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Ohio AG to weigh in on budget controversy

Now it’s in the hands of the Ohio Attorney General ­— or will be soon.

Does the county auditor have the legal authority to determine how much money the county commission has to spend throughout a year?

County auditor Jason Stephens says that as the fiscal officer of the county, he does. The two other members of the budget commission disagree.

Seeking an opinion from Mike DeWine on that question was the unanimous decision of the budget commission on Wednesday during its second meeting this week.

That opinion could possibly change how the budget commission here and in other counties functions in the future.

For the past week Stephens has been at odds with his fellow budget commission members, county treasurer Stephen Burcham and county prosecutor Brigham Anderson, on whether Stephens alone has the authority to determine the county’s official certification of revenue. That certification must be made and received by the county commissioners before they can allocate how those funds are to be spent.

At Wednesday’s meeting Burcham and Anderson thought the budget commission was going to certify the special revenue funds. Without that certification, the county commission cannot allocate those funds to such offices and departments as 911, the EMS, the dog pound, the Union-Rome Sewer District, the board of DD and the department of job and family services.

Stephens informed the commission, however, that he had already certified those funds and those figures would be taken to the county commission’s office later that day.

“You think it’s your duty to certify without the budget commission,” Anderson asked.

“Yes, I do,” Stephens replied.

“Unbelievable,” Anderson said. “I don’t think that is the law. You don’t have that authority.”

“In my opinion, it is perfectly legal,” Stephens said.

“People are not going to get a pay check,” Anderson said.

Stephens contends, however, the special fund employees can be paid on Jan. 2, as long as the county commission passes a special funds budget today.

That total certification, according to Stephens, is $57,150,583.66. Of that $14,666,845.76 is carryover; $1,700,000 from taxes and $40,783,737.90 from such items as state grants or transfers from other funds.

“Does the budget commission want to seek an attorney general’s opinion?” Anderson asked.

“I don’t have a problem with you doing that,” Stephens said. “I would rather everyone understand this is not acrimonious. I think it would be helpful. I want to be on solid legal ground.”

“I will make it today,” Anderson said. “That is not to say other legal action wouldn’t be taken in the interim.”

“If I am out of line, we will deal with it.” Stephens said. “I don’t want to jeopardize the process and employees being paid. (The county commission has) the authority to make that appropriation. I will honor that appropriation if it is within that certification.”