Local Governments Not Pleased By House budget

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For months, lawmakers have been debating a bill that would repeal of the estate tax – 80 percent of that tax goes to local governments. But the executive director of the Ohio Municipal League says she was surprised to see the estate tax repeal folded into the House budget, especially since her members have been howling about a 25 percent cut in the local government fund in the first year of the governor’s budget, and a 50 percent cut in the second. Sue Cave says Ohio residents will see the repercussions in the form of cutbacks in city, county and township services.

“The climate for raising taxes is not real favorable right now. We’ll just have to see, I think, but I think you’re going to see cuts in services. I think you’re going to see layoffs. I think you might see reduced hours – I mean, there are going to be all sorts of things.”

But if state lawmakers are hoping to encourage communities to share services or even merge operations by cutting funding, that might not happen with this budget, says Gene Krebs of Greater Ohio. His group has been advocating for regionalism and streamlined government services for years, and he agrees that local services cuts are coming.

“They’re not going to, they’re just simply going to hunker down and pull in and say, we’re just going to cut fire or cut police or cut teachers, and they’re still not going to be doing enough for active mergers, consolidations, shared services, and they need to start do that, and the general Assembly needs to, I think, start dealing with that.”

Krebs and others have long argued that the state can no longer afford 37-hundred units of local government. Krebs says leaders have to start finding out what is the most cost effective size of government and working toward that.

“We’re in major competition with a whole lot of other places around the planet, and we’re just going to have to get our core efficiencies down as low as we possibly can, and then invest in the things that really matter, and that means things like education.”

But Cave says if the budget is trying to point communities toward merging and consolidating, there’s a key question that’s not being asked.

“What do the resident of these areas want? We seem to know what the state wants. But people live in a community because they feel a connection to it. They may live there because they like it small. They may live in Columbus because they like it big. But that is the one thing that’s missing from this whole discussion is, what do the residents of these areas want?”

The House budget also puts 100 million dollars into a fund that will award grants to encouraging local governments to share services. Cave says it’s helpful, but doesn’t come close to replacing the funds cities, counties and townships have lost. And Krebs says he was hoping for a more innovative idea to push local governments, especially at the county level, toward consolidation.

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