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Blankenship: ‘My heart goes out’ to ORV families

Mayor encourages leaders to work toward job growth

Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship expressed disappointment in Gov. John Kasich’s final decision to close the Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility.

Speaking to reporters in the Ironton City Center Wednesday afternoon, Blankenship thanked the facility’s employees as well as the local officials who asked the governor to reverse a decision by the Ohio Department of Youth Services to close it.

“My heart goes out to the individuals and the families who this decision will affect,” Blankenship said. “I was employed at the Ohio River Valley youth center when the doors opened back in the late ‘90s and I formed long lasting relationships with many of the employees.”

Kasich said Tuesday evening that the facility will close, just as DYS officials announced earlier this year. He had agreed to review information that was presented to him during a meeting Monday with Rep. Terry Johnson and ORV employees, who opposed the closure. A separate meeting also took place Monday between local officials and representatives from DYS.

“I am deeply saddened by this announcement but now that we have this final answer we must move forward and we must continue our efforts to attract businesses to our community,” Blankenship said. “Attracting businesses in this economic environment is very difficult while working at the same time to retain the jobs we have.”

The Department of Youth Services announced in March its plans to close the facility in September due to budget cuts. Kasich’s budget calls for $41 million reduction in funding for the department over the next two years. The need for those cuts are the result of the $8 billion deficit the governor inherited. Closing the facility will save more than $20 million a year, department officials said.

Declining population is another reason that’s been offered for the center’s proposed closure.

Connie Wehrkamp, a spokeswoman with Kasich’s office, issued a written statement about the decision Wednesday afternoon.

“Balancing this budget has posed significant challenges for the state, the decision to close ORVJCF included,” Wehrkamp said. “We appreciate the time Rep. Johnson and ORV employees spent on this issue, and this decision certainly was not something the governor and his administration took lightly.

“The governor is focused on finding ways to help those impacted by the closing, and the directors of the departments of Youth Services and Rehabilitation and Corrections are working together to explore options for repurposing the ORVJCF building.”

The mayor had argued that the economic impact of closing the ORV in southern Ohio will be bigger than what it would it would have been in a larger city. Of the 300-plus jobs that will be lost, about 80 are from those who live in Lawrence County. Of that 80, 40 live in the city of Ironton, he said.

“A lot of people are going to have for sale signs in their yards,” the mayor said. “It’s hard to see because they grew up here, they live here.

“It’s not like the big cities where if you got laid off you might go across the street to find another (job). But I’m optimistic for our future though. You have to remain optimistic.”

Blankenship encouraged southern Ohio community leaders to stay optimistic and work together toward bringing jobs to the area.

“Now is the time to be united and to help each other,” Blankenship said. “I believe in our residents and I believe in our workforce. Southern Ohio has been through some tough times in the past and I believe that by working hard and diligently we will bring jobs back to our region.”

Katrina Keith, who currently serves as benefits specialist for the City of Ironton, and her husband Tony are one of the families affected by the closure.

Tony Keith has worked for ORV for the past 15 years since it opened, Katrina Keith said. In September, the Keiths will move to Delaware, where Tony he has been transferred.

“I’ve always lived here,” said Katrina Keith, an eight-year employee of the city. “This is my community. I pour my heart and soul here. I work for the city and so there is a vacancy within the city. I spent a lot of time with the Ro-Na (Theatre) and trying to do restoration.

“I’ve made this my home and I’m passionate about this place.”