Some Union County officials who have been brainstorming a strategy to address dwindling local government funds have come to a conclusion: Their voices alone aren't loud enough.

Some Union County officials who have been brainstorming a strategy to address dwindling local government funds have come to a conclusion: Their voices alone aren't loud enough.

The committee, comprising representatives from the school district, county services and other agencies, met last week in the county commissioners' chambers to discuss how Union County should solve an anticipated loss in tangible-personal-property-tax (TPPT) replacement revenue.

Marysville Superintendent Larry Zimmerman, who has testified on the issue before state legislators, said that for Union County's voice to be heard by the state, the message must come from every resident.

"It's going to become (residents') decision eventually," Zimmerman said. "I would rather ask them for help now than for money later."

Union County's reliance on TPPT

TPPT was assessed in Ohio on property that has value in and of itself, such as farming equipment, automobile manufacturing machinery, etc. TPPT was phased out by the state over a five-year period, from 2006 to 2010. Those taxes traditionally were used by local governments and school districts and in a municipality like Union County, home to manufacturers such as Honda and Scotts, that income was substantial.

To replace the lost funds, the state instituted the commercial activity tax, collected directly by the state, with revenues going to schools and local governments while they adjusted to the funding change. The replacement payments are based on levies approved before Sept. 1, 2005. The problem facing Union County is that the commercial activity tax hasn't performed. It was based on the idea that development would continue to thrive. It hasn't, Union County Health Department director Jason Orcena said. The state's general revenue fund is supposed to pick up the slack if revenue from commercial activity taxes aren't sufficient to fund the replacement payments, but it isn't. That is one of many problems for state lawmakers trying to balance Ohio's budget.

County's loss of millions of dollars

"We're really learning what $8 billion means," Union County Board of Developmental Disabilities superintendant Kim Miller said. "When you add this up, say on average over the next five years, this would mean annually about $16 million in cuts that's gone out of this county. You add state cuts into that, maybe a couple million, and calculate maybe a little bit of growth, and our total loss on an annual basis could be more like $20- to $25 million. We're not, as a group, going to be able to go back to the voters for that; we'd be lucky as a group to get even half that. Even conservatively, say, that means $12 million is going to go out. That drastically changes how we do business in this county. How we provide services, how the government runs. At the end of the day, if that's a reality, we will not be the same for a decade, or longer."

State-mandated and nonmandated services

Add in the fact that many services provided by the county are mandated by the state, and there's not much room for adjustment, commissioner Gary Lee said.

"We're also, as a county, going to have to look at our mandated and nonmandated services, and there are some pretty important nonmandated services that will be sorely missed once they're gone," Lee said.

Zimmerman said the school district has been conducting focus groups, asking residents what services they would be willing to forgo.

"We need to give our public an explanation. They need to know what's going on," Zimmerman said.

To do so, the committee is planning a series of town hall meetings in the county, in an effort to explain to voters how these changes would affect them directly. Times, dates and locations of the meetings are expected to be established this week. Representatives from the county government and agencies and the school district will be on hand at the meetings to discuss the overall issue of TPPT replacement, as well as how reductions in local government funds would affect each service offered by the county. A meeting schedule will be published on when it becomes available.