Adding Two Citizens to the County Budget Commission…Bring Back the Checks and Balances to the County

By Brian Massie, A Watchman on the Wall

Effective July 2, 2010, a County Budget Commission was created by the State Legislature.  Its duties and authority are covered by the Ohio Revised Code Section 5705. All 88 counties have a CBC.

Section 5705.27 County Budget Commission:

“There is hereby created in each county a county budget commission consisting of the county auditor, the county treasurer, and the prosecuting attorney.” 

Section 5705.32 | Budget commission to adjust amounts required – revision of estimate – distribution – hearing.

“(A) The county budget commission shall adjust the estimated amounts required from the general property tax for each fund, as shown by the tax budgets or other information required to be provided under section 5705.281 of the Revised Code, so as to bring the tax levies required therefor within the limitations specified in sections 5705.01 to 5705.47 of the Revised Code, for such levies, but no levy shall be reduced below a minimum fixed by law. The commission may revise and adjust the estimate of balances and receipts from all sources for each fund and shall determine the total appropriations that may be made therefrom.”

What is the problem?

The CBC has no authority to modify any outside levies that have been approved by the voters.  Also, I have been told that Prosecutor Coulson has ruled that if the Budget Commission reduces any levy revenue, and the taxing authority sues the Budget Commission, then the Budget Commission members are PERSONALLY responsible for any adverse rulings by the Courts against the Budget Commission. Both the State legislature and the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the County Budget cannot adjust the revenue from outside millage (voted on by the taxpayers).

This has neutralized the effectiveness of the CBC’s role as the “watchdog” for the taxpayers against the collection of excessive taxation. Case in point is that the taxing authorities have accumulated vast sums of money without having to justify why they need the reserves.

The taxing authorities have developed a “spend down” business model. That is, they ask the taxpayers to vote for levies that will generate surplus revenue that will preclude them from needing to return to the taxpayers for anywhere from 5 to 15 years for additional revenue. This has produced a massive accumulation of cash reserves by the taxing authorities. For example, Developmental Disabled (Deepwood) has $65 million, Lake Metroparks has $30 million, and the Crime Lab has $7 million and is accumulating $1.6 million per year.

In my opinion, there is also an inherent conflict of interest taking place. The County Prosecutor is also the attorney for Deepwood. How can the Prosecutor be on the CBC and also represent legally one of the taxing authorities that is responsible to the CBC?

If the taxpayers have voted for “continuous” levies, this precludes the need for the taxing authority from ever going back to the taxpayers – the property tax collected is FOREVER!. [This is why I am adamantly opposed to continuous levies – transparency and accountability to the taxpayers is paramount.]

Section 5705.29 Contents of a tax budget – contingency reserve balance – spending reserve.

This O.R.C. section clearly states that a contingent expense should not exceed 3% of the total amount of appropriations for current expenses. For a school district a 13% contingent expense is allowed. This is clearly not being challenged by the CBC.

If any taxpayer decides to dispute their property values with the County’s Budget Commission, they will have to justify a reduced value to a particular member of the Commission, who just so happens to be the attorney for the Lake County School Districts. It then seems appropriate that the taxpayers have representation on the County Budget Commission so that ALL the taxing authorities have to justify their current year’s budget to the taxpayers.

What are the solutions?

  1. There needs to be greater clarification from the State legislature on exactly the role, duties, and responsibilities of the County Budget Commission.
  2. Lake County should follow the Ohio Revised Code Section 5705.27 “County Budget Commission” and add two citizens to the Commission.
  3. Lake County taxpayers should stop voting for property tax levies based on emotional issues, and determine if they can afford the levy base on their “Housing Affordability Threshold”.

Section 5705.27 states: “Upon petition filed with the board of elections, signed by the number of electors of the county equal in amount to three percent of the total number of votes cast for governor at the most recent election therefor, there shall be submitted to the electors of the county at the next general election occurring not sooner than ninety days after the filing of the petition, the question “Shall the county budget commission consist of two additional members to be elected from the county?”

We are proceeding to collect the required number of signatures (2,936) from registered Lake County voters; and we need to submit them to the Lake County Board of Elections by no later than August 7th at 4:00 pm.

The question about when to submit petitions for the citizens to serve for four years on the Commission is still “up in the air”.  The Lake County Board of Elections has requested clarification from the Secretary of State’s office because the Ohio Revised Code is silent on how that is to occur.  We will let our readers know when we hear from the Board of Elections.

If asked by someone to sign our petition, it would be greatly appreciated if you would sign it. In case anyone is wondering, the two new members will earn $20 per meeting – and there is two scheduled per year.

Thanks to Lake County Auditor Chris Galloway for supporting this citizens’ initiative.

If approved by the voters in November, 2024, we will be the first county in Ohio that have added citizens to the County Budget Commission.

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