Tuesday, January 22, 2013



Zantene & Locker
Stark County Fair Board

Green & Parramore
Stark County  Board of Developmental Disabilities

One of the more impressive things about the current Stark County Board of commissioners is their willingness to dig in on presentations made to them for their action on this thing or that thing.

The SCPR has been following the board closely for nearly five years now and can say without equivocation that the current one composed of Tom Bernabei, Janet Creighton and Richard Regula (on whom, individually, the jury is still out on in that he just took office this month) may be the best at vetting whomever comes before them with a request for action.

But let's just pause a moment and back off from any suggestion that the collection of Bernabei, Creighton and Regula (a former commissioner:  2003 through the end of 2006) is a nearing a state of perfection.

Far from it.

For instance, it still rankles yours truly the way the commissioners treated the Stark County Dog Pound Advisory Board (SCDPAB).

As far as The Report can determine, the treatment has to do with:
  1. that the SCDPAB was apparently the brainchild of former commissioner Todd Bosley seemingly done to bring him political support of those Stark Countians for whom the care of canines is a top priority, and
  2. the lack of statutory authority (according to Commissioner Creighton) for creation of the advisory board in the first place.
Either way, the SCPR maintains that the good folks who agreed to serve on the Bosley initiated board deserve better treatment than they are receiving from the current body of commissioners, that is, except Regula, as he has not weighed in on the matter being in office for about three weeks now.

As far as The Report knows, the SCDPAB with just a few remaining members has not been officially shut done.  

They had nothing to do with Bosley's action and, accordingly, deserve better treatment than they are receiving from Bernabei and Creighton.

And there are other instances where the commissioners (again, excluding Regula, because he wasn't a commissioner) have come up short, but by and large they are dramatically improved over previous editions.

Back to the board's virtue of doing a relatively better job of questioning those who appear before them asking for Stark County taxpayer dollars.

While it can be excruciatingly painful to sit through budget hearings for their inherent boredom, three have occurred this cycle which have implanted a tinge of drama to them.

First, of course, which the SCPR has already written about had to do with Prosecutor John Ferrero's sort of (in the opinion of The Report) "in your face" presentation.  And this Ferrero caper was not the the first for him.  His pugnacious bearing was all too present at last year's budget hearings.

The commissioners have made it clear to all Stark departments of government which get general fund dollars that the expectation is that they are to come in with budget requests somewhere between current funding and 2010 funding and to project a 2% increase since county employees have not had an increase for a number of years.

So what does Ferrero, the non-team-player do?  You've got it!  He comes in with 2010 budget and and he projected a 3% raise.

Little bit of a disconnect here, no?  He expects others to play by the rules, but apparently his office is exempt?

Second, you have the Stark County Fair Board ([SCFB], also referred herein as being the "Fair Board" but which is formally titled as being the Stark County Agricultural Society).

The SCFB was represented at the commissioner hearings by President Darrell Zantene and Treasurer William Locker.

A main message:  the facilities at the county fairgrounds are deteriorating rapidly.   While no one said that the facilities (especially the grandstand - built in 1934) are at the "unsafe" level, it appears to The Report that such is where the grandstand is heading unless something is done and done within the next few years.

The Fair Board is at the point that they think have pared their budget (about $1 million annual) and that they are desperately seeking ways and means to increase income, reduce expenditures and find capital resources to make building/grounds repairs.

Some of the things they have done include:
  • getting into using the fair grounds for boat storage,
  • building a reserve (i.e. increased the fair ticket price by $1 with with 20 cents of each dollar going to a capital reserve fund and 80 cents going to operating expenses), but the the board has had to use some of the 20 cents to keep the fair going,
  • trying to attract new events,
  • trying to find lower costs for the rides portion of the fair but have been stymied because of the limited number of ride companies available to bid on providing rides,
  • looking at raising fees for use of fair grounds which is not in the cards because of competition from other Stark County-based facilities,
  • applying for grants but have been unsuccessful because they do not fit within the qualifying factors of grantors,
  • building a sponsorship program whereby area organizations and businesses pay to sponsor certain buildings, and
  • making some attempt to get agriculture devotees to make voluntary capital contributions
Some of the reductions in income have to do with:
  • slowed down by "trending down" fair attendance owing to competing forms of entertainment occurring during the same timeframe as the fair,
  • the loss of "mom and pop" members who cannot afford increasing fees to be at the fair,
  • the cost of entertainment (big name) is, according Treasurer William Locker, "is getting completely out of line" in that it is currently about 1/3rd the fair's annual income,
  • the harness racing business being on the decline,
  • the fair experiencing "a rainy day" which Locker says cripples the income factor,
  • increasing utility expenses despite completely shutting down the electric and gas when it is prudent to do so,
The folks who staff the SCFB are really nice folks with the best of intentions, but it seems obvious that previous boards and administrations have not properly maintained the fair's physical plant and now it is likely that we are likely to be going to hear a clamor for the commissioners to put massive amounts of taxpayer money in the getting the buildings and whatnot up to minimally acceptable standards.

One glaring deficiency of the Fair Board pointed out by Commissioner Creighton is the age the those serving on the board.

Her implied suggestion?

Maybe some youth and vigor on the board would inject visionary thinking that just might be the salvation of the fair going forward, no?

Take a look at its request made of the Stark County commissioners:  asking for $414,900 in 2013.  Hmm?

For 2012, the Fair Board received about 8.5% of it request from the commissioners.

Let's say that this year the commissioners get real generous and give it 20% of its request.  The SCFB gets about $83,000. How much more does it have to raise to get its house in order?  About $332,000.  Hmm?

So why should the commissioner throw good money after bad?

County administration assistant Rick Flory shared with the commissioners on Commissioner Bernabei inquiry the amounts which Stark County taxpayers have subsidized the fair with, to wit:
  • $2,800 (2012),
  • $22,500 (2011),
  • $22,500 (2010),
  • $22,500 (2009),
  • $134,500 (2008)
This is a budget item to watch for everyday Stark Countians to begin to understand how well the commissioners are doing a stewards of the taxpayers money, no?

Here is a video summary of the discussion that took place between Fair Board president Darrell Zantene and its treasurer William Locker.

Finally, item number three being pondered by the commissioners.

Whether or not to allow the Stark County Developmental Disability Board (SCDD) to put a levy on in May of this year?

Here is what SCDD wants to do:  (from its fact sheet)
The Stark County Board of Developmental Disabilities has a 1.9 mil renewal with a 1.4 mil additional levy request on the May 7, 2013, ballot. The levy will benefit children and adults in Stark County who have developmental disabilities. This levy maintains the same millage that is in place and will result in NO NEW TAXES. The 1.9 mil renewal request renews a levy that expires in 2013, while the 1.4 additional includes the same 1.4 mil levy that expires in 2014. This eliminates the need to be on the ballot in both 2013 and 2014. The good news for the taxpayer - NO NEW TAXES
After the restructuring of the levies, SCDD (currently have 5 levies in place for 6.8 mills) reduces to 4 levies but maintains the 6.8 mills.

On the surface of the proposal, it seems as if this is a win/win for the SCDD and for Stark taxpayers.

It especially appears so when one considers this statement from SCDD's superintendent Bill Green, to wit:
From current calculations, it is our understanding that combining the two expiring levies will result in lower tax revenues because of the property revaluation that Stark County just went through.    Regardless, if we requested two separate renewals or not, we will be receiving $1.1 million less than what we collect now with the same millage.
But there is a catch that caught the ear of Commissioner Creighton during SCDD's presentation.


Yes.  In the conversation between the commissioners and SCDD officials is the fact coming out that SCDD is carrying over some $32 million into 2013 against an annual budget of approximately $50 million.

Well, the obvious question that voters would be asking is this:  how is it that a agency that is carrying over about 60% of its annual budget needs to renew its levies (2013 - 1.4 mill; 2014 - 1.9 mill) for 10 years.

SCDD answer?

(Paraphrase)  "We're being prudent in looking down the road so as to prevent a financial crisis in the near term."  And, according to Superintendent Green that $1.1 less combined with other revenue losses [the state of Ohio including the Department of Education) means that going forward the SCDD is looking at 10 year life of the combined levy to offset about $7.2 million in the space of about two years (i.e. by the end of 2015) in total losses from the current budget level of $50 million.

Other points emphasized by Green to the commissioners include:
  • that the SCDD is trying to change it business model,
  • that the SCDD is only sustainable to 2017 with the status quo,
  • getting SCDD customers out of segregated environment to the degree they exist,
  • changing the SCDD's role from primarily being a provider of services to being a funder of services and thereby leverage more services for the retarded, developmentally disabled and intellectually disable,
  • converting the SCDD from being a reactive organization into being a proactive one witness the plan to restructure long term funding of the agency,
  • making the business model into one that is sustainable
It is surely rare that any government department or agency looks long term.  So the SCDD deserves plaudits for doing so.

But are the times such that the commissioners and ultimately the voters will be willing to allow such a strategy to become reality?

The commissioners did ask incisive questions of Green and yours truly followed up after the meeting with additional questions.

First, the SCPR video of the exchange between Green and the commissioners:

Second, after the commissioners' meeting Green's interview with The Report:

There are two things that stand out about the SCDD's whole process.

Number one, again, is the forward thinking going on at SCDD.

Number two is that the Stark County commissioners are not being a rubber stamp. 

Stark Countians should take heart that their county commissioners are asking pointed questions of the fellow county officials who are coming before them with their budget requests.

The Report believes that the commissioners' asking of meaningful questions is different from previous boards.

Yours truly's take on the prior boards is that the fellow county officials were their friends and therefore the commissioners merely went through the motions in their questioning.

The current board is much improved in this regard!

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