With rising inflation costs continuing to create a financial strain on families everywhere, one local official is offering up a proposal to provide relief to both county employees and all county residents.
In a June 22 letter to Delaware County Commissioner Barb Lewis, Delaware County Treasurer Don Rankey Jr. requested the commissioners grant a one-time hardship bonus of $1,500 to county employees. Under the request, all non-union employees would be eligible for the bonus.
To cover the funding for the bonuses, Rankey is proposing to use the overage in interest earnings his office is projecting to receive in 2022. Chief Investment Officer Rick Karr is projecting $3.6 million in interest earnings in 2022, an increase of $1.3 million over the original budget forecast of $2.3 million.
According to Rankey, the additional interest dollars would cover nearly all of the hardship bonuses, which would total approximately $1.36 million for the county’s 756 eligible county employees.
“Our rank-and-file county employees are taking a beating in this current economic environment,” Rankey said of the reasoning for the proposal. “I strongly recommended a 6% salary increase for county employees to the commissioners last year, but that request fell on deaf ears. Now, we’re seeing the painful impact on our employees.
“Our employees only received a 4% raise, and at the same time, their health care insurance premium increased by 14%. Our dedicated county employees lost money simply by remaining in their jobs, and now they’re struggling to purchase food, gas, and other necessities. How is that fair?”
Rankey went on to say, “In my estimation, Delaware County has some of the finest public servants in the state of Ohio. We ask 100% of them every day, so we need to stand up and do what is right on their behalf.”
As part of the letter to Lewis, Rankey said he requested an emergency meeting agenda item for the June 23 meeting of the Delaware County Board of Commissioners. No formal discussion was held on the proposal during the meeting, although Lewis did mention during the committee reports portion of the meeting that Rankey had submitted the letter and it had been passed on to the other commissioners.
“We’ve heard nothing from (Commissioner) Gary (Merrell) or (Commissioner) Jeff (Benton), and I’m just a little bit baffled by that. This is a good (plan),” Rankey said.
In an email from Delaware County Director of Communications Jane Hawes on behalf of Lewis, Hawes told The Gazette there has been no discussion between the commissioners regarding Rankey’s proposal, nor is a discussion scheduled at this time. However, that’s not to say a discussion couldn’t still be held moving forward, she added.
“If the letter is discussed, that discussion will have to occur in a public session,” Hawes said. “At this point in time, a discussion is not scheduled. If it is, you will see it on the agenda that our clerk emails in advance.”
Rankey speculated that perhaps some of the apprehension from the commissioners to consider the proposal stems from the commissioners’ focus on providing relief for all constituents in the county rather than just one group. However, Rankey said he and Karr have also formulated a plan involving a temporary reduction in the sales tax that could offer that widespread relief in addition to his proposal for county employees.
“Not very many people understand how the county gets their revenue, but their revenue is basically out of the 7% sales tax that we charge,” Rankey said. “The State of Ohio gets 5.75% and we get 1.25%. Well, last year, we were way over (projections) … This year, as we sat at the end of May, (Auditor) George (Kaitsa) is projecting an $8 million budget variance for the positive … We could reduce the sales tax from 1.25% to 1% for the rest of the year and still come up even with our budgeted numbers for sales tax. So, there you go, you’ve now done something for everybody.”
Karr said that after mentioning the sales tax component to Lewis in passing last week, he believes there is at least some level of interest in the proposal.