By Brian Massie, Citizen Journalist
Last week’s Commissioners’ meeting gave me a chance to reflect on the, heretofore, unknown role of the Lake County Clerk of Courts.
The follow documents show that the Commissioners want the Clerk of Courts to use the cash surplus in the Certificate of Title Administration Fund to erect a monument for the Grand River wineries. This is in addition to the $75,000 that the Clerk of Courts (Maureen Kelly) paid for the creation of a Grand River Valley logo.
Here is the Visitors Bureau’s letter asking for financial help for the project:
For the record, we were told that there are 33 privately owned wineries in the Grand River Valley, with 8 located in Lake County and 25 in Ashtabula County. The cost of the arch, or arches, has increased since the initial request of $260,000 to $275,000. [This taxpayer hopes that this in not another government project like the “Better Flip” in Willowick. In that fiasco, the Lake County Port Authority approved $150,000 (the maximum to avoid competitive bidding), but spent $299,000 on the Willowick bungalow.]
If all of the wineries split the cost they would pay $8,333 each. [$275,000 / 33] One has to wonder why the cost of this arch is to be paid by the taxpayers?
Here is yours truly speaking at the Commissioners’ meeting on this subject:
For the record, Commissioner John Plecnik and Commissioner Rich Regovich are completely in favor of the taxpayers paying for the “Arch” on behalf of the 33 private wineries that will profit from the $275,000 expenditure. Commissioner John Hamercheck believes that the funds could be better spent elsewhere.
We are always concerned that there are financial checks and balances against any elected official, and the Clerk’s control over surplus Title funds caught our attention.
Upon reviewing the Ohio Revised Code dealing with the duties of the Clerk of Courts, we did find an interesting section that covers the distribution of surplus funds in the Clerk of Courts Title Division, and it does provide the needed checks and balances.
(A) Notwithstanding sections 325.27 and 325.31 of the Revised Code, all fees retained by the clerk of courts under Chapters 1548., 4505., and 4519. of the Revised Code and all fees the clerk of courts receives in the capacity of deputy registrar under section 4503.03 of the Revised Code shall be paid into the county treasury to the credit of the certificate of title administration fund, which is hereby created. Fees credited to the fund shall be used as follows:
(1) To pay the costs incurred by the clerk of courts in processing titles under Chapters 1548., 4505., and 4519. of the Revised Code;
(2) To pay the clerk of courts an eight thousand dollar annual pay supplement for performing the duties of a deputy registrar if the clerk is not a limited authority deputy registrar, as described in section 4501:1-6-04 of the Ohio Administrative Code.
(B) If the board of county commissioners and the clerk of courts agree that the money in the fund exceeds what is needed to pay the costs specified in division (A) of this section, the excess may be transferred to the county general fund and used for other county purposes. If the board of county commissioners and the clerk of courts are unable to agree on the amount of any such excess, the county budget commission shall determine the amount that will be transferred to the county general fund. [Emphasis added]
The Clerk of Courts still has the “power of the purse” because the Clerk can determine what the surplus is to be spent on, and then authorizes the transfer of the money to the General Fund and the Commissioners authorize the expenditure. If the Commissioners want to spend the money for something the Clerk does not like, then the Clerk can tell the Commissioners to “take a hike”.
This is where the checks and balances with the Budget Commission will kick in. The Budget Commission can tell the Clerk the surplus amount that must be transferred to the County General Fund, and the Commissioners then can spend it as they see fit.