Like many Ohio counties, Licking County's budget will remain in the forefront of officials' priorities in the new year.

Like many Ohio counties, Licking County's budget will remain in the forefront of officials' priorities in the new year.

Commissioner Doug Smith said budgetary woes are making it difficult for officials to concentrate on other pressing county issues.

"I think the budget at the moment overshadows about everything that we have been attempting to do at the county level," Smith said.

He said the challenge is to continue to provide services to residents with fewer county employees and a smaller budget.

Smith said the Licking County Department of Job and Family Services has been hit the hardest.

"They have laid off 16 employees, and the turnaround time has gotten longer and the number of applicants has grown correspondingly," Smith said. "We realize that if that trend continues, with our diminished staff, it's going to create longer wait times perhaps for some essential services. That is something that we certainly are trying to avoid. Doing more with fewer people will lead to that situation unfortunately."

Despite the tough economy, though, Commissioner Tim Bubb said he and the other commissioners are trying to remain optimistic.

He said the county is planning on adding a new department in 2010 - the building-code enforcement department.

Previously, the city of Newark provided building-code services to the entire county, but because of money issues, the city is closing the department at the end of the year.

"We are establishing that as a department under the county general fund," Bubb said. "This is a progressive county. You don't relax your standards; you maintain your quality."

He said Jack Pryor, the former director of Newark's code-enforcement department, would be the director of the county's new department.
Bubb also said the county is preparing for the opening of the Job Ready Site in Pataskala, which, he said, should help the county's 10-percent unemployment rate with the 1,000 or more jobs it could create at build-out.

"It also would provide an increased job base that we all need to grow," he said.

Jerry Brems, director of Licking County's planning commission, said the JRS is expected to be completed by the end of 2010.

County officials plan to start marketing the site in January. Brems said this is new for the county because individual municipalities have marketed their own JRS sites in the past.

"That will be new for us," he said.

He said the roads to the site would be paved in the spring.

Brems said that besides the JRS, which, when completed, will be more than 500 acres, he doesn't expect much construction or new development in the county in 2010. He said he and his staff are working with the individual townships to update their comprehensive plans and zoning resolutions during the down period.

Despite the economy, Smith said, he thinks 2010 will be a better year than 2009, and he thinks the county will fare well.

"We've postured ourselves to be in a better financial condition that we otherwise wouldn't have been in," he said.

Smith said officials have been working to update and fix infrastructure over the past couple of years to keep costs down on improvements in the down economy.

"We have reduced our capital-improvements budget, and our interim budget indicates we will just maintain $50,000 in that account this year," Smith said. "That is to take care of all of our infrastructure and buildings."

He said they hope to reserve that money for unforeseen issues, such as the recent incident of an impaired driver running into the side of the Job and Family Services building.

"Those are the types of things that are unforeseen," he said.

Smith said he thinks Licking County is in the same situation as other Ohio counties.

"I believe we are going to be as prepared as any county in the state could be for whatever comes next year," he said. "We hope it's good."