Commissioners join CCAO, thank state government officials
Ohio’s 20-21 budget includes indigent defense and Local Government Fund increases
[Tiffin, OH June 12, 2019] – The Seneca County Board of Commissioners joined the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and other groups of commissioners from across the state in thanking state government officials for budgetary decisions Thursday morning that aim to strengthen the partnership between the state and counties.
On June 11, the Ohio Senate took a step toward strengthening that partnership when it agreed to increase funding to counties for indigent defense reimbursement and provided additional dollars to the Local Government Fund, which goes straight into the coffers of local governments.
“We are on track to strengthening the important relationship between state and local government,” Commissioner Shayne Thomas said. “Thanks to the leadership in the Senate, we are seeing a return to a fair balance.”
According to law, a court-appointed attorney is to be provided to a defendant who meets the requirements to be classified as “indigent” or unable to pay for an attorney. This is funded by the county and a certain percentage is reimbursed by the state. According to the Constitution and a Supreme Court ruling, indigent defense costs should be paid for by the state, but many years ago it was set by the state that it would be a 50-50 split. In recent years, the state reimbursement rate has been closer to 40 percent.
In 2018, between Seneca County Juvenile and Probate Court and the two county common pleas courts, about $212,000 was spent on indigent defense.
CCAO made achieving full funding from the state to counties for indigent defense reimbursement its main legislative priority this year. Gov. Mike DeWine proposed an additional $60 million each year in general revenue funds and the House of Representatives added $35 million to the proposal in the second year of the two-year budget. If conditions remain the same, the new funds should fully cover indigent defense reimbursement, according to CCAO.
Commissioner Holly Stacy said she was pleased to hear the latest news.
“This is a positive sign,” she said. “For too long the state has passed off some of its obligations onto the backs of counties.”
Yesterday, the Senate approved the House and the governor’s proposals and also agreed to increase the percentage of state general revenue fund receipts that are committed to the Local Government Fund from the current 1.66 percent to 1.68 percent, which will restore about $5 million in each year of the budget to support counties, townships and municipalities that are being challenged with the obligation to maintain vital programs and services that Ohio’s citizens need.
In 2008, Seneca County received about $1.4 million in support from the LGF, but in 2018, that support had fallen to about $700,000. The new increase is a step in the right direction from the state.
“It’s good to know the state legislature is considering funding some local costs,” Commissioner Mike Kerschner said. “It’s nice to know that it is on their agenda and they are aware of the fact that local governments need additional funding.”