Saturday, March 26, 2011


It appears that Stark County government is at the beginning of full blown fiscal crisis because of the voters' rejection (in November, 2009) of retaining a 0.50 sales tax imposed by former Stark County Commissioners Todd Bosley, Tom Harmon and Jane Vignos in December, 2008.

Moreover, because of a "public perception" crisis of confidence in county government brought on by the revelation in April, 2009 of the theft of  $2.96 million (in the opinion of federal judge John Adams) by former Stark County treasury Chief Deputy Vince Frustaci (even though neither the treasurer nor any other county official was involved in the theft); county commissioners feel that it would be futile to put a 0.25 renewal sales tax issue on in May of this year.

Accordingly, commissioners have been reaching out to the Stark Countians to rebuild public trust in county government before ascertaining whether or not county voters are open to considering voting for a renewal or a replacement thereof.

The following are several among an impressive list of activities take by the commissioners, to wit:
  • leaning on county elected officials and department heads to examine every nuance of the operations of their respective departments in order to uncover areas which could result in savings of county tax dollars.  Commissioners asked for and pretty much achieved a 16% across-the-board reduction in the FY 2011 county budget
  • holding work sessions at the county office building (commissioners meeting room - open to the public, of course) on Mondays and Tuesdays of each week and bringing in elected officials and department heads to go over in excruciating detail the specifics of their operations in the belief that another set of eyes and and concomitant inquiry might produce new efficiencies in the operations of the various aspects of county government
  • looking at ways to consolidate/merge government operations (e.g. county and municipal building departments) as a service of convenience and efficiencies to county residents who are building new homes/business buildings or making modifications/additions to their current structures
  • going out into the Stark County community-at-large to each and every part of Stark County and holding town hall type meetings and taking and responding to any and all questions asked .
  • taking direct phone calls from Stark County citizens at their offices
  • making field trips to county facilities to check first hand on county department of government operations
Whether or not the commissioners end up putting a tax issue on the Stark County ballot, their trust- building actions need to continue.

There has been an interesting development that it appears commissioners are interested it.  Civic activist and local attorney Craig T. Conley sent a letter to commissioners pointing out to them that the Stark County treasury has a "delinquent taxpayer list" which indicates that Stark is owed over $40 million dollars.  Additionally, he offered his services - pro bono publico (for the public good, in other words, "free") - to put together an effort of like-minded Stark County attorneys to collect a large portion of the outstanding $40 million plus.

The entire letter is reproduced at the end of this blog.

In speaking with Conley, he pointed out to The Report that if his idea can work it offers the prospect (his opinion) of negating the need to have a renewal/replacement levy.  And he is bullish on a "spill-over" effect in which the collection of any part of the $40 million will inure to the benefit of political subdivisions which includes:  villages, cities, townships [fire, police and road levies], park districts, water districts, sewer districts, school districts and even the county.

Commissioners Creighton and Bernabei tell the SCPR that they are interested in Conley's proposal and will be investigating whether or not his proposal or any part thereof is doable.  In the next week or so they will be sitting down with Conley to work out the details of implementing his plan.

So is current Stark County Treasurer Alex Zumbar.  He tells the SCPR that there are more than 18,000 delinquent parcels.  While the county treasury does have a program in place in coordination with the Stark County prosecutor's office (Prosecutor John Anthony) whereby they collect about $10 million a year, it is usually a wash because about $10 million, sometimes a little more; sometimes a little less, new delinquencies are added each year.

Zumbar is pleased with the prosecutor's office effort but understands that the office is in no position to expand its effort so that over time the county can accelerate collection and achieve significant net reductions in the overall $40 million plus that is owing to Stark County taxpayers.  Recently, the prosecutor's office has had a reduction in force due to the need by all county offices to achieve a 16% reduction in annual operating expenses.

The SCPR is pleased to see citizens like Conley step forward and present viable ideas that have the potential to make a profound contribution to solving county revenue needs for the immediate future (let's say the next two to four years - an SCPR estimate).  To repeat, as a "spill-over," it could also help alleviate the effect of coming state of Ohio cuts to Stark County's political subdivisions.

Needless to say, county officials should have been pursuing these revenues long before Conley entered the picture with his idea.

Another question the SCPR has been assured by Commissioner Janet Creighton is being looked into is to why Clerk of Courts Nancy Reinbold cannot put a dollar amount on Stark County Common Pleas fees, fines, et cetera that are owed to Stark County taxpayers.

The Report will, on an ongoing, persistent basis,  push the commissioners and Reinbold to get a fix on the amount owed and, beyond that, to develop a plan a la Conley's to bring these revenues into county government to help obviate the need for renewed or replacement levies.

Here is the Conley letter.

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