COLUMBUS — Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann, who serves as first vice president of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO), met Ohio gubernatorial candidates last week as part of a team of CCAO representatives seeking to establish better relationships between counties and the state.
She also spoke at a press conference, Monday, July 23, during which the CCAO called for a stronger partnership between state and county governments as it released “Stronger Counties. Stronger Partnership. Stronger Ohio.,” a briefing guide detailing county funding needs and asking that needs be addressed in future state budgets and legislation.
The CCAO board met July 20 with both major gubernatorial candidates, Richard Cordray and Mike DeWine, and their respective lieutenant governor candidates, Betty Sutton and Jon Husted.
Ehemann discussed what state budget initiatives over the last 17 years have done to counties.
“In 2005, they eliminated the tangible personal property tax,” she explained to the Sidney Daily News, Tuesday. It was replaced by a state tax, and as reimbursements to counties from the tangible personal property tax were phased out, Ohio’s 88 counties became $40 million poorer.
“That was good for the state, but not the counties,” Ehemann said. She went on to indicate how changes in the Local Government Fund have also hurt budgets at home. The Local Government Fund is a fund through which the state shares state tax revenues with local governments.
“Whenever there’s a budget stress, the Local Government Fund is one of the targets. They cut (the revenues sent to counties) by half in (Gov. John) Kasich’s first budget, and they looked at cutting them in half again,” Ehemann said. Before 2001, the revenue share percentage for counties was 3.68. The formula for determining what counties get has changed many times since then. Had it remained at 3.68 percent, Ehemann told the would-be governors, counties would have had $145.3 million more in 2017 than they had.
The third tax hit to counties was the elimination of the Medicaid Managed Care tax, which was a federally mandated move. However, Ehemann said the state was not hurt by it.
“The state took care of themselves and we got left in the lurch,” she said. The state replaced it with a different Medicaid fee structure that held the state harmless and even allowed for some revenue growth for the state, but did nothing for counties after temporary transition payments, leaving $165.7 million revenue shortfall.
On top of the cuts, the counties have had to deal with increased expenses, especially when it comes to solving the opioid crisis. The state’s answer has too often been to tell local governments to raise taxes to cover what they need, but Ehemann said, “It’s not simple to do.”
The meetings last week and Monday’s white paper release aim to make state leaders understand what pressure local governments are under.
“Our focus is on restoring the partnership with the state … so they are more open to working with us,” Ehemann said.
“Ohio’s 88 counties serve as branch administrative offices of the state by providing vital services. Counties are given this specific responsibility but limited authority by the Ohio Revised Code,” CCAO President Daniel Troy said. “CCAO was very pleased with the meetings with both gubernatorial candidates, as we look to foster an improved and stronger relationship between state and county government. Collaboration and cooperation between the two government entities must exist to strengthen counties and improve the well-being of all Ohioans.”
He reiterated that CCAO recognizes that the revenue losses and rising costs experienced by counties cannot be addressed completely in one state budget.
“Counties, acting on behalf of the state, must have the state’s financial commitment to ensure that county revenue streams correspond to the services they are mandated by the state to provide. County challenges have increased significantly, and a stronger partnership between state and county government is critical to the quality of life and prosperity of Ohio and its citizens,” CCAO Executive Director Suzanne Dulaney said. “We intend that our candidate briefing guide will impart a greater understanding of the important duties that county governments are required by the state to carry out and inspire a new awareness of how critical the state-county partnership is.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.