Delaware and Knox County commissioners met Monday morning with members of the Ohio General Assembly to discuss the counties’ need to deliver services to their residents during a time of increasing mandates and decreasing resources from the state.
The group met at NorthStar Golf Club in Sunbury to discuss four topics that have been identified by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio that have put additional strains on county funds.
• Opiate epidemic.
• Replacement of aging voting equipment.
• Funding of public defenders.
• The loss of sales tax revenue from Medicaid managed care organizations.
The four topics are not in order of importance.
Knox County Commissioner Thom Collier said counties are required to carry out state mandates, but over the years the state has scaled back how they distribute tax money back to the counties.
“To do it requires funds,” he said. “A county like us continues to feel the pinch.”
Ohio Senator Kris Jordan, Ohio House Representative Andrew Brenner, both Republicans, and representatives from the lieutenant governor’s office, met with the group to hear their concerns.
Jordan said the state budget is still being worked on by House members.
“I am sympathetic as a former county official that we are expecting the counties to pick up a lot of obligations, but yet they’re not getting any more government funds back,” he said. “They are in fact getting less than they did five or six years ago.”
Delaware County Commissioner Gary Merrell said he thought it is unfair of how the state is shifting the financial tax burden back to the counties.
“It seems just a little disingenuous when our governor’s office says we’re not going to raise state taxes,” he said, “but since you still have taxing capacity for yours all we’re doing is shifting the burden.”
Jordan said the money that goes to the state gets taken from Delaware County for other counties that are less affluent. He said that Delaware County gets about “5 percent” back.
“Anytime there are winners, somewhere there are losers,” Jordan said. “We get punished for doing the right things.”
Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin said his challenge is to sift the “wheat from the chaff.” He said he is in favor of programs that intercept people before they break the law.
“We spend a lot of time, my staff, trying to figure out what’s the best means to get these addictive people the best care they need,” Martin said.
Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien said her office spends $93,000 annually for public defenders.
The cost of replacing aging voting machines also was raised during the two-hour meeting.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.