Initially, the SCPR was told late last week that the Veterans Service Commission would get its requested allocation from the Stark County commissioners. Now there seems to be a different story. The Report that county budget administrators Mike Hanke and Rick Flory are recommending that the Veterans Service Commission take a $60,000 to $80,000 hit on its 2010 request.
It was two years ago that a similar situation unfolded. Only through the efforts of Commissioner Todd Bosley did the commissioners avoid getting sued by the Stark Veterans Service Commission (SVSC). By law (both statutory - ORC Chapter 5901 and Supreme Court case law), the SVSC is entitled to the property tax 0.50 of a percent which produces about $3.5 million a year. In 2008, Bosley got the Veterans to agree not to sue for additional money on the promise that the Board of Commissioners make up the 2008 denial in 2009.
The commissioners made good on their promise on March 5, 2009 by approving a SVSC increase of $364,266 over the 2008 budgeted monies. However, Commissioner Pete Ferguson did say at the approval meeting that he was troubled by the increase because it included pay raises for SVSC employees (which are 12 in number) of 3% to 5% depending on whose (the SVSC or the commissioners) figures one accepts as being the accurate number.
In absolute numbers, the raises amounted to $9,000.
Today, Executive Director Bob Toth told the SCPR that the SVSC is asking for $1.45 million which is about $2 million less than it could ask for. The Report's take on Toth is that he is more than annoyed at the cut that Hanke and Flory are recommending.
Toth said that he and his Board are not in any mood to be shorted on the SVSC 2010 request. He promises that he will sue if the full requested amount is not granted by the commissioners.
Toth pointed out to The Report that over ten years the Stark Veterans Service Commission returned in the neighborhood of $1 million to the Stark County general fund. He said that in an e-mail to County Administrator Mike Hanke: "What other Stark County government agency had returned money to the county general fund?" Hanke's response? No response!
If the SVSC sues, Director Toth says there will be no turning back. The Veterans will want the entire $3.5 million. However, if the courts award the entire amount, he says that any monies not used by the SVSC will be returned to the county.
Commissioner Todd Bosley is solidly behind the SVSC and will vote to grant the entire $1.45 million. Commissioners Ferguson and the newly appointed Steve Meeks might be another story. As related above, Ferguson may balk at the request as he did last year over a pay increase in the SVSC budget. But this year, Toth says, while pay increases for SVSC staff are budgeted, he does not see the Board actually voting for increases.
Where is Commissioner Meeks on this budget issue?
It will depend on how he gauges the politics of the situation. He has an uphill battle on his hands to keep his job as commissioner. He will be up against former Stark County recorder, auditor and mayor of Canton - Republican Janet Creighton.
There are about 45,000 or so veterans in Stark County.
If Meeks was to vote no on the SVSC request, you can be sure that the word will be circulated among Stark vets not to vote for Steve Meeks. If it turns out that Ferguson were to join Meeks in a no vote, then Toth promises that a lawsuit will be initiated.
With a lawsuit in full swing, there would be a steady flow of ink from area media reminding voters of the anti-veterans vote. One wouldn't think that Meeks would want to have to face such a prospect.
But stranger things have happened.
So tomorrow's Stark County commissioners meeting could be a sight to behold.
Stay tuned folks!!!