COLUMBUS — A veteran Ohio politician called on Wednesday for the creation of a special state fund to help counties boost employment, fight opioid abuse and cover basic expenses.
Any of the state’s 88 counties, large or small, would be eligible to draw from the equalization fund proposed Wednesday by Republican Gene Krebs. The former state representative is a farmer and public policy expert from Preble County who’s running for state Senate.
Krebs said Ohio originally created county governments to implement the state’s policies and laws, but those without ample retail businesses subject to sales taxes have little way to raise the funds they need in the wake of local government fund cuts.
“In short, counties themselves were the original unfunded mandate,” he said. “But due to changes in shopping and lifestyle, many are now unable to fully locally fund their duties.”
Krebs cited a recent study by the Cleveland-based Center for Community Solutions that found:
— 16 percent of working-age adults in small rural towns are disabled, a higher proportion than in big cities or the state as a whole.
— 15 percent of those 25 or older in small rural towns hold college degrees, compared to 25 percent in big cities and the state as a whole.
— 34 percent of children in small rural towns live in poverty, compared to 23 percent statewide.
— 75 percent of school-aged children in small rural towns participate in the federal school lunch program for those below or near poverty, exceeding the statewide rate by more than 25 percent.
Krebs said his proposed fund is aimed at beginning to reverse this problem by “equalizing” county revenue based on where residents shop. A county whose residents shop and dine elsewhere would have a greater chance for access to the fund, while a county with a large outlet mall drawing many out-of-county shoppers would have less opportunity.
“This is not Robin Hood. We are not proposing to reduce the piggyback sales tax revenue from the rich counties and give to the poor,” he said. “This is also not county welfare. It is meant to help them get back up on their feet.”
State funds used to develop the equalization fund could be tapped for one of only three purposes: to combat the opioid and heroin epidemic, for economic development programs that increase sales-tax revenue and workforce development, or to cover general county expenses.
The fund is designed to expire after 10 years, with interim assessments built in to see how the plan is doing. Krebs said the state Department of Taxation would prepare new charters annually for disbursement of the money and the fund would be subject to regular state audits.