Political musings as we look to 2017
Monday, November 28, 2016 3:38 PM
As we enter the final weeks of this year, let’s look ahead to what we may – or may not – see in 2017.
In Hillsboro city government, with the trial of one public official now over and the trial of another former public official – who was appointed by the party of the first part – set to begin early next year, the eight members of city council – President Lee Koogler, Bill Alexander, Tracy Aranyos, Dick Donley, Justin Harsha, Claudia Klein, Ann Morris and Rebecca Wilkin – will have some serious soul-searching to do.
Will council “move forward” by continuing to rubber-stamp the mayor’s agenda, particularly in light of the mayor admitting to that which he was accused – which indicates either incredible arrogance in office or a foolhardy approach to honest government?
Will Council Table A – Alexander, Harsha and Wilkin – see some new cooperation from Council Table B – Aranyos, Klein and Morris – along with Donley and the non-voting Koogler?
Will city government seriously work to restore the confidence and trust of Hillsboro taxpayers and residents?
Will ousted safety and service director Todd Wilkin bring new litigation, a la Kirby Ellison, for a possible wrongful termination?
Will former county sheriff candidate and favorite of the GOP central committee Richard Warner factor in a possible city position?
Most importantly, will citizens demand more from their elected officials or simply remain content with business as usual? If we’ve learned anything from recent history, we all know the answer to that last rhetorical question.
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• In county government next year, commissioners Shane Wilkin, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton, all Republicans, and county department heads, all Republicans save for Judge Rocky Coss, could be facing significant budget cuts.
The failure of the additional tax levy for Children Services coupled with the elimination of sales tax revenues due to a federal change in Medicaid-related purchases, could make the second half of 2017 very reminiscent to the first years in office of Shane Wilkin and outgoing commissioner Tom Horst, who is wrapping up a lengthy career in public service this month.
Wilkin and Horst both went into the commissioners’ office in January 2009. Along with former commissioner Gary Heaton, they were forced to cut millions from the county’s general fund.
As we reported in September, the loss in Medicaid-related tax revenues is approximately $800,000 out of the annual budget. With the failure of the additional Children’s Services levy, the county could be looking at a projected $2.3 million shortfall in revenues by late 2017.
Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley said the county department heads have been asked to submit revised budgets. “We have to base next year’s budget on the anticipated loss of revenue at this time,” Fawley said.
"We would lose 12.4 percent of our tax revenues if the Ohio Legislature doesn't act," Fawley said on Aug. 17. "It affects all counties differently. In Adams County, it's 16.9 percent, and in Vinton County, it's 22 percent."
With the loss of one sizable tax revenue stream and the increased number of children in care of Highland County Job and Family Services, the projected cuts in 2017 and beyond could be more painful for those who rely on county jobs and services.
As we know, there are those in office who will insist that as more and more people are in need of government assistance, the local economy benefits from added sales taxes. That’s an economic fallacy, of course. Taxing Peter to pay Paul may result in Paul spending more money, but it surely results in Peter spending less. By no means is it a path to long-term economic success. It’s a problem, to be sure.
Some in county government already may be looking ahead to the 2017 budget chopping block. Where to start? Most likely the department with one of the largest budgets.
When the Great Recession hit in 2008, former county sheriff Ron Ward endured his share of budget cuts; so much so, that he stated on the record the hours that the sheriff’s office processed concealed carry permit requests for residents' personal protection. The Magic 8-Ball suggests Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera will be asked to make similar department cuts in 2017.
In fact, some are questioning why Barrera didn’t add additional officers as budgeted in 2016; instead, requesting two new cruisers for the sheriff’s office.
I asked the sheriff about that last week. His answer made sense to me.
“Yes, I had planned to add people, but when the county started talking cuts, especially if the Children Services levy failed, I didn’t want to hire someone and then have to lay them off the next year,” Barrera said.
Frankly, I suspect most department heads would plan ahead the same way; at least, I hope they would.
I think the county residents, voters and taxpayers do appreciate Sheriff Barrera’s service thus far – as evidenced by his more than 15,000 complimentary vote total on Nov. 8. I also think those who follow local politics understand the dynamics of the situation; i.e., he was not his party’s first choice.
But he was the people’s choice. And that’s more important.
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• On another political front, will taxpayers in Adams, Brown, Clinton, Fayette and Highland counties be asked to support a five-county levy for Southern State Community College in 2017?
As we reported in October 2015, the SSCC Board of Trustees met with representatives of Burges & Burges Strategists regarding a study conducted to gauge local opinions on implementing a five-county tax levy. College administrators and the board of trustees began discussions in May 2015 regarding a local levy option and paid Burges & Burges to begin local evaluations.
Burges & Burges said they interviewed “25 to 30” people about the college, or as board member Don Moore pointed out, “about six people per county.”
They didn’t interview me, and they probably didn’t interview you. But I’d be more than happy to be interviewed about a five-county tax levy for the college.
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• Hillsboro City Schools will be adding a new board member next year to replace Terry Britton, who was elected as a county commissioner on Nov. 8. The district could also be looking at the possibility of hiring a new superintendent later in the year, should Jim Smith re-retire.
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• Lastly, two southern Ohio state lawmakers – Republicans Cliff Rosenberger (91st District) and Terry Johnson (90th District) are beginning their final two-year terms in the Ohio House of Representatives.
Early odds-on favorites to announce their respective candidacies later next year may be two recently re-elected county commissioners.
As those who follow this stuff will recall, when Rosenberger ran for Dave Daniels’ former House seat in 2010, it was “Clinton County’s turn” to bring forth a candidate. Prior to that, it was Highland County’s turn. (Pike and Ross counties don’t get “turns” in the Republican-dominated district.) In two years, it will again be Highland County’s “turn.”
Fast-forward to 2018: Who is better positioned to seek the 91st House seat than Highland County commissioner Shane Wilkin? He will be in midterm as a county commissioner, which is a very good time to seek the Statehouse position.
A similar scenario could play out in Rep. Johnson’s 90th District with just re-elected Adams County commissioner Brian Baldridge. He, too, will be midterm in 2018 and poised to move to Columbus.
There are some positive possibilities for Adams County residents and Highland County residents should Baldridge and Wilkin both be elected to the House of Representatives in 2018. We’ll know a lot more at this time next year.
Looks like another interesting year is on the horizon. Stay tuned.
Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.