Butler County commissioners have two messages they wanted to deliver to Ohio’s top political leaders: regarding money, “leave us alone,” and regarding a drug epidemic, “give us an ability to be creative.”
Every few years, leaders of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio meet directly with commissioners and local state legislators to hear concerns. It was Butler County’s turn this week at Bravo restaurant in West Chester Twp.
The number one issue this year is Gov. John Kasich’s “fix” for a federal mandate that erased Medicaid managed care sales tax on transit systems. For Butler County that means a $3.1 million permanent hole in the budget.
The opiate epidemic plaguing county jails and straining other services was a close second issue.
Kasich’s budget plan earmarked a $2.1 million “transitional” one-time payment to the county for the loss of tax revenue. Cheryl Subler, CCAO managing director of policy, told the three county commissioners, Sen. Bill Coley, State Rep. Candice Keller and a handful of county directors they are fighting for “parity” on this issue.
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“We agree. We are trying to help you communicate that to your lawmakers because we think what the administration has done is put forth a proposal that keeps the state whole on a permanent basis, but when it comes to counties and public transits, they are trying to transition you off an important revenue stream that is really hard for you to back-fill on a long-term basis,” Subler said.
She said the state has devised a scheme whereby it can collect fees instead of taxes on managed care, and it can keep all the money itself and solve its own budget hole the feds created.
“What we are advocating for on your behalf is parity,” she said.
The distribution of the transitional payments is also not equal among the 88 counties, with poorer counties receiving larger percentages of the $207 million allotment.
Subler said the governor is moving to a needs-based model that focuses on tax capacity where funding local governments is concerned. It looks to the individual county’s economic health and ability to raise taxes. She said CCAO opposes that move as well.
Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon sent a message to the governor on this point.
“The message I want to send to the governor is look, just leave us alone,” he said. “If you want to raise taxes, then raise taxes on your own signature, don’t shove it down the line to us and say ‘here, you have the ability to do it’ (raise taxes), after he has cut the budget in so many places nobody can survive.”
Another issue CCAO is tackling on behalf of its member counties is the opiate epidemic. John Leutz, legislative counsel for CCAO, said they have been working on a budget item that would fund a three-pronged attack centered on addicts and people with mental illnesses who end up at the jail.
He said the jailers aren’t equipped to deal with these issues. He said they want to open “triage centers” to deal with the person’s issues before they are jailed. They also are advocating direct counseling for inmates ready to leave the jail to keep them on their treatment programs and free psychotropic drugs to the counties for use in the jails. The price tag? About $32 million.
He said getting to the heart of and addressing needs like this upfront will mean a savings to the whole county system.
“If you think about it practically, right off the bat they don’t re-offend, so we don’t have the high cost of dealing with them another time, but you also have the cost of the human service delivery system in the county,” he said. “When that person goes to jail, they leave a family behind, and somebody probably has to care for them until they come back out. If we can keep that person in a good state, then they can get back in the workforce, and they are supporting their family and that helps reduce the cost of the social service delivery system.”
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said they don’t have all the answers here in the county, but they had been taking steps through JFS, Children Services, the courts and the community at large to try and find ways to not only end the epidemic but to mitigate the side effects on society.
She pointed to the program she spearheaded to make sure babies of addicts are born healthy. The nine-month program offers in- and out-patient treatment to get them clean, recovery housing and pathways to employment.
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Dixon said the state should look at what counties like Butler are doing.
“Give us an ability to be creative,” he said. “If they would give us a little more control to create things like that, I think we’d have a lot better outcome.”