PDT Staff Writer
Sharon Hanrahan, Financial Planning Administrator for the Ohio Office of Budget and Management, has drafted a letter to be approved by the committee overseeing the fiscal emergency status of Scioto County, expressing disappointment with recent raises given by Scioto County Juvenile/Probate Court Judge James Kirsch.
At a recent meeting of the Scioto County Financial Planning and Supervision Commission, a motion was made to have Hanrahan, who conducts monthly meetings in Portsmouth, to send a letter dealing with that issue. The letter is simply a draft, and must first be approved or altered before being sent.
“I am writing on behalf of the Scioto County Financial Planning and Supervision Commission to express our disappointment with your recent decision to grant salary increases for your staff,” Hanrahan wrote. “While the Commission has no right, nor wants the right to manage your office or exert what might appear to be undue influence upon your actions, we are concerned that your actions in this regard will present an adverse effect on county finances in the future. The long term sustainability of the special funds that will be used to pay for your increased salary commitments is uncertain, and should they become insufficient, either the general fund will be forced to pick up the costs, or employment numbers will need to be reduced. Neither of these options is desirable.”
Scioto County Commissioner Tom Reiser said Thursday afternoon that he had not seen the draft of the letter.
“It has to be noted that the judge is not doing what he’s doing with General Fund money,” Reiser said. “We really don’t have any authority to say what he can do with the special funds and so forth. I understand the judge’s position. And I understand our position, it just makes it a little more difficult for us to hold the line on everybody. I have to say, through this whole process, probably no one has been more cooperative than Judge Kirsch.”
Reiser said it is his understanding that similar letters had been sent to office holders by previous chairmen.
In the draft, Hanrahan reminds Kirsch that the Auditor of State’s office declared Scioto Counjty to be in fiscal emergency on Aug. 19, 2009, and that on that date, the county had deficit balances totaling over $3.5 million, of which, the largest was in the General Fund at $2.75 million, followed by the Juvenile Detention Center Fund at approximately $750,000. Kirsch was forced to close that facility when it became impossible to afford to keep it open. It then fell on the General Fund to absorb the deficit.
“In a little over three years, all fund deficits have been erased with the exception of the existing deficit in the Juvenile Detention Center Fund, which now stands at a little over $577,000 thanks to the transfer of funds from the General Fund,” Hanrahan said in the draft. “The progress made by Scioto County throughout these three years has been quite admirable. Decisions were made that were neither easy nor pleasant. Staffing has been kept to a minimum in order to keep costs in line, and those employees who continue to work for the county have done so without any salary adjustments. In some departments, employee salaries were held constant long before the declaration of fiscal emergency was made. These employees have and continue to perform their jobs in a highly professional and proficient manner.”
Hanrahan said the county has continued to take advantage of any opportunity to enhance its revenues, and reduce its costs.
“It has once again deferred salary adjustments as it works towards release from fiscal emergency. To do so, however, it must remedy the deficit in the Juvenile Detention Center Fund,” Hanrahan said in the draft. “Although the center had been thought to be self-sufficient at one time, this has not proven true, and closure became necessary to stem the losses borne by its operation. While the losses have subsided, the county must continue its work to decrease the deficit, and restore solvency to the fund, and by extension, the county itself.”
Hanrahan says the Commissioners, county officials, the Financial Planning and Supervision Commission, the Auditor of State, and the employees of Scioto County continue to work cooperatively in the endeavor.
“County employees are to be commended for their efforts, and for the personal sacrifices they have made throughout the years to maintain the provision of services offered to the residents of Scioto County,” Hanrahan said. “Five of these residents are members of the Financial Planning Commission who have contributed their time and talents in order to make Scioto County financially stronger and more secure.”
Hanrahan then enlists Kirsch’s help in the matter and asks he consider the financial effect of his decisions - “now and in the future.”
A call to Kirsch, was not immediately returned on Thursday.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org