Ashland County Office Building

Ashland County Office Building.

ASHLAND — The Board of Ashland County Commissioners are divided on what to do with a deal currently being negotiated on its building currently housing the health department and Emergency Management Agency.

In a special meeting called Thursday afternoon, commissioner Mike Welch presented a deal unofficially struck between the county and the Ashland County-West Holmes Career Center.

If that deal is approved, the career center would pay the county $500,000 for the Service Center along Route 60. The school has said it needs the building to expand student programming.

The deal would include an agreement that the school would pay for utilities through the end of the year while also receiving rent. Come Jan. 1, 2023, the county would pay for utilities.

The county would also be responsible for mowing and snow removal until its departure from the building, the deal stipulates.

But the county would not pay rent past the beginning of the year, despite the career center’s demand for such payment — a stipulation commissioner Jim Justice condemned as unfair during a public meeting in May.

Jason Chio, a board member for the career center, said Justice misunderstood the school’s rent stipulation. He said it would have been a commercial rent agreement, meaning the $4 per square-foot rate would come to around $4,100 for the space.

Commissioners anticipate the building will still be occupied by the health department and EMA until possibly June 2023.

Justice had said the rate would have been close to $50,000 a month — based on his understanding of the rent stipulation.

“That’s what they told me — that it was a monthly rent,” he said Thursday.

The school’s rent stipulation was only one part of the negotiation process that went south, Justice said. He hoped to persuade commissioners to put the service center property up for auction, saying the county could get more money for the sale.

“I didn’t get to this point easily. I negotiated more than anybody else has for this building. (Welch) has come on at the end. But truthfully, I wouldn’t want anyone to have to negotiate with those people,” he said.

“They took, took, took and never gave,” Justice said, adding he orchestrated the moving of various county offices from the building to accommodate the school’s wishes as part of coming to a deal.

Ashland County Soil and Water is set to move into the county administrative building next week. The 4-H extension office also moved out of the service center earlier this year and Justice said the service center’s basement has been cleared of storage items.

That leaves the county's health department and EMA in the building until those agencies can move into a new headquarters that commissioners hope to be a building along Claremont Avenue. 

Commissioners have agreed to pay $850,000 for the building at 1211 Claremont Ave. They have estimated the renovation for the building to cost $1.5 million.

Commissioner Denny Bittle signaled support of the deal Welch presented, saying he would have concerns going back on his word to sell the building to the school for $500,000, a figure he said commissioners agreed on a year ago.

“It’s hard for me to say we just changed our mind because negotiations were a little difficult in the last six months to a year — and that’s basically what it amounts to in my eyes,” Bittle said. “It’s a great deal for the career center, but we were willing to give them a great deal a year ago.”

Justice said he, too, is a man of his word.

"It was negotiations. It wasn't 'I'll give you this.' They changed negotiations. They're the ones that said, 'No you have to do this and you won't get this.' It's not us that changed, it's them," he said. 

"And when they changed the deal, that gives me the right to work on my end — the county's end, as I'm looking at it — to get the best deal for the county. They opened it up." 

Welch and Bittle also said giving the school a favorable deal could eventually lead to economic development in Ashland County, citing the career center’s plans to offer additional programs to students who could work straight out of high school in fields such as welding, trucking and others.

The next step in the process involves the career center’s attorney drawing up a contract that commissioners will need to vote on. Commissioners did not provide a timeframe.

The career center’s superintendent, Rod Cheyney, was not immediately available for comment.

The commissioners' meeting can be viewed in full below:

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