In a county that has not raised its mill levy since 1977, the energy boom has been a crucial economic driver for it and its 15 townships and 7 villages. The increasing revenue from gas well royalties, sales and property tax has allowed for long-awaited construction projects and road improvements to be green lighted and even allowed for a 3 percent pay raise for county employees, the first in several years. The unemployment rate has dropped from 16 percent in 2010, to 6.8 percent as of April this year.
“Last year we were up about a million dollars, and we could be up another million this year over last year,” said VanHorne. “For the first time I can actually give a report to the county commissioners that we should have enough money to cover everybody’s [budget] requests.”
As recently as two years ago, the prospects for Carroll County weren’t so bright. Sitting in the local cafe, County Commissioner Robert Wirkner says before the shale boom, there were no new prospects for economic development.
Before becoming a Commissioner, Wirkner served in both the Navy and the Army before settling at the FBI. During the Cold War Wirkner participated in a pilot project that hosted Russian KGB agents at the FBI academy. He served as the Chief Deputy Sheriff for the county for a number of years as well as the county Emergency Management Director. Now as a county commissioner Wirkner continues his dedication to public service. He has worked for years to ensure the rural community stayed afloat.
“There wasn’t much on the horizon to help keep the county from sinking,” he said. “There is only so much you can cut and trim before all the fat is gone. We joked that we became good at the ancient art of trying to do more with less. Then along came gas and oil, and things changed dramatically.”
Now retail, residential, and industrial development projects are seeking permits and bringing jobs and revenue back to the county. One developer is planning a 77-acre industrial park near Carrollton. Carroll County Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Advance Power Service Inc. is currently seeking permits to build a $800 million electrical generation plant that would create 500 construction jobs and 25 to 30 full time positions.
“In a town of only 3200 people, 25 to 30 jobs is a big project,” Wirkner said.
The project would help offset reductions in Ohio’s generation capacity as several coal-fired power plants in the state are set to close. American Electric Power was one of several generators in recent months to announce closures of plants in the face of new air quality regulations promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
For now the county is focusing on improving its water and sewer infrastructure and working on agreements to help provide the proposed Carroll County Electric plant with the 200,000 gallons of water per day it will need to operate. Carrollton is working on a shared agreement with the town of Malvern to supply the plant with the needed water.
The county is also working with the state of Ohio to ensure proper management of water resources overall as energy development in the area continues to grow.
“We are focused on proper stewardship of our water resources,” said Wirkner. “We are working to discourage tapping the local aquifer and instead use more surface water from the Muskingham Water Conservancy District.”
He also says the development of the “midstream” or pipeline industry is creating additional opportunities beyond gas drilling activities.
“Pipelines have a small footprint but create a lot of jobs.”
Midstream operations expect to grow as the energy industry in the area matures and the need to transport natural gas to market increases. Additional gas production will increase the need for pipeline infrastructure and local workers say they are ready to help build it.