Senator Rob Portman, Jamie Barker. Barker spoke on Portman’s efforts to stop online sex trafficking communications and a previous visit and round table discussion had earlier in the year in Gallia County with area officials. Portman was also part of pushing funding to opioid fighting initiatives which is awaiting a signature by President Donald Trump in an attempt to install stricter security examining services on the US Postal Service.
Congressman Bill Johnson Representative Juli Stephens read a letter from him as he was unable to attend the event due to prior commitments. Johnson in his letter lauded a growing economy, which he credited to tax reformation passed in Congress. He also supported recent efforts to remove restrictions on the coal industry, saying it would be a boon for the region. Johnson said he was also working to bring broadband to the rural regions of Ohio. Johnson said he was also looking into national efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.
Brynn Stepp represented Secretary of State Jon Husted’s Office. She lauded cost saving efforts to save tax payer money and putting all the business services covered by the secretary’s office online such as when and individual registered a new business. She said the office also privatized its call center. She also claimed, for the last two years, the office was able to operate without taxpayer dollars. Stepp also said since Husted was in office, voter registration was now available online. Husted has also reportedly taken part in two cyber security and voter fraud reports across Ohio, said Stepp.
Gallia Commissioner Harold Montgomery noted challenges with the general fund budget of the county, how he felt the county was in a better position than some, but that the county was making the most of the dollars it had and would continue to fight the opioid epidemic as funding had been cut to local governments due to Ohio’s governor’s decisions, he said. He lauded recent efforts to get certifications for the Dan Evans Industrial Park by the Gallia Economic Office and its partners so that it was a “ready-to-go” site for businesses interested in developing in the area. Montgomery said the site was rated as high by some agencies in the state as high as second or third in terms of its development promise.
Gallipolis City Manager Gene Greene spoke to the assembled in the stead of Gallipolis City Commissioner Mike Fulks. Greene noted the struggles of local law enforcement with the opioid epidemic, stating that the Gallipolis police force was more than 250 responding calls ahead this October than where it was last October and noted that some calls may start to become backlogged. He said law enforcement was working as much overtime as possible and felt they were doing a “great job” in the face of adversity. He discussed recent city efforts to serve the Gallipolis Developmental Center with water. He also spoke on recent efforts by the city to tie with Gallia Rural Water lines in order to provide a backup system for both city and county water services should a mass break cause trouble for the community. Greene voiced how he felt the upgrading of the city’s waste water treatment plant would be a boon for the area as it would serve increased water treatment capacities for both the city and nearby townships.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.