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The Suburbanite
  • Schuring sponsors bill to address local government fund cuts

  • State Rep. Kirk Schuring has introduced legislation that would give cities, townships and counties a chance to get back some of the money they lost when the state cut Local Government funding in half.

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  • State Rep. Kirk Schuring introduced a bill Tuesday that would set up a $200 million state grant program to help cities, villages, townships and counties avoid cutting services due to the loss of half of their state local government funding the past two years.
    “It’s designed to provide local government with the dollars they need to bridge the gap,” said Schuring, R-Jackson Township.
    House Bill 115 would establish several conditions for grant applicants to get money from Schuring’s proposed “Local Government Bridge Fund.” Starting in 2014:
    n Local governments could apply for an amount of money not to exceed how much they lost in local government funding from July 2011 to this June.
    n The local government has to demonstrate that if it doesn’t get the grant it would have to cut services to its residents after July.
    n The growth in the local government’s budget has to have not exceeded the growth of its population or it has to provide a written reason why its budget increased faster than population.
    n The local government has to submit a 2-year plan that would detail how it would balance its budget by increasing how efficiently it operates or collaborating more with other subdivisions to save money. The applicant would have to submit proposed changes to state law needed to achieve the savings.
    TIMELINE
    The Ohio Office of Budget and Management would administer the one-time grants, issue rules for the program by Sept. 30 and vet the applications, which would be due by Oct. 31. The money would be disbursed by January. OBM could authorize the state auditor do a performance audit of the applicant at the applicant’s expense to ensure it effectively used the grant money.
    The fund, which would receive $200 million from the state’s general fund, would provide temporary stopgap funding to help local governments fill budget gaps. It’s not a fund set up to pay for physical bridges.
    Schuring said he’s discussed the bill with House Finance Committee Chairman Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, but Amstutz has not committed to appropriating the $200 million. Schuring said the state surplus will far exceed that amount.
    “I’m cautiously optimistic I can get (the bill) through,” he said, adding that some local government officials reacted positively when he briefed them on the bill.
    Schuring said if the bill becomes law, it could facilitate more local governments pooling their purchasing with each other, consolidated dispatching and mergers of government agencies such as health departments.
    He said HB 115 would provide significantly more funding for these efforts than a competitive grant program in the last state budget.
    “This takes it to a whole different level,” he said.
    With Amstutz’s committee expected later this month to unveil its proposed state budget with or without the $200 million, Schuring indicated that due to a “timing issue” he had to introduce the bill before he had a chance to send out a request for co-sponsors.
    Page 2 of 2 - State Rep. Stephen Slesnick, D-Canton, said in a text message he supports the bill and would have co-sponsored it if he had gotten a request.
    DEMS NOT EXCITED
    Schuring and Slesnick met with several Canton officials including Council President Allen Schulman Thursday at Canton City Hall to discuss the bill.
    Schulman said he appreciates Schuring’s efforts to secure what funding he can for cities, but he said the bill is insufficient to meet Canton’s needs.
    “Cities all over Ohio have tightened their belts,” said Schulman, a Democrat. “There’s not a whole lot more that we can do short of imposing higher taxes and fees and water and sewer rates on our electorate, and that’s not fair when the state of Ohio has $2.5 billion (in surplus). ... the problem with Rep. Schuring’s bill is that policemen are hired for long-term employment, not one-year employment. We need to hire safety forces long term. This does nothing to address it. Nor does it do anything to address crumbling infrastructure.”
    Schulman said he told Schuring that he could improve the bill by allowing cities that have already improved their efficiency and cut costs to qualify for the grants.
    Randy Gonzalez, the Jackson Township fiscal officer, Stark Council of Governments Governance Committee chairman and Stark Democratic chairman, said the money could help. SCOG, which relies nearly entirely on local government funding, could use the grant to consolidate dispatching centers, pay for equipment so fire departments operate on one frequency, operate the Stark County Crime Lab and revive the county’s metro narcotics law enforcement unit.
    However, Jackson Township trustees are seeking voters’ approval of a parks levy this May because their Parks Department was heavily dependent on money from the estate tax, which the legislature repealed. The grant program would do little to address this or to address sharply lower property tax revenues, Gonzales said.
    “It’s only going to be a stopgap measure until people can get more property tax,” he said. “We’re already doing those collaborative efforts and (the state) took the funding away from them.”
    Reach Robert at 330-580-8327 or robert.wang@cantonrep.com
    On Twitter: @rwangREP