By Lance Mihm
SIDNEY -- Officials from municipal governments and agencies met with state legislators Monday to lobby against a potential loss of local government funds in this year's state budget.
Local government funds are dispersed by the state each year to the counties, which then divvy up the funds among its local governments and agencies. The funding pays for police, libraries, parks and road repair, among other public expenses.
When Gov. Bob Taft unveils plans for the state budget Feb. 8, he is expected to announce reductions to cover a huge projected deficit for the upcoming fiscal year. To do so, state officials have been weighing the possibility of reducing or completely cutting local government funds
At the meeting attended by over 100 village, township, parks and library officials from the seven Ohio counties, including Auglaize and Mercer, in Ohio's 12th Senatorial District, Sen. Jim Jordan (R- Urbana) and District 77 State Rep. Keith Faber (R-Celina) were told the consequences such cuts in local government funds would cause.
The impact of proposed cuts would vary, ranging from an average of 15 percent lopped from operating funds for county commissioners to a 90 percent for libraries. Municipalities could lose an average of 10 to 25 percent of their budget and townships an average of 50 percent, according to numbers recited during the meeting in the Senior Center of Sidney on Monday. Metropolitan parks would likely get nothing from the state in one proposal. A panel of government representatives including Champaign County Commissioner Bob Corbett, Delphos council President Bob Ulm, Perry Township Trustee Frank Lamar in Allen County, Bluffton Mayor Fred Rodabaugh, Johnny Appleseed Metro Parks Director Kevin Haver and Auglaize County District Public Library official Nancy Carter spoke on the various impacts the move would have. The Grand Lake St. Marys area was well represented with officials from the Auglaize County, Celina, St. Marys and Rockford libraries, the village of New Bremen, Marion Township in Mercer County and Mercer and Auglaize county commissioners.
Each of the government entities presented resolutions passed by their respective boards formally objected to reduction of local government funds and presented them to Jordan.
"I think all of us recognize the position we are in," Ulm said. "However, I think individual members of the House and Senate need to look at who would be affected. In our case, a 10 percent reduction would cause layoffs in an already stretched workforce. We were mandated to build a wastewater treatment plant, which will cause significantly higher utility rates, all in the face of some harsh weather this winter."
Rodabaugh said to cut local government funds would result in a loss of $181,000 for his village, which equals about a one third reduction in the village's police force.
"It would take a little over 3 mills in a levy to replace that," Rodabaugh said. "It would take another 3 mills to cover the library losses. "I don't think I can go out and sell a 7-mill levy."
Carter told Jordan and Faber that libraries had the highest approval rating of any branch of government.
"Eighty six percent of the citizens in Ohio visited the library last year," Carter argued on behalf of the library staff members present. "We all have a responsibility to see that everyone continues to get the resources they need. If our society was destroyed but the library was saved, we could completely rebuild our society from the information contained in the library."
Jordan responded that most of his colleagues in Columbus
have become more aware of the impact cutting local government funds would have.
"We don't know for sure what he (Taft) is going to propose," Jordan said. "But I am cautiously optimistic. I think everyone in Columbus is understanding how important these funds are."
Jordan told the audience the funds could possibly still be slightly lowered, stay the same or even go up a little.
"That is still up to debate," Jordan said.
"I haven't heard (mention of ) the whole abolition of all local
government funds that I was hearing in October," Faber
said. "I don't think it is best for this (our) money to be sent to Columbus, where we are charged a handling fee and it sent back. Local governments are where the rubber meets the road. We need to give local government a little more control of their funds."
Austin Schneider of Mercer County library board said cutting local government funds would result in a cut of $950,000, or 99 percent of the library's budget.
"Its hard to imagine they would do anything like that," Schneider said. "The state would have to close down at those reductions."
Auglaize County District Library official Jo Derryberry said she felt better after what she heard, but she said she would not feel confident until the budget is approved.
"There is always an unknown," Derryberry said. "Ever since the state started term limits, you are always educating newly elected officials."
Derryberry said cutting local government funds would result in a 93 percent cut of library funding in the county."
Auglaize County administrator Joe Lenhart said the county would collectively lose about $4.2 million if local government funds were cut, $1 million in the county budget alone.
"There is a projected $50 billion deficit over two years," Jordan said. "So everything is in play. We are faced with a budget that is increasing at 4 percent a year and Medicaid is increasing at 11 percent. That can't continue."