ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio (WTRF)

Governor Mike DeWine wants to take $500 million of federal money over the next two years and give it to 32 Appalachian counties in Ohio.

He says it’s just a proposal, and now it’s up to the Ohio legislature to approve and draw up the details.

He says communities can design their own programs.

The governor says if the federal dollars are used, it has to have some connection to a problem created by the pandemic.

“But it’s pretty broad,” he noted. “So this could be money to help kids in school, it can be money to help deal with the drug problem, it could be revitalization of a downtown, it could be development of more tourism.”

Sheriff Dave Lucas says mental health services are desperately needed in this area.

Since mental health facilities have closed, people in crisis end up in jail.

“They need help,” said Sheriff Lucas. “They need to be treated, and the county jail is not the place to put them. We need to help our people. And along with that, there are jobs that would be created.”

Landscape architect Gabe Hayes was happy to hear the money could be used for parks, trails and green spaces.

“I was so excited,” said Hayes. “We do a lot of park design, and it is so nice to see the focus here in Appalachia after so many years of money going in other places.”

Belmont County Commissioner Jerry Echemann likes the downtown revitalization idea.

“Sprucing up the main streets of the towns is, I think, a fantastic idea,” Echemann said. “And I’m assuming this is not just St. Clairsville but towns throughout the county. Because the main street sends that signal of what the city is all about.”

Broadband expansion, workforce development and energy distribution were also suggested.

The only thing they disagreed on was how to pronounce the area that will receive the money—Appalachia.