Thursday, May 5, 2011


The Stark County commissioners have brought together the Stark County treasurer (Alex Zumbar), the Stark County auditor (Alan Harold) and Stark County prosecutor (John Ferrero) whereby they have formulated a plan to double the collection of delinquent real property taxes which now stands at about $40 million.

Prosecutor Ferrero has restructured his office to reassign a prosecutor from the juvenile section of the office to devote 40 hours a week to the DTAC (Delinquent Tax Assessment Collection) unit.  It appears that Ferrero will endeavor to fund the reallocation of office resources from the collections themselves, however, the commissioners have promised to add up to $31,000 to Ferrero's 2011 budget (first from DTAC funds) should the need arise.  Ferrero says the arrangement is only good for the rest of 2011 and that a new arrangement will have to be made for 2012 and years beyond.

However, Prosecutor Ferrero did make the point at the county officials' meeting with commissioners at this past Tuesday's work session that there is a limit on the number of new cases that the Stark County Court of Common Pleas (Court) can take on efficiently in light of the budgetary constraints and concomitantly the Court's ability - personnel wise - to handle a volume influx of cases.

The Report did check the Court situation out and learned that the problem would not be so much with the judges ability to handle an influx of cases, but with the Clerk of Courts office.  Clerk Reinbold has had to make cuts due to county budget cuts (16% this year) and therefore likely has limited ability to take on a surge of work. 

Stark County is experiencing a large reduction of tax revenues to county government due the November, 2009 repeal of the commissioner (Bosley, Harmon and Vignos) imposed 0.50 sales/use tax and the decision of the commissioners not to seek a timely renewal of 0.25 sales/use tax which expires next month.

The hope with the new plan is that the county can double or better the delinquent tax collections with the restructuring.

Commissioner Janet Creighton exacted from Treasurer Zumbar a promise to report back to commissioners on a quarterly basis on the progress that county officials are making in reducing the backlog.  Before the announcement of the "new" plan, Stark County was, at best, collecting enough of the tax arrears to stay at the approximate $40 million owed by Stark's delinquent taxpayers.

Watching the process is definitely in order from the standpoint of non-county recipients (township, school boards, park districts, sewer districts and the like) of these revenues inasmuch as Stark County itself receives very little of the collected revenues and therefore has little "to be incentive" for collected the past due taxes.  County Treasury Zumbar tells the SCPR that a recent collection of $10 million netted only $405,000 for the Stark County general fund.  So 95% of the collections go to other Stark County political subdivisions.

One has to wonder why townships, boards of education, police districts, fire districts, parks and the other affected entities do not form a coordinating body of their own to monitor the collections and even, perhaps, fund a position or two (with the prosecutor/clerk of courts) to increase the pace of collection. 

While the commissioners and the county official group of Zumbar, Harold and Ferrero are the focus of stepped up efforts to reduce the property tax arrearage owed, the Stark County Political Report credits local attorney and civic activist Craig Conley for getting this ball rolling.

Recently Conley sent commissioners a letter volunteering to spearhead an operation with volunteer attorneys to make significant inroads into the $40 million due and owing.  However, commissioners have not taken Conley up on his offer (although they have spoken to him)  Prosecutor Ferrero says in the accompanying video to this blog that he has not heard from the commissioners on the Conley letter but that he welcomes Conley's input.

Conley's involvement with the collection process in not likely to happen.  Pressure is being brought to bear by leading Stark County Republicans on him to run against Ferrero next year.  Conley is seriously considering the entreaty. 

Notwithstanding Ferrero's video statement regarding Conley's overature, the SCPR is told by sources in a position to know that the commissioners have, in fact, talked with Ferrero about the Conley offer.

What is in dispute for The Report is not so much whether or not a Ferrero/commissioners (Conley topic) occurred.  It is whether or not Ferrero said to one or more of them (this is a paraphrase:) "What?  You want me to have a man come in and work in my office who is going to run against me?

Commissioner Benenabei has denied ever hearing Ferrero make such statement. (Bernabei:  "I don't think I heard John Ferrero say that")

For public consumption (i.e. the video), John Ferrero is not about to say that Conley is persona non grata in the collection effort.

Who would realistically expect such.

Nonetheless, - irrespective of the political factor - the bottom line is that a strong, sustained effort must be made to collect this money.  And the Stark County Political Report will be pushing the process along each step of the way!

Here is the Ferrero video.

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