Tiffin, Ohio — The Seneca County Board of Commissioners heard a proposal from Tiffin Law Director Brent Howard and Rev. Aaron Gerlach, of Old Trinity Episcopal Church, Thursday morning and agreed to help facilitate a multi-million dollar community kitchen project at the church.
The $2.4-million project will focus on connecting local growers and businesses to the community, providing opportunities for groups to cook and eat together, housing a diverse set of cooking classes and creating ways to give back to the community by preparing food.
“Our Christian faith has taught us that breaking bread with our neighbors builds community. Working with others in our community to nurture healthy and life-giving relationships through preparing and sharing food fits with who we are,” said Gerlach, pastor at Old Trinity Episcopal Church and board president of Seneca County Common Ground.
The kitchen space will be connected to the church building, 125 E. Market St., but will be a separate space with its own entrance.
As well as being available to individuals and groups on a reservation basis, the kitchen will partner with the Tiffin-Seneca Farmers Market to serve locally grown food on market days and to teach community members ways of using local foods at home.
Howard said church leaders have been planning the project since the middle of 2019 and have worked with their neighbors at the Seneca County Justice Center to come up with an acceptable plan.
To move forward, the church would need to acquire a 25-foot-by-55-foot piece of county-owned land in a current parking lot. The changes would remove about half of the parking spots in the lot.
Church officials agreed to add security by enclosing it so parking could be used for high-level court personnel. The commissioners agreed to move forward in a bidding process for the land in support of the project.
The area must go through the bidding process, but the county has the right of refusal to transfer the property if the church does not have the winning bid.
Howard said any costs related to the transfer of property or the project are to be handled by the church, making it so there is no cost to the county.
Board President Mike Kerschner applauded the church for its vision to improve Seneca County. “You have a wonderful vision,” he said. “I appreciate your work. You’ve done your due diligence.”
In other action, the commissioners approved $25,490.93 of Coronavirus Relief Fund expenses recommended to them by the county CRF Committee this week.
Expenses include COVID-related personal protective equipment and a new pharmacy/vaccine refrigerator and freezer for the Seneca County General Health District.
The county has now expended about $477,000 to previously unbudgeted Coronavirus-related causes through the CARES Act program.
The board still has about $900,000 available to them through the program, with another large sum expected to be distributed to counties soon. County Administrator Stacy Wilson said officials are holding off on some expenses as they await the result of a large grant that would reimburse the county for safety service personnel salaries.
If the grant is not received, most or all the money afforded to the county would likely be committed to reimbursing those safety service salaries. If the county receives the grant, it will free up CARES Act funding for several other projects.
One such project, a small business grant program like one being executed in Tiffin, was detailed by Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership officials Thursday.
Townships and Villages may decide to fund their own grant programs, but it is also possible the commissioners could use CARES Act money to supplement and assist local businesses in rural areas.
Commissioner Shayne Thomas suggested a program to assist businesses earlier this year, and he asked Wilson to analyze the numbers and pitch a plan next week for a potential grant program facilitated by TSEP. Time is of the essence, as CARES Act money must be expended by the end of the year.
Also during the meeting, the board approved a $253,227.25 change order to the airport taxiway improvement project, following some complications.
The county expects to be reimbursed over the next 1-2 years via Federal Aviation Administration grants, but the setback on the project could also delay the long-term airport improvement plan by a couple of years.
In other action, the commissioners authorized a contract with the North Central Ohio Educational Services Center to provide necessary and appropriate staff and instruction for the Seneca County Youth Center.