While there’s still work to be done, area commissioners expressed appreciation about the recently approved state budget, especially in the areas of indigent defense reimbursements to counties.
Commissioners from northwest Ohio gathered Monday morning at The Emporium in Napoleon, located at the former senior center on East Clinton Street, for a County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO) regional budget update.
John Leutz, legislative counsel for CCAO, spoke about the increase in the state reimbursement to counties for indigent defense, an area in which commissioners have been seeking assistance for awhile.
“Indigent defense is a continual issue, it’s a continual work in progress,” Leutz said, encouraging the commissioners to continue to speak with legislators about the need for additional reimbursement. “We got off to a good start.”
Adam Schwiebert, policy advisor for CCAO, addressed a change to sales tax regulations on internet transactions from out-of-state vendors.
Schwiebert said previously, internet vendors only had to collect Ohio sales tax if they had a physical presence — most likely a building or a salesperson — in the state. However, this change means out-of-state vendors that lack a physical presence in Ohio, but who conduct $100,000 in sales or 200 transactions per year in the state should collect the sales tax.
“We were leaving money on the table, essentially,” Schwiebert said. “A good taxpayer would pay his or her use tax that they were supposed to self-report to the department if they didn’t pay the sales tax, but, as we all know, no one really did that, it was incredibly low.”
“If nothing else, it’s more marketplace fairness,” he added. “It’s a more level playing field.”
Schwiebert said counties should experience a revenue bump from this change, but it’s difficult to estimate how much that could generate for counties. In addition, he said some may already be seeing an increase as some companies started charging the sales tax following a Supreme Court ruling in 2018, but prior to the law change.
“You might be seeing some pretty healthy growth in your sales tax right now,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s because of this, but it’s contributing.”
Schwiebert said the budget bill also closed some tax exemptions, including bullion and coins and sales of qualified property to motor racing teams.
Additional highlights included:
•Starting Oct. 1, counties may utilize unused transit tax authority up to .5%, with voter approval, for jail construction and renovations. This is for capital improvements only, not operating funds.
•Starting Oct. 1, sales tax rates can be adjusted in increments of 1/20th of 1% (.05%).
•The Local Government Fund increases from 1.66% of the general revenue fund to 1.68%. Schwiebert said that should amount to $5 million per year, $2 million of which will go to counties and then be further divided among the entities in each county.
•The H2Ohio Fund will include $172 million for agriculture and community and water projects statewide with the Lake Erie Commission coordinating with state agencies on priorities.
•Probation departments are supposed to be the responsibility of the county common pleas courts, but state staff commonly supervise these cases. However, the state will be transitioning its workers away from counties, with a two-year grant given to counties to help them hire their own staff. For counties which have probation departments fully staffed by state workers, which includes Henry County, planning will take place over the next two years for a transition to a county probation department. Henry County Commissioner Bob Hastedt said the county is not yet to the point of hiring its own staff, but discussions are underway. He noted once the grant funds are done, the county will have to pay for those salaries.
•Several questions were posed on the status of a new statewide 9-1-1 system, as well as the fees collected for the system. Leutz said they are still looking at how the system would be transitioned from telephone to internet and how much that will cost, both for the statewide main system and then how much local entities will have to fund for their portion. Leutz added they are currently only collecting fees from cell phone bills, and that will have to be applied more widely considering the number of options currently available. “It will have to be a universal access fee across the board,” he said, adding the process is moving slowly as legislators want to know how much it will cost, but they can’t get to that point because they don’t have funding to perform more research into what will be needed.
•Multiple commissioners mentioned they are still concerned with unfunded mandates handed down from the state, especially related to boards of elections.
•Concerns about broadband internet access were also addressed by several commissioners. Defiance County will be conducting an internet connectivity study in the near future.
•Christa Luttmann, Northwest Ohio Regional Liaison for the governor’s office, highlighted priorities of Gov. Mike DeWine, including road improvements, education, children and families, workforce development and jobs, mental health, water issues and gun issues.