Ballfield brawl, budget woes, courthouse hours top topics at elected officials meeting
By RANDA WAGNER –
Monday’s Elected Officials meeting was well attended and had a lively and long discussion over budgets, contracts, courthouse and a weekend incident in Sparta.
Morrow County Sheriff Steve Brenneman reported he was notified Saturday of a ’30-person brawl’ at the Highland ballpark during an adult softball tournament. Every available officer in the county responded to the incident, he said, and Morrow County EMS was dispatched because one person had been ‘choked to the point of unconsciousness.”
When officers arrived, the crowd was dispersing, but vehicle descriptions and plate numbers were recorded. It was Brenneman’s understanding the tournament was cancelled.
Prosecutor Charles Howland reported his office is frustrated in their efforts to make contact with the EPA over the HPM site but they will keep pursuing the issue. When asked about the KOA campground property on State Route 95 that failed to sell at the last auction, Howland said the property would be forfeited to the auditor (becoming the county’s property) and it would be listed for sale the same way private property would be sold. After four efforts to sell it at two-thirds of its appraised value, Howland believes prospective buyers are waiting for a ‘fire sale’ that he doesn’t think would be in the county’s best interest (due to its location near I-71).
“I thought at $200,000 it was a great price, but no one came up with the money,” Howland said.
Clerk of Courts Vanessa Mills said there were a number of interested parties, but the problem was the banks were not offering loans on that property because of the federal liens and condition of the property.
“All liens would be clear if they bought it,” said Tom Harden.
“There’s somebody out there who will think $250,000 or whatever we offer it for property next to an interchange is a heck of a buy,” said Howland. “I don’t want to reappraise it – there’s no reason to do that. I don’t want to give it away.”
Common Pleas Court Judge Howard Hall said the courts are as busy as ever and the hope is to get the new courtroom finished as soon as possible.
“Judge Hickson has been on the bench five and a half years and still doesn’t have adequate facilities,” Hall said. “The budget is always an issue and we’re trying to work with the commissioners on that.”
“The carpenters said they have two or three more days of work,” Commissioner Olen Jackson said. The painters will be back to finish painting and it should move more rapidly now. They’re putting light fixtures up and flooring in. Hopefully it will be done by the end of the month.”
Municipal Court Judge Lee McClelland said muny court has a lot going on. The court administrator moved on to another job and a new employee has been hired.
“Most of our time and effort right now is in ‘computerizing’ the court,” McClelland said. “This means not only scanning current documents but going back and doing older documents.”
Muny court is also implementing a program to automate jury selection, rotation and documentation. The first test of the system was to be Tuesday, Aug. 7 and it should eliminate a lot of work employees had to do manually in the past. A program to handle the electronic filing of traffic citations would probably be the next project, McClelland said. Those cited can pay online to avoid a court appearance, if they choose to do so. Case loads are up at this time, he noted.
Sheriff Brenneman said his new cruisers should be in at any time now. Mt. Gilead has received theirs. The MARCS radio mobile units and accessories are in and are being programmed. They will be going in the new vehicles when they arrive.
The number of ICE detainees at the jail is down to 40 out of 86 inmates at this time, Brenneman said. Those 40 would probably be shipping out Aug. 7, but he said ICE officials are wanting to increase the Morrow County Correctional Facility’s number of detainees and make this location a ‘hub,’ of sorts, for these detainees.
“If we do that, though, it means we have to ship our females out,” he said, “We can’t house females, which means paying for their housing. We’re trying to work out a deal with inmate ‘trades.”
Brenneman also reported the jail is going to electronic monitoring for work-release inmates. He said the monitors work quite well and they may be using them for other purposes as well.
Brenneman asked about the status of the sheriff’s office parking lot project in which the lot is to be repaved, sealed and striped. It was his understanding grant monies earmarked for the project had been transferred to help with another project in Cardington.
“The bid came in for less than [Pat Davies] set aside for the project,” Commissioner Tom Harden responded.
“But the project isn’t done, and you know how ‘overruns’ go,” Brenneman said.
“But that’s a guaranteed set amount they’re going to do it for,” Harden said. “That includes the striping and the sealing.”
“But you know how bids and contracts go,” Brenneman said. “Why not wait until after the project is done and see what’s left, then transfer it?”
“CDBG money has a lot of strings attached to it with the federal government,” Jackson said. “Once you’ve put down “X” number of dollars for that project, she explained to us what it would take to change that. I asked her to use the money for curbing and some additional things, and that wasn’t approved. We were assured there was enough money to do the project at the jail.”
Jackson said the commissioners would sit down and go over it again with the sheriff’s office.
On another note, he also said Verizon informed him that Mt. Gilead, Chesterville, Marengo and I-71 near Waterford are now ‘4G’ areas (a 4G system provides mobile ultra-broadband Internet access).
County Engineer Randy Bush said the questions his office gets most often is when work on the CR 9 bridge will start. They are working with the OPWC to get the notice to proceed. U.S. bridge will start the demolition when that notice comes in. The engineer’s office is hoping to complete the project by November. There is an issue with the electric line runs along one side and a crane can’t be used in the area as it is – the line will have to be moved.
Bush also reported a hailstorm last year damaged the rubberized roof on the county garage and an initial appeal to CORSA for financial assistance was rejected for a number of reasons. CORSA finally allowed for $65,000 (toward a $110,000) for a new roof. Bush is hoping to get a Dura-Last roofing system through a state-approved contract.
Recorder Dixie Shinaberry said things are picking up at her office though no new oil and gas leases have come in yet. She would like to see her office go back to being open five days a week.
Olen Jackson said he had been going over the budget and he doesn’t see the county reaching certification (all anticipated sources of income coming in) until sometime in December.
“The sales tax is running a bit ahead but not far enough ahead to cover everything that’s running behind,” he explained. “Conveyance fees are way behind; about the only thing that’s running according to schedule are municipal court fees, but not enough to carry other things. The investment income is just absolutely killing us.”
“Property taxes are up a little,” said Treasurer Dan Green, “but not enough. But when it gets down to the county share, it’s minimal. Latest thing is some of our state people want to start cutting local government funds by whatever we get from the casinos. So we don’t gain anything there. We aren’t getting another casino payment until October.”
Jackson said though the last check from that source was about $30,000, the county is behind $270,000 on Children’s Services expenses alone.
“The bill has been introduced to change the formula for the local government fund,” Jackson explained, “and the formula is being changed because the gentleman who wrote the bill feels sorry for the townships and municipalities — because we’re getting casino money and they’re not getting anything, so he feels this would balance them out.”
This would mean another reduction in the local government fund.
The sheriff asked if any money was being saved by closing county offices on Friday. Harden and Jackson said the only significant savings was through utilities by having the Community Services building closed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“Can we go back to having those other offices open in Fridays?” asked Brenneman. “It causes us problems when certain offices aren’t open and we’re doing business.
Dixie Shinaberry said her office and the treasurer’s office made employee cuts and closed on Fridays.
“The rest of them went to four ten-hour days and that’s not saving money,” she said. “Plus they gave raises and bonuses. So how’s that helping Dan and I to get our offices opened back up when there’s raises and bonuses being given out of the other offices?”
“But is it being taken out of the general fund?” asked Vanessa Mills.
“It does not matter what it’s being taken out of!” responded Shinaberry. “It’s still taxpayer’s money! That’s what people don’t understand! It’s taxpayer’s money! They’re abusing it no matter which way you look at it.”
“One of the things we said all along was the only county that’s chosen to do anything about it is Cuyahoga County,” Jackson said. “How many times have you heard me say local government cannot continue to exist the way we are right now because it’s up to every elected official to spend their budget. How they spend it and the money they have right now is their responsibility.”
Harden said Marion County is proposing to raise their sales tax another half percent, but Morrow County is at their maximum limit on sales tax. He related stories of other locations in dire financial straits and how every community has its problems.
“We put five levies on for the upcoming election in November,” Harden said. “I think there’s two emergency school levies being voted on tomorrow.”
“We all know how that’s going to go out,” Mills said. She asked Brenneman which closed offices were affecting his operations. He responded sometimes it was the auditor’s, recorder’s and others.
Dan Green said to open on Fridays would increase his costs by 25 percent. “We were down to four days a week, six hours a day when the problem first hit,” he said. “We finally got back to eight hours a day. We’re down to bare bones and I’m glad just to keep our heads above water. “
Harden said he’s never heard anyone complain the courthouse isn’t open on Friday, and that people like it because it’s open a bit longer Monday through Friday.
“There’s at least ten people complaining every Friday to us,” said Vanessa Mills. “If there’s any way that we can supplement or take in what they’re asking for, we’d do it.”
Harden maintained the commissioners have not received complaints and everyone should be able to get their business done Monday through Friday during those ten hours.
Glenda Wilson asked if the four-day a week arrangement was originally the commissioners idea.
“Not really,” Jackson responded. “We met with the state auditor’s office after an audit, and we had to show them what each office was doing to reduce spending. We made the decision on the community services building, but each elected official was told to do what they had to do to operate within their budget.”
“Did you cut your staff, or are you still on 40 hours?” Wilson asked.
“We’re still on 40,” Jackson said.
“Which says you could open back up to five eight-hour days and do the exact same you used to without any changes as to what you’re doing now?” Wilson responded.
“We’re just donating our savings,” said Jackson.
“Well, I still know a lot of people were waiting to follow your lead,” Wilson said. “If you’re not going to show any difference…”
With that, Jackson ended the meeting.