County officials attempting to accomplish more with less
Do more with less is a common mantra from state-level politicians these days, and Delaware County officials are trying to do just that.
Faced with steep cuts in funding from the state and federal level, officials say they are still trying to provide the same or even greater levels of service.
Despite losing about $100,000 in grant funding over the past year for specialized court dockets, Adult Court Services Chief Probation Officer Doug Missman said that the county plans to continue to provide specialized services to those offenders in the mental health and drug dockets.
“In the last year or so it has gotten really interesting,” he said. “I’m hoping we could find some creative ways to continue with these programs if funding is cut because they do help.”
Adding to the pressure on the court is recently passed new sentencing guidelines that are designed to deal with Ohio’s overcrowded prison population. The bill requires judges to divert certain offenders into community programs rather than prison, increasing the workload for county and municipal governments.
Missman characterized the new sentencing guidelines as yet another example of an unfunded mandate from the state level.
“Some of the things they are asking are pretty tough,” he said.
The new sentencing guidelines and funding cuts have forced the court to prioritize and focus more on those in the criminal justice system that are likely to offend again.
“It’s a tough balancing act,” Missman said.
The funding cuts to the Juvenile Division of the court have been even steeper, according to Rick Smith, fiscal coordinator for the Delaware County Juvenile Probate Court.
In the past year, he has seen grant funding that pays for the the juvenile drug court, probation officers and intake officers reduced by more than $150,000.
Smith said that the court is currently in the process of seeking additional grant funding. Failing that, though, the court may be forced to seek additional money from the county or otherwise reduce services.
“If we do not get any additional grants from other sources, then we will have to seek additional funding from the county commissioners,” he said.
With reduced funding and increased caseloads, the court is looking to save wherever it can, including filling open full-time positions with part-time staff.
“We just kind of continue to try to cut corners where we can,” Smith said.
The Delaware County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) is also facing cuts in the form of a federal Homeland Security Grant.
In year’s past, the state has received about $20 million from the federal government, which is divided among Ohio’s counties and cities. Next year, the funding level is expected to drop to about $3.8 million for the state, according to Brian Galligher, head of the county’s EMA.
“There’s just not going to be a lot of new equipment that we will be buying for first responders,” Galligher said.
The cuts are not unexpected, according to Galligher, but it will force his agency to focus on maintaining the equipment that past grant money has allowed the county to purchase.
“It’s been good,” he said. “It’s just now we’ve bought enough equipment and now we just need to maintain the equipment that has been purchased.”
The biggest loss of funding overall, however, comes at the county level. The county is set to receive $1.3 million from the state in Local Government Funds in 2013, a 31.6 percent decrease from the amount of funding it receive from the same source in 2012.
According to Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal think tank, from 2010-11 to 2012–13 state funding to Delaware County has fallen by $7.7 million, including Local Government Funds. The study found that over that time the county has lost $3.5 million in Tangible Personal Property Tax reimbursement, $546,796 in Public Utility Tax reimbursement and $3.8 million in Local Government Funds.
Commissioner Ken O’Brien said that the county will be able to weather that loss of funding because of an already lean county government and casino revenues that will supplement some of the lost funding.
“We are very fortunate that we are receiving some casino funds and that will help mitigate those losses,” he said. “I don’t see Delaware County having significant issues.”
While the loss of funds will not result in any major service being cut in Delaware County, it could put the brakes on any increase in services, he said.
“For the most part all of the offices in Delaware County are working efficiently and effectively,” he said. “I think what it does is it stops us from increasing services.”