In a phone call with Department of Justice officials Tuesday, Highland County Commissioner Gary Abernathy said that the resubmitted budget for the Rocky Fork Lake grant was “acceptable and remained within the program’s guidelines and parameters.”
The revised budget calls for a greater percentage of money to be earmarked to the sheriff’s department for law enforcement, and to the health department for blight abatement and general cleanup.
Last month, commissioners were told they could apply for a 12-month extension to address DOJ concerns and implement the plan, officially named the Rocky Fork Lake Area Safety and Advancement Project.
There were other requested adjustments made in order to satisfy federal officials.
“We made sure things were put into the proper line items,” Abernathy said, “and that questions regarding contracts were more clear, and technical things like that.”
Initially, the two-year grant was awarded in September 2016, but with delays stemming from the DOJ’s questioning of the budget, the clock is running out.
Abernathy indicated to DOJ officials in the phone call that he was firm in his conviction that this is a situation that can’t be allowed to drag on indefinitely.
“Things changed drastically the last couple of years from what they disallowed after approving this to where we are now,” he said. “And we as a group feel this is something worth fighting for and trying to save.”
At stake is close to $800,000 in federal funds to fight crime and blight in the Rocky Fork Lake region.
Abernathy said the next step is to apply for the extension by Thursday and then re-submit the revised budgetary figures by next Tuesday.
In a separate matter, Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley reassured commissioners that all county offices were operating on budget despite a projected shortfall in sales tax receipts.
“We’re running close to what the projections were telling us at the start of the year,” he told commissioners. “In fact, we may be a little better off than we thought.”
Fawley said he saw no reason to make any adjustments in the budget, despite a loss in sales tax receipts projected to top out at around $800,000 when compared to last year’s figures.
He explained the decrease in sales tax revenue had to do with a change in the tax law regarding durable medical equipment sales to managed care organizations, such as nursing homes.
“Ohio had been collecting sales tax from Medicaid payments for managed care organizations, on equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers,” he explained. “If it was paid for by private insurance, there was no sales tax.”
The federal government came in and told Ohio to cease that practice.
Commissioners had high praise for Child Support Enforcement and Public Children Services Agency Director Katie Adams for her budgetary efficiency in light of those sales tax figures.
“Children Services and the way they’ve done their budget is a commendable thing,” Commissioner Jeff Duncan said. “If they don’t have to come to us for $800,000 or more that the county has given them every year, it will just about match the sales tax loss.”
The issue has become a statewide concern and Fawley said Highland County is faring better than other Ohio counties.
“Some of them took almost a 25 percent hit in their general fund budget when this happened,” he said. “Highland County will come in at around 10 percent or less.”
In other commission action, three resolutions and two contracts were approved Wednesday.
A funding exchange between Highland and Lawrence counties was approved for their respective Jobs and Family Service organizations. Highland County JFS requested the inter-county agreement, which cleared the way for releasing $23,500 in income maintenance funding to Lawrence County. Lawrence County, in turn, will be release the same amount of funds to Highland County for use in allowable Children Services expenditures for the current federal fiscal year.
Another resolution was a request by County Engineer P. Dean Otworth for a modification in his budget from Laborers-Salary to Other Expenses in the amount of $60,000.
A final resolution dealt with Highland County Court’s request for additional money for telephone service expenses in the amount of $239.70, which would come from unappropriated funds.
A pair of contracts won commission approval Wednesday, the first being an agreement between the county engineers office and Mortenson Construction, for upgrades to the electrical infrastructure in Highland County.
With the Highland County Fair just weeks away, the second contract was a permit application allowing beer to be sold at the fair.
Duncan was quick to note that to the best of his knowledge, there have been no problems with people “drinking responsibly” at the fairground’s beer garden, and that this would be the third year it has been approved.