Proposed budget could prove devastating for Meigs County
POMEROY – Local governments came to together to discuss the need to unite against a proposed budget that could be devastating to rural Ohio.

Under the #localgovernmentsunite, the Meigs County Commissioners called together local elected officials and other county commissioners to learn more about Governor John Kasich’s proposed Ohio budget. On hand for the public forum were Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) of the 93rd District and Rep. Jay Edwards (R- Athens) of the 94th District. Both listened and commented on the proposed budget changes and the challenges the General Assembly will face balancing it. Rep. Smith is also Chair of the House Finance Committee.

Local goverment officials gathered to learn more and voice concerns over proposed Ohio budget cuts. Photo by Carrie Gloeckner.

The Medicaid Managed Care Sales Tax or Managed Health Care Sales Tax (MHIC) is being cut because federal regulators are ending the state sales tax structure. That structure brought in millions per year in federally matched Medicaid funds and Ohio. Gov. Kasich is looking to plug a $1.1 billion loss of state funds. The question is how that loss will be handled in the next two-year budget currently being discussed.

The meeting Feb. 20, 2017 at Farmers Bank was a first step in moving forward to make known the issues, to have local elected officials learn more and begin actively addressing concerns. For Meigs County, the loss of the sales tax revenue stands to be more than a half million dollars or 21.7 percent of the county’s yearly budget. Other counties also hit hard by the proposed budget include Vinton County looking at 24.9 percent budget cut. Gallia County is facing the loss of $592,650 or 12 percent of their annual budget. Other counties such as Geauga County will only see a three percent cut to their budgets. While Geauga County would be loosing $424,333, it is still only three percent of their annual budget of $14,051,414. In comparison, Meigs County’s annual budget is around $5 million. As Meigs County Commissioner Randy Smith told the Meigs Independent Press previously, such a loss to Meigs could send the county “back to the dark ages” as far as funding goes.

Two of the Gallia County Commissioners attended the meeting. Gallia County Commissioner Harold Montgomery commended the Meigs County Commissioners for taking the initiative to take a stand on the budget cuts. Commissioner Montgomery concurred with the devastating loss both counties are looking to inherit from the state.

“We are a lean operating machine,” Commissioner Montgomery said of the work the Gallia Commissioners have done to tighten the belt following a previous budget cut several years ago. He said he could not see how they could make cuts further without cutting services, which is the same conclusion the Meigs County Commissioners have as well.

Frustration for the way this loss to the state budget is being handed down to rural counties and local governments was evident throughout the public forum.

“I’ve watched the state. You know they’ve filled their coffers with the Rainy Day Fund. We are very thankful for that and we thought you know once we arrived at that point, maybe there would be some redistribution back to the local level. We haven’t seen much of that coming back from the state,” Gallia Commissioner Montgomery said adding he was encouraged by a few things from the state, but still has concerns.

While the cuts will be devastating to some county governments, local villages will also be hit hard.

“Where are some of these villages going to be at in two or three years? This is something we really need to think about. The more money you take and the less money we get, we become a ghost town sooner or later. We are not going to have the revenue. We are not going to have the money to build our streets, to build our water systems and all that stuff. We need help from Ohio too,” said Jacksonsville Mayor Tony McNickle.

“You talk about the one government said there was going to be some good out of this and some bad out of this. I feel the good is going to be for the bigger cities, but the bad is going to be for the villages. That is what concerns me. We need help. Think about us, our villages, our little towns too,” Mayor McNickle added.

Townships would also be effected. “I can’t see how any township here, knowing their revenue, can get by with nothing,” Meigs County Commissioner Tim Ihle said.

Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood spoke up with concerns of the proposed budget cuts saying the Gallia-Meigs Major Crimes Task Force could be at risk if something is not changed. He said funding to the task force comprised of his office along with Gallia County Sheriff’s Office, Middleport Police Department, Gallipolis Police Department, Meigs County Prosecutor and Gallia County Prosecutor could not handle a budget hit and survive. The task force handles major crimes, namely tackling the drug problem in both counties.

“If we have layoffs that happen, it’s going to be gone,” Sheriff Wood said of the task force. Sheriff Wood went on to express his hope that the state legislature and Gov. Kasich could work something out.

Currently, the only proposal to address the loss in revenue is an amount of money that will be given to areas like Meigs County to help off set the cuts. This will be for several years as Gov. Kasich has been quoted as saying it is to “wean” counties like Meigs off of the MHIC Sales Tax funding.

“We’ll get a bandaid on it for a few years,” Commissioner Smith said of the proposal.

Commissioner Randy Smith introduces Rep. Jay Edwards as Rep. Ryan Smith looks on at the public forum. Photo by Carrie Gloeckner.

Gov. Kasich’s budget includes adding to the sales tax to cover the state’s loss and other fees to be assessed on various funds throughout the state. It also allows for a fee to be assessed that will according to Rep. Ryan, “The fee will just make the state whole with their tax loss.”

The loss of MHIC Sales Tax will hit the counties hardest with those having higher enrollment in Medicaid. Gov. Kasich has been critical of counties which are “poorer” that have higher Medicaid enrollment and have benefited from the MHIC Sales Tax.

“We’re going to have a program that will wean you off this based on your ability to absorb some of this loss,” Gov. Kasich has said. Gov. Kasich has been critical of areas like Meigs and Vinton Counties for using the MHIC Sales Tax revenue.

“Do you know how many governments did run their budgets on that, thinking it was going to go on forever? You can’t run things like that, folks,” Gov. Kasich said during an event mainly focused on recognizing Ohio’s financial success.

Gov. Kasich’s representative, Kathleen Young, attended the meeting. While she did not publicly address the forum, she did listen and spoke with several individuals after the meeting.

The current loss numbers are for 2017. They do not reflect the loss for 2018 which is expected to be much higher.

The Meigs County Commissioners are urging area residents to contact state officials and make their voice heard by using the #localgovernmentsunite on social media and contact the various legislative office holders. According to Commissioner Smith, this is the first step to making voices heard on budget cuts.

Contact information includes:
Mailing Address
Governor John Kasich
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117
Phone: (614) 466-3555

Lt. Governor Mary Taylor
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117

Contact may also be made via the website for Gov. Kasich at http://Www.governor.ohio.gov/Contact/ContacttheGovernor.aspx

A full listing of all the State Representatives can be found at http://www.ohiohouse.gov

A full listing of all State Senators can be found at http://www.ohiosenate.gov/index