Incumbent seeks re-election as commissioner

By Patricia Ann Speelman -

Editor’s note: In preparation for the May 8 Republican Primary, the Sidney Daily News is profiling each candidate who is seeking a seat on the Auglaize County Board of Commissioners. Each candidate was queried on topics which affect the residents of the district. Doug Spencer’s profile appears today. Patrick McGowan’s profile ran Wednesday.

ST. MARYS —Incumbent Doug Spencer, 46, of St. Marys, is seeking re-election to the Auglaize County Board of Commissioners.

Spencer was first elected to the board in 2006 and is now in his third consecutive term in office.

The St. Marys resident earned a Bachelor of Science from Bowling Green State University and a Master of Education from Wright State University.

He is a licensed insurance agent with Laura Yelton State Farm Insurance.

1. How should school security be addressed with the rising tide of gun incidents in public schools? Does the county have a role in this?

With the rising tide of gun incidents in public schools throughout the nation, school security is a major concern for school districts, law enforcement, community leaders, parents and residents of the county. When I resigned as a high school government teacher to become county commissioner in 2007, I had minimal concern that an act of gun violence would occur at one of the six school districts that comprise Auglaize County. During my time as county commissioner, I have had minimal concern, until recently, that I would have to contemplate what a board of county commissioners could do to assist in protecting the most precious commodity a county has: its children. As a board of county commissioners, our role is to assist Sheriff (Allen) Solomon, who works closely with the local school districts and law enforcement agencies, in providing the necessary resources to safeguard public safety. The Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office, along with other law enforcement agencies, are at the forefront of training (Active Shooter Response, ALICE and Rescue Task Force, etc.) throughout the state. This is a local school district decision, and I, as county commissioner, am willing, if asked, to be an engaged partner to identify how the county commissioners can assist school districts and law enforcement in the process to augment school security.

2. How will you address the reductions in Local Government Funds from the state?

The board of commissioners has been addressing the reduction of local government funds since 2012 when the state of Ohio renounced the original intent of local government funds by reducing local government funds by over 40 percent over a two-year time period. In 2011, prior to the reductions, Auglaize County received $767,437 in state sharing funds. In 2017 Auglaize County received $438,437 in state sharing funds. We have consistently advocated to our legislators for the need for some of the local government funds that were slashed to be restored. We remind our local legislators that the local government funds help pay for various state-mandated programs.

At the same time that the state of Ohio renounced the original intent of local government funds, all 88 counties were beginning to receive casino-sharing revenue from the passage of the 2009 Ohio ballot initiative, Issue 3. In 2012, Auglaize County realized $119,873 in casino-sharing revenue. In 2017, Auglaize County realized $535,030. This has definitely helped Auglaize County bridge the funding void left from the reduction of local government funds, but the mandates keep coming.

There is a proposal put forth by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio to eliminate all local government funds in exchange for the state of Ohio’s assuming all expenditures for elections and indigent defense. While this may seem enticing to support, as Auglaize County is projected to come out $102,000 ahead per year in this proposal, I am reluctant to support this proposal. I have concern that if we willingly and completely surrender our share of local government funds, we may find ourselves in a worse position if the state of Ohio changes its position on such items. For example, what happens if the state of Ohio, in the future, renounces its decision to pay for elections and indigent defense? The expense all falls back on the counties with no local government funds to help defray the state-mandated programs.

3. What can lawmakers at the county level do to help combat the opioid crisis?

To help combat the opioid crisis running rampant throughout the nation and Auglaize County, the board of commissioners has and will continue to be an active partner with the numerous agencies that are in the trenches combating this epidemic. As mentioned before, it is our job to provide the necessary resources to safeguard public safety. The sheriff’s budget comprises the largest share of the general revenue fund, and the share continues to increase to meet the demands of fighting crime and housing inmates. Since 2012, the sheriff’s appropriations have increased over 20 percent, which is a direct result of enforcing the law of “typical” crime, as well as combating the opioid crisis. With that said, the opioid crisis has demonstrated we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem. Unfortunately, opioid users instantly become addicts, and time served will not eliminate the addiction.

In Auglaize County, a group of stakeholders work to identify ways to help those inmates who need it to receive assistance to beat the addiction and regain control of their life. Judge (Frederick) Pepple asked the board of county commissioners to apply for the Target Community Alternatives to Prison (T-CAP) grant, which was received, through the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Corrections, to provide funding to link nonviolent offenders with appropriate treatment and therapy to reduce recidivism and jail overcrowding. Between FY 18 and FY 19, Auglaize County will receive $199,218 to provide appropriate treatment. This is not the cure-all to the opioid crisis in Auglaize County; however, if this program produces positive results in promoting better wellness prior to release from jail, there is likelihood of lowering recidivism and crime and/or preventing the individual from being a coroner statistic.

Additionally, the board of commissioners has joined in a multi-litigation district lawsuit to hold accountable the companies responsible for dumping millions of dollars worth of prescription opiates into Ohio and Auglaize County. It is believed that (i) the manufacturing companies pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids and (ii) distributors failed their legal duties to be the gatekeeper of suspicious orders of prescription opioids. Consequently, the residents of Auglaize County continue to bear the cost of the epidemic, impacting budgets of law enforcement, Job & Family Services, board of commissioners, etc. This litigation is contingent fee-based, meaning Auglaize County owes money to attorneys only if a financial award is made to Auglaize County.

4. What can the county do to support local businesses in attracting and retaining good employees?

In working in partnership with Mercer County, the Auglaize County commissioners invested $25,000 annually to develop and maintain a marketing website and marketing material with a mission to ensure a linkage between industry and community members about the opportunities that exist for local careers. One focus is on educating students about the career opportunities that exist, in order to prevent the brain drain and encourage the brain retain. Hometown Opportunities is also a conduit for our alumni who have left the region and may not know that their career may exist back home. And — it works! Since its debut in November 2012, there have been over 480,000 unique visitors with over a 70 percent return rate. Fourteen thousand jobs have been posted with 4,500 jobs posted in 2017. This workforce retention and workforce attraction tool has over 1,200 companies that subscribe to the website at no cost. There are over 2,500 students registered. The website analytics provide to us that the five top, regional, in-demand jobs are advanced manufacturing, skilled trades, health care, business administration and transportation logistics.

In addition to helping local businesses with Hometown Opportunity, the commissioners are involved in helping fund the Auglaize Mercer Business Alliance Senior Seminar Event this October at Eldora Speedway for local industry and businesses to connect with all the regional high school seniors one last time to discuss career opportunities within the region. In 2016, Auglaize County commissioners created a workforce development budgetary line item in the general revenue fund to be utilized by the economic development coalition, which is where funding for the AMBE event is provided. The Auglaize Job & Family Services (JFS) works with clients to develop a path to self-sufficiency. JFS directs a concerted effort to aid clients in refining their soft skills to obtain a job interview in addition to supporting them in achieving temporary means to stay gainfully employed. Either through Comprehensive Case Management and Employment Program, Workforce Investment Opportunity Act or Steps for Success funding, clients are provided with training dollars to transition their current job position into a career. In 2016, a workforce development coordinator was hired through Auglaize County Job & Family Services to establish a working relationship with area businesses to help fill their entry-level needs with JFS clients. For some of the smaller-sized businesses with hiring obstacles, efforts are made to hire clients through 90-day wage subsidies. As of this writing, there are only four nonmedically-related cash recipients receiving benefits without having employment. All of these combined efforts by all the partners are helping to narrow the labor gap Auglaize County is experiencing.

5. What specific strengths will you bring to the board of commissioners?

One strength I bring as a county commissioner is I am a truthful, honest leader. I fully subscribe to the adage, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” Additionally, I am a county commissioner, and I fully comprehend the role of the position. I take pride in my ability to collaborate and form partnerships while maintaining the best interest of the county. County government is a complex and convoluted structure of government or organization, having 14 elected officials and over a dozen-and-a-half independent agencies. It is always important to remember what your role is as county commissioner and what your role is as a partner in county government. The main function of the commissioners is budgetary and appropriations. By maintaining a financial discipline, Auglaize County has been able to provide the services its residents expect and deserve. I am very proud that through fiscal restraint and innovation of all elected officials and department heads, no layoffs or diminished services were made during the Great Recession. Fortunately, through the very conservative budgeting and appropriating of county resources, Auglaize County was able to weather the financial storm of 2008-2010. We maintain 60-90 true days cash of certified but unappropriated funds, which we have not needed to access. I enjoy helping solve problems where we have the jurisdiction to do so or when our input is requested. I firmly believe in hiring great employees and letting them do their job. I love serving the residents of Auglaize County and truly hope I am afforded the opportunity to serve another four-year term.

6. What is the biggest challenge facing the county and how would you like to see it met?

The biggest challenge facing Auglaize County is preserving the revenues that support the countywide services residents expect and deserve. As evidenced by the reduction of local government funds the county has dealt with since 2012, Auglaize County is also dealing with the reduction of 4 percent of its total sales tax collection due to a ruling by the federal government against the state of Ohio on how Ohio was collecting sales tax on managed care organizations. The federal government determined sales tax on medical durable goods and services had to be applied to all consumers—not just MCOs—or not applied at all. The state removed the sales tax provision on MCOs and provided funding to make Ohio whole; however, they only made counties whole for one year. This loss of funding equates to approximately $400,000 annually.

Then, with the ever-increasing amount of online purchases and less brick and mortar retail stores, states and counties — Auglaize included — need to be very mindful as to the impact this may have on its largest revenue source. Sales tax receipts generate 54 percent of total revenue for Auglaize County. Some online retailers do charge sales tax, as required, if they have a physical presence in our state. On April 17th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on South Dakota v Wayfair to determine if out-of-state retailers will be required to collect sales tax and submit to the state where the online purchase was made. If the U.S. Supreme Court does not overturn its 1992 decision or Congress does not provide legislation to enforce the Streamline Sales & Use Tax Interstate Agreement of 2002, sales tax receipts will reduce for states and counties as online sales continue to become more commonplace, resulting in the inability to provide services the residents expect and deserve.

By Patricia Ann Speelman

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.