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County eyes state’s budget crisis

County commissioners will seek talks with Lawrence’s state legislators, urging their help in protecting the county’s budget.

Sunday, November 25, 2001

County commissioners will seek talks with Lawrence’s state legislators, urging their help in protecting the county’s budget.

"We are already having a challenge trying to balance our budget for next year," commission president Paul Herrell said in a Tuesday news release. "If the Senate gets its way, we are going to see a lot of additional cuts in programs and services to our residents."

Herrell’s calling attention to the General Assembly’s freeze earlier this year in the local government fund – a state revenue sharing program for local governments and libraries. On the heels of that freeze, the state House began work on House Bill 405, which engineered cuts in local government funds to "plug a $1.5 billion hole" in the state’s budget.

Last week, the Ohio Senate amended the House legislation and included an additional cut of $150 million over what Gov. Bob Taft proposed and the House approved, Herrell said.

"We are having the same revenue problems that the state is feeling," he said, adding the state needs to be more sensitive to the needs of local governments.

"It just does not seem right that the state would take this action at this time, given the fact that we are also struggling with declining revenues."

The local government funds considered for cuts will affect townships, villages, counties, cities and libraries, state officials said. School districts are not affected.

The Lawrence County government currently receives $1.4 million per year itself, before any cuts. The auditor’s office estimates the state cuts could range anywhere from 6 percent to 10 percent, which means the county could lose between $84,000 and $140,000.

The city of Ironton receives about $530,000 a year from local government funds, and could lose the same percentage.

The amounts of local government funds ending up in township and village budgets combined total about $230,000.

Since Lawrence has seen sales tax revenues decline, for instance, state cuts in other funding sources will make it only harder to balance the 2002 budget, Herrell said.

The commissioner added that many feel the Senate’s version of House Bill 405 not only cuts much of those funds, but also removes a provision that would have closed certain tax loopholes – a move that Republicans in the Senate argue could further harm the economy.

Commissioners are planning to talk to state Rep. Bill Ogg, Rep. John Carey and Sen. Mike Shoemaker to explain what could happen in Lawrence County if the cuts are made, and to urge restoration of local government funds, Herrell said.

"It seems to me they have dug themselves into a hole," he said in the news release. "They seem to be saying no to tax adjustments that will bring in more revenue and don’t want to use much of the money they have saved for a rainy day They are just making their problem our problem."