By Karen Cornelius
Erie County Commissioners Pat Shenigo, Matt Old, and Bill Monaghan are leaving their Columbus Avenue, Sandusky headquarters to do some traveling every fourth Thursday. They are bringing their business meetings to various municipalities and townships throughout the county as a way to be more visible to constituents. Their first away meeting was held in Vermilion on Thursday morning, February 22, at the Vermilion High School auditorium.
Commissioner Old stated that often Vermilion might think they are forgotten since they are at the tail-end of Erie County and split into Erie and Lorain counties. Old said the fact that they have forgotten about Vermilion simply isn’t true. He said the commissioners wanted to show they are thinking about the community and are aware of Vermilion’s importance to the county. He added the commissioners are glad to visit and give the public an opportunity to see how county government works.
The commissioners thanked the Vermilion Local Schools for hosting their meeting which was also attended by some government class students. The meeting was meant to be educational as well as informative. It so happened on February 22 the bulk of the agenda for the hour and one-half meeting was on the proposed 2018 budget and discussing general fund capital requests from various county departments. After the Pledge of Allegiance there was an opening prayer given by Pastor Joshua Budka of the Trinity Gospel Church of Vermilion. Various supporting members of the county such as the prosecutor’s office and administrative and facilities personnel were also introduced.
The county’s general fund budget of $30 million was discussed at length and explained as a balancing act since like all local governments there is never enough money to answer all the needs and requests. The commissioners’ duties were describled as a “little wierd” because they act differently than the federal and city governments. They are both legislative and executive together. It takes all three commissioners to agree before they can act. The commissioners are also restricted by what they can do as their authority lies with Columbus, the state, while Vermilion has home rule. “We basically control the budget. Our job is to figure out where the dollars should go,” said commissioner Shenigo. He emphasized their biggest problem is opiods where they spend millions on Children’s Services. Last year 120 children were taken from their families due to drugs. “We pay for them at the taxpayers’ expense,” said Shenigo. He noted they have to decide how to take the money and treat these folks and get the children back and yet save taxpayer dollars. It was noted about half of the general fund revenue, $16 million, comes from sales tax, and Erie County is blessed to have Cedar Point and Kalahari in their boundaries.
A lengthy discussion was held on the Facilities Department as Erie County has 26 primary public facilities such as the courthouse, service center, jail, dog pound, juvenile justice center, Jobs and Family Services, etc. All of these entities have to be maintained from heating and air conditioning to computer cabling and parking lots. There was an extensive review of the capital funding requests such as $339,971 from the Facilities Department covering upgrades for the various buildings and jail. There were also requests for more money from the county auditor, the sheriff, and the common pleas court. Some requests were put on hold and others are waiting for more information.
The commissioners agreed that they are close to providing a manageable budget with two more public budget hearings and possibly a final budget for March 8 with a final resolution presented on March 22. On March 1 the commissioners are expected to review non-general fund items.
The meeting ended when Vermilion City Council President Steve Herron thanked the commissioners for coming to Vermilion. Commissioner Old responded that it was good to get outside of Sandusky and see the county and have some visibility.