Top stories for 2017

By Wayne Gates – 

2017 was another big year for news in Brown County.  Here is a look back at the top ten stories that were published in the Brown County Press this year.
10. Drug Treatment Facility Rejected
A potential center for court ordered drug treatment was rejected by the Georgetown Village Council at a special meeting on July 31.
The former Meadowwood Care Center, which has been vacant since February of 2013, was being discussed to house in-patent drug treatment.
The facility would have been administered by the STAR program, which currently runs a drug treatment center connected with the Ohio Department of Corrections.  It would have brought 30 more jobs to Georgetown as well.
Since Georgetown zoning rules have the facility in a residential area, a zoning change was required from council to allow the project to proceed.  In the  contentious meeting, the majority of those attending were not in favor of the idea and spoke out against it.
Council failed to vote on the issue after a motion to approve the zoning change did not receive a second.
9. Vietnam Wall replica arrives
After more than a year’s preparation, the Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall rolled into Brown County around 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 stopping briefly in Fayetteville, before traveling on through Mt. Orab to the Brown County Fairgrounds in Georgetown, its destination.
From Fayetteville to Georgetown, hundreds of Brown County residents, business people, students and Veterans stood by the roadside to get a glimpse  of and wave or salute the huge semi pulling the trailer,  which held the sections of the wall.
Volunteers worked through the night during strong winds and occasional rain setting up not only the wall, but many other vendors tents and booths on display.
The opening ceremony began at 11 a.m. at the arena in front of the stadium which was nearly full with people wanting to participate in the event.
8. Tom Sawyers indicted
A Brown County business owner is charged with forcing eight separate heroin addicts to engage in sex acts for drugs.
Thomas Sawyers was indicted by a Brown County Grand Jury on June 29 on a total of 26 felony charges.
Eight of those charges are Trafficking in Persons-Commercial Sex Acts.
The charges allege that Sawyers “did knowingly recruit, lure, entice…another person when the offender knew that the other person would be compelled to engage in sexual activity for hire (or) engage in a performance that is obscene, sexually oriented or nudity oriented.”
Sawyers is also charged with one count of Rape, based on alleged activity by him in February of 2016.
In addition to the sex related charges, Sawyers faces two counts of Trafficking in Drugs for allegedly selling Percocet to individuals in 2014 and 2015.  The charges are fourth degree felonies.
The remaining 15 charges are for allegedly Trafficking in Drugs and Trafficking in Heroin.  All of those charges are fifth degree felonies.
His trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 22.
7. Southern Hills begins adult classes
The Southern Hills Post-Secondary Campus in Mt. Orab opened for business on Sept. 5 with firefighter training classes.
Other adult classes will be offered as the facility ramps up, including medical assisting, nurses aid, law enforcement and paramedic training along with industrial technology.
Southern Hills bought the building at Eastwood and 32 for $200,000 back in February and has spent approximately $800,000 in renovations and equipment since that time.
Not all of the adult classes will make the move north to Mt. Orab.  Welding and other classes that involve heavy equipment will remain in at the Georgetown campus.
Superintendent Kevin Kratzer said in September that adult students will be eligible to use federal student loans to pay for the classes at the new campus.  He said that will eliminate one of the obstacles for adults who want to continue their education and learn new job skills.
6. Orscheln opens in Mt. Orab
The Orscheln Farm and Home store in Mt. Orab officially opened Nov. 17, in the old Kroger building that had been vacant since 2010.
“We are very excited.  We are off to a tremendous start.  The customers are telling that they are happy we are here and we couldn’t be happier to be here,” said Orscheln Chief Marketing and Merchandising Officer Mark Johnson at the ribbon cutting.
“We looked for a location that was a good fit for us and we found it here in Mt. Orab.  Having Kroger next door is a tremendous draw and it looks like a great fit for us,” Johnson said.
The Mt. Orab store is the first store in Ohio for the company.
The company owns and operates 165 stores located in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana and now in Ohio.
5. Youth felonies rise sharply
Juvenile felonies in Brown County increased over 400 percent in 2017 and are continuing to climb.
According to the Ohio Department of Youth Services, seven Brown County youths, all male, were found delinquent in FY 2015 for offenses that would have been felonies if they had been committed as an adult.
In FY 2016, that number jumped to 29, including seven females.  That one year increase is the second highest statistical jump in the state.
The numbers are even higher in FY 2017.  Brown County Juvenile Court Administrator Charles Ashmore reports that 24 juveniles were found delinquent of felony offenses in just the first six months of this year, combined with seven offenders from the last half of 2016 for a total of 31 offenders in FY 2017.
4. Eastern Girls reach state final four
The Lady Warriors finished their season at 26-2, suffering only their second loss of the season in the OHSAA Division III State Tournament Semifinals, where they fell to the Versailles Lady Tigers 58-34 on March 17 at Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
The Lady Warriors finished their year as Southern Hills Athletic Conference Division I champions with a perfect 13-0 conference record to earn the SHAC Gold Ball. Other accomplishments by the Lady Warriors during a remarkable winter on the hardwood included: Brown County Holiday Tournament champions, Southeast District Division III Sectional Tournament champs, district champs, and regional champs.
Picked to finish runner-up in the SHAC and going unranked in final state polls, the Lady Warriors overcame the odds while putting together one of the best seasons in the history of the Eastern High School girls basketball program.
Thier 26 wins also tied the school record.
3. Brown County Jail expansion
Construction is set to begin on the Brown County Jail is underway. The contractor is WAI Construction out of Piketon, Ohio.
The project will be paid for with $3.2 million dollars borrowed from First State bank at an interest rate of 1.75 percent.  WAI bid the project at $2,994,500, leaving just over $200 thousand dollars for contingencies.
The money will be paid back over ten years with two payments per year of approximately $174,000.  That works out to about $29,000 per month.
That figure is less than the county had been paying to Butler and Clermont counties to house overflow prisoners for nearly two years.
The project will be in three phases, with a 40 bed dormitory for low level offenders as the first priority.  Construction on that phase is expected to be complete next Summer.
The second phase will be a renovation and expansion of the sally port end of the jail, and the third part will be an expansion of the administration area.
Once the project is complete, the jail will hold 84 men and 26 women.  The current capacity is 26 women and 42 men.
2. Marijuana processing facility to come to Mt. Orab
A cultivation facility for medical marijuana is coming to Mt. Orab.
It will be located at 223 Homan Way off of Brooks Malott Road in a 56,000 square foot building, less than a mile directly northwest of Western Brown High School.
The facility will be one of 13 that were approved by the Ohio Department of Commerce on Nov. 30.
The operator of the site will be Columbia Care OH, LLC.  Columbia Care is a nationwide company that supplies medical marijuana in eight states, along with Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
According to the application filed with the state, Columbia Care will spend $11.5 million on building the secure facility.  It is expected to be complete in June of 2018, with the first product produced three months later.
The company also stated in the application with the state that “Initially we anticipate hiring an estimated 32 new full-time locally sourced positions for our Cultivation Facility, with an annual payroll of $1.7 million. This is a conservative estimate that only accounts for the anticipated initial demand and could increase to upwards of 150 jobs and $8-10 million in payroll if the demand warrants expansion.”
The four listed owners of the property are Michael Abbott, Walter E. Homan, Walter E. Homan, Jr. and Nicholas Vita.  Each will have a 25% ownership.
Abbott is the Executive Chairman of Columbia Care and Vita is the CEO.
1. Overdose deaths continue to rise
Accidental drug overdoses in Brown County continue to climb. So far in 2017, 18 people have died from accidental overdoses, with toxicology results pending on 12 other cases.
That means that the number of accidental overdoses could climb to as high as 30 before the year is over, even if no new overdoses occur before the end of the year.
To put the number in perspective, the total number of accidental overdose deaths in Brown County was 18 in 2016. That was high enough to place the county in second place in the state for overdose deaths per 100 thousand people.  Montgomery County was first with 320 deaths among a much larger population.
Brown County led the state in per capita overdose death rate in 2015 with 23 deaths and in 2014 with 17 deaths. So far, the 2017 numbers look to be much higher.
The problem is severe at the regional and state level as well.  Besides Montgomery and Brown counties, the other counties in the top five for accidental overdose deaths in 2016 were also in southwest Ohio.
Butler County was number three, followed by Clermont and Adams counties.
Statewide, the number of accidental overdose deaths in 2016 was 4050, up 1000 people from just the year before. The accidental overdose rate is four times higher today that it was ten years ago.