Here are the biggest challenges and projects for Butler County in 2018

Butler County faces some real and potential challenges from the state and federal governments in 2018, but there will be bright spots as well with innovative help for challenged job seekers, a major push against the opiate epidemic and the Monument museum reopening.

The biggest, certain challenge Butler County faces this year is a new state edict that prohibits judges from sending low-level felony Class 5 offenders to prison, leaving solutions and funding at the local level. The law takes effect in July, and until then officials won’t know the true impact.

The law was passed to promote counseling rather than incarceration, but the toll could be heavy here if the sheriff has to house more inmates in the jail and the courts must keep track of many more on probation.

RELATED: New prison law could cost Butler County $4 million

Common Pleas Court Administrator Wayne Gilkison told the Journal-News last year when the law was passed as part of the state’s biennial budget there were an estimated 197 prison inmates who under this new legislation would have been sentenced to the Butler County Jail, as opposed to prison. Those people, along with about 250 potential probation violators, and any new eligible felony Class 5 offenders could cost the county $2.7 million to $3.8 million.

County Administrator Charlie Young said the sheriff and courts have been working on solutions to the problem, but no matter what that might be, it’s going to have a financial effect.

“We are guessing to some extent, but we also know we are going to have to look at other ways to deal with them, and our courts and our sheriff have been looking at developing methods for community control…,” Young said. “There are a variety of things that could potentially ease the burden on our jails. But of course all of these alternate-type programs require funding.”

Another unknown is the fate of Medicaid expansion in the wake of sweeping changes at the federal level. Medicaid is the bread and butter for the social services agencies in the county. Children Services has been able to expand some services, like the successful Family Preservation program, using Medicaid dollars. Many more people have received help with addictions since the benefit was expanded to include a broader population. And Job and Family Services is using more Medicaid dollars on mental health and addiction problems that are barriers to employment.

“Whether and how long the Medicaid expansion will remain in effect could have a profound effect,” Young said.

One major initiative — the war on the opiate epidemic — is taking on new life, despite the Medicaid issues. Late last year, the county prosecutor determined that since addiction is a mental health issue, levy funds that fuel the mental health side of the Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board can be used across the agency. Previously, levy funds were determined to be ineligible for addiction services.

MORE: Plan attacks heroin epidemic with $3.6 million

MHRS Executive Director Scott Rasmus said they have committed $500,000 for the remainder of this fiscal year to their $3.6 million Opiate Business Plan. Another $1.25 million will be applied when the new fiscal year starts in July, and $2 million more will be added the following fiscal year.

The initial push will be for new mental health and addiction programming at the jail — Medicaid benefits are suspended when someone is incarcerated — and prevention education in the schools.

“Those couple of things are on our radar right now,” Rasmus said. “Obviously as we move forward we are going to expand.”

Another positive for the county this year is the push by JFS to enhance its efforts to help people break down barriers to employment. The commissioners recently approved a package of six contracts with five local providers totalling $654,655 annually for the first of three years.

The new JFS programs will offer substance abuse and mental health counseling but also employment preparation programs to identify and help bring down barriers to employment. Two contracts were awarded to Supports to Encourage Low-Income Families (SELF) for their “Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World” and JOBS NOW programs, which offer life lessons and help with interview skills, resume writing, job searching online and “what to wear” for an interview tips, among other things. A new program will also be located in Middletown, part of the effort to bring services closer to home for residents throughout the county.

“The idea of having multiple service providers, some of which provide similar services, is so that people have a choice and also so we can individualize those programs for people to address whatever those barriers are,” Assistant JFS Director Shannon Glendon said. “The primary outcome that we’re looking at for all these service providers is connecting people to meaningful employment that pays a livable wage.”

In the world of development, officials said they have some projects in the pipeline that are confidential, but include both commercial and housing developments. David Fehr, director of development, said the county has two potential projects at the regional airport that are exciting. They continue to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to get approval for a drone school in conjunction with Butler Tech and are in negotiations to bring a new charter service for corporate flyers.

MORE: What a drone school at the Butler County airport could look like

“This will be a jet service, a lot of companies don’t own planes anymore but they do like having private planes and being able to park in our parking lot and walk about 20 yards and get on a plane and not have to deal with TSA…,” Fehr said. “Lunken’s not bad, but if you live up in Mason and West Chester, our airport is obviously a lot more attractive.”

Also new for 2018 will be reopening the Soldiers Sailors and Pioneers Monument museum to the public. The county and the Hamilton Community Foundation spent almost $500,000 restoring the 112-year-old icon. It has been closed for about two and a half years during the project, but Young said the Foundation has agreed to pay for a curator from the Butler County Historical Society to manage the museum. Hours of operation and the opening day are to be determined.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said positive things continue to happen in the county, and as for those pressures beyond their control, those will be addressed when they come.

“We have excellent communications and relationships with our legislators and also with the CCAO (County Commissioners Association of Ohio), so we’re going to try and stay on top of it,” Rogers said. “Whatever influence we have, we’ll use to make sure Butler County comes out fairly.”

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