Development continues despite pandemic


POWELL — Delaware County is continuing to grow despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the three commissioners said Tuesday morning at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Africa Event Center.

The annual “State of the County” event was slightly different this year, with not nearly as many attendees of past years, as well as mask-wearing and pre-packaged foods served for social distancing purposes. Nonetheless, many of Delaware County’s leaders were still in attendance.

“Traditionally, we have held our State of the County event at the end of February,” said Commissioner Gary Merrell, in a news release. “But we hoped that by delaying a couple of months, we would be able to safely gather in-person again, and we are very happy that we could, thanks to the excellent protocols in place at the zoo.”

Interim Zoo Director Jerry Borin welcomed the audience, reflected on the growth of the county during his time in central Ohio. “Wasn’t too long ago this was a cornfield,” Borin said, as zebra and wildebeest could be seen through the window, grazing outside the event center.

“Together, we work through collaboration to make things wonderful in Delaware County,” said Administrator Michael Frommer in his introduction. Despite the coronavirus, 2020 saw the most development in the county since 2005, he said.

A short film showed county residents and organizations continuing to do everyday activities in these changed times.

Merrell spoke next, and opened by remembering longtime cobbler Ralph Martin, who passed away over the weekend.

“We never stopped providing essential services” during the pandemic, Merrell said. He presented a timeline of how the county responded to the emergency, which has included the distribution of more than $3 million in grants to businesses, community organizations and residents. He also looked at economic development, including projects in Berlin, Brown and Orange townships.

“Despite COVID’s attempt, we have proved to be stronger,” Merrell said.

“I feel like we’re coming out of our cocoon, and we’re beautiful,” said Commissioner Barb Lewis of being able to get together. She spoke of three ways the county has improved the quality of life in 2020. The county formed a Pre-Hospital Care System Board for first responders, it gave out community enhancement grants to organizations such as the United Way of Delaware County, and established its first Public Defenders Office. She said she’s proud of the investments made by the county last year.

Another short film featured Frommer, Karla Herron of the Delaware County Board of Elections, and Engineer Chris Bauserman, each speaking about how they were able to accomplish things last year in spite of the pandemic. Bauserman said some of the closures in the county actually permitted road work to proceed better.

Commissioner Jeff Benton spoke about county facilities, where there has been a lot of activity. He explained the county tries to create functional centers to house departments, sells unneeded property, and co-locates services whenever possible. A final short film took a tour of the newly renovated Historic Courthouse.

Handlers brought some zoo animals, including a penguin, out for the audience to see as the event wound down.

Delaware County Commissioner Barb Lewis speaks during the annual “State of the County” event Tuesday at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium. County Commissioner Barb Lewis speaks during the annual “State of the County” event Tuesday at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium. Gary Budzak | The Gazette

By Gary Budzak

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Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.

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