Fairfield County officials reported stable financial health in the county and lauded ongoing programs aimed at enhancing public safety, as well as economic and workforce development, during a recent State of the County address.

During a two-hour State of the County luncheon April 30 at Violet Township's Wigwam facility in Pickerington, officials updated residents and stakeholders on continued efforts to enhance the quality of life throughout the county.

Numerous statistics were provided, both designed to demonstrate strides being made and the continued evolution of the Fairfield County.

County Administrator Carri Brown noted the county's population is expected to grow significantly over the next 20 years, from the July 2018 U.S. Census Bureau estimate of 155,782 residents. She said much of the growth is expected in the northwest portion of the county and is being driven by growth and workforce options in Franklin County.

"By 2040, a 20% increase in population is expected, and this increase is projected over the 2018 estimated census population," Brown said.

"By 2040, Fairfield County's population is expected to be more than 186,810 people. These projections are from various sources."

Brown said those population increases will continue to challenge county and local officials as they seek to provide adequate to excellent public-safety services, as well as infrastructure that can handle the added people and traffic.

She noted the county has an Aa2 bond rating from Moody's Investors Service. That rating is the third-highest given by the investor service, "which means we have excellent credit and we can pay our bills," Brown said.

"The sales tax rate is 6.75%, and that's among the lowest in the region and in the state, as well," she said. "Average property taxes are low -- below the state average -- and unemployment is as well.

"The poverty rate is relatively low and wages are increasing. That's according to the Ohio Labor Market information."

Brown highlighted several ongoing public-safety initiatives in the county, including a Community Watch Program that in 2018 saw roughly 70 volunteers donate 8,000 hours and provide security assistance at 40 events.

Fairfield County Commissioner Dave Levacy said Community Watch volunteers are "everywhere our deputies can't be, keeping an eye and looking for situations that could be a safety issue."

Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen said volunteers for the 11-year-old program provide everything from neighborhood-patrol assistance to helping people who lock their keys in vehicles.

Similar, county officials touted an ongoing "advanced reentry" program designed to help people who have spent time in the county jail assimilate back into society.

By reducing recidivism, Brown said, the county is safer and saves money otherwise spent to incarcerate prisoners.

Phalen said the program is especially important as the county tries to address drug-abuse issues.

"One of our No. 1 issues that we as a county, as well as a state and nation are facing, is drug abuse," he said. "It's easy to lock them up and throw away the key, but that's really not the answer.

"The real answer is to get those that are addicted the proper help they need and consequently return that person to successful reentry within our society.

"To accomplish this, everyone has to work together. That includes law enforcement, the court system, the ADAMH board."

Officials also noted the U.S. Department of Justice in 2018 provided a $498,578 grant to assist the county's Overdose Response Team.

On the business and job front, Brown said that in the past year, the county rebranded its Economic Development Department. It's now the Economic and Workforce Development Department.

"Partners have become more engaged, manufacturers have opened their doors for tours, more than 40 businesses have helped create career-readiness endorsement with nine school districts," Brown said.

"The county (also) created training grants. Training grants have resulted in more than $1 million in additional local tax revenues expected."

On the local front, county officials highlighted the addition of Porter's Coffee House and Bakery at 194 W. Church St. as part of a resurgence in Olde Pickerington Village.

Materials distributed to luncheon attendees also stated, "Fairfield County acquired the Greenfield Water and Sewer District to improve operations for residents. Utilities customers increased 5 percent, totaling 6,946 customers.

"The county also secured land in Violet Township for future well field expansion."

An overview of county services noted the county maintained and repaired 361 miles of roadway and 342 bridges in 2018, and that 193,000 vehicle and boat titles were issued.

Additionally, 1,200 people with developmental disabilities were served by the Fairfield County Board of Developmental Disabilities, according to information provided by the county, and 850 children in need were supported with school clothes and supplies.

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