Putnam County Seal - Putnam Sentinel

PUTNAM COUNTY — Recently, Putnam County Commissioner John Love participated in a statewide conference of Ohio counties. The gathering offered an opportunity commissioners and county engineers to share ideas, best practices and to come together in hopes of organizing a unified-county approach to legislative priorities.

“They had some really excellent speakers,” said Commissioner John Love who represented Putnam County at the conference. “It was a great opportunity to network with other commissioners. That’s the thing I take out of it more than anything else. We have a [ditch maintenance] issue with Van Wert right now. [Van Wert Commissioner] Thad Lichtensteiger and I had a chance to sit down and talk…we had a lot of interface with Paulding guys and Defiance, some of the other nearby counties, I saw the majority of them too. I enjoy going to the programs they put on, but the thing that I enjoy most is the inner-workings between the commissioners.”

When asked what challenges Ohio’s counties face in the coming year, Love focused on four areas: the loss of Medicaid sales tax revenue going into county coffers, the underfunding of indigent defense by the State, additional aid for Child and Family Services to help with child placement costs associated with the opioid epidemic, and the possibility of replacing voting machines in every county.

“The medicaid sales tax was the top thing we talked about,” said Love. “Our county is down almost $200,000 (annually) because of the fact that this tax money was taken off the plate, so to speak.” Love is referring to a sales tax on Managed Care Organizations offering services through Medicaid that the federal government allowed Ohio and other states to implement in 2009.

Though called a ‘tax,’ it’s actual effect was a subsidy for the state. For example, a healthcare organization might pay $100 in sales tax to the State of Ohio. They would then submit that $100 for reimbursement by the state as an operational cost, bringing the benefit to Ohio back to $0. Then, the federal government would reimburse Ohio around $63 for the state’s reimbursement to the healthcare organization for the sales tax that organization paid. Through this federal reimbursement, Ohio gained approximately $597 million dollars annually from the federal government.

Then in 2016, the federal government changed the rules yet again, and gave Ohio until June 30, 2017 to end this sales tax. “Since that’s not going to be available anymore, we’re trying to get another funding stream,” said Love. “[The State Legislature] has come up with a couple of things they’re going to try to do…Our average used to be $192,253 per year. We expect in January to get a payment of $48,063.” An additional $30 million dollars might be split up among Ohio’s 88 counties in August, but only if state revenues are doing better than expected."

Indigent defense remains an issue for Putnam and other counties as well, as Love states, “Indigent defense still isn’t getting the 50 percent that was promised and put into law. I think we’re right around 40 percent range on reimbursement. The objective is 50 percent. So much of that depends on the number of people applying for it.”

A somewhat related issue is the large increases in child placements, and their related costs, due to the fallout from the opioid crisis. “That is really an assault on Jobs and Family Services,” says Love. “Because the kids, you can’t place them with just anybody. You get two parents that are drug addicted, or a single parent, what do you do with the kid? There’s been a huge increase in children needing placement. We’re trying to get some relief for that.”

The final issue identified by Love, replacement of the voting machines, does not really impact Putnam County. Following the 2007 flood, every machine in Putnam County was replaced. “And, to the best of our knowledge, our elections are turning out 100 percent,” Love commented.

In addition to these challenges, the commissioner’s office recently highlighted several of the successes experienced by the county. As with the past four years, the county’s government remains completely debt free. Additionally, the county was able to hire a new Director of Job & Family Services; complete the sale of Putnam Acres Care Center; replace two roofs at the Ag Complex; install two new boilers in the courthouse; significantly upgrade the county’s computer servers; acquire a drone for the sheriff’s office along with seven new law enforcement vehicles and a new computer-based time-keeping/record-keeping system; acquisition of two new first responding units for county EMS; purchase of a new telephone system; enhancement of the wellness program offered county employees; relocating and improving the county’s 24/7 recycling drop-off facility; achieving the highest recycling rate in the State of Ohio; and sale of the communication tower adjacent to the courthouse and lease of land for an additional tower in the western section of the county.