Newly seated Delaware County commissioner Dennis Stapleton said he expects his experience in state government will give him an unusual perspective on county office.

Newly seated Delaware County commissioner Dennis Stapleton said he expects his experience in state government will give him an unusual perspective on county office.

He served as a state legislator from 1996 to 2003, and was state director of insurance under former Gov. Bob Taft.

"I was a pretty doggone good state legislator and I enjoyed my time there," Stapleton said. "I thought this was something I might be effective at."

Stapleton said he supports the practice of requiring matching local spending when receiving federal grants.

"Any time you have sharing of revenues, it's probably a good thing. The problem I have with it though is that we have a tendency to think federal money is not tax money. For whatever reason you hear all the time people say, 'We didn't pay for that, it's not local money or state money.' Well, we did pay for that. It's federal tax dollars, which are our dollars."

Among the biggest policy problems he sees in Ohio is the use of property taxes to fund schools, which he thinks can never work because of the disparity in property values.

"We have districts in this state where 1 mill will bring in $1,800," Stapleton said. "Then we have districts where 1 mill will bring in $340,000. How are those districts going to compete? They can never keep up."

Despite opposition from wealthy school districts, Stapleton said the only policy that makes sense is to pool the revenue at the state level.

"At some point in time, the state has to decide that it's going to pool taxes and then distribute it back out," Stapleton said. "I've met so many people who say they cannot afford to stay in their house because their taxes are three times what their mortgage ever was. There has to be a way to have a fair distribution for the schools."

Stapleton expects the state government to cut local funding significantly in the 2011 budget.

"There may be some drastic cuts and levels of service provided in poverty guidelines that will be adjusted," Stapleton said. "That's going to cause heartburn for us, because we may be asked to fund that through our own (local) tax revenues."

As a state legislator, Stapleton is used to having easy conversations with colleagues about policy, but county commissioners and township trustees, which usually have a body of only three members, cannot have such discussions without violating state laws that require business be conducted in public.

"With three people, two of you make a majority," Stapleton said. "I can't just go down the hall and say to another commissioner, 'What do you think of this idea?'"

One idea to alleviate the problem might be to change the current practice of holding two business meetings each week and instead hold one work session and one business meeting at which votes are taken.

"We might have a working committee that lasts most of the day, where we talk in open forum," Stapleton said. "We could bring in experts and people and we could just have a working session. Hamilton County does that and it works very effectively."

Stapleton said it is an advantage that local governments usually do not have term limits. He said he thinks term limits weaken state legislators because they end up spending disproportionate time campaigning, planning for their post-legislature careers and learning the ropes, leaving little time for serious policy thought.

"Eight years is too short," Stapleton said. "I might support 12 years. But if you look at the dynamics of eight years, if you have not already been in government, it takes a good three to six months to get up and running and understand the processes. To do anything meaningful in the state legislature is going to take you a couple of years, to understand an issue, get things passed and work on the rules. And in the meantime, you're campaigning every two years. Then, with term limits, what we see is that about the fifth year in office, people start realizing they are approaching their last election and they begin to focus on what they're going to do when they leave."