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County finances stable despite state cuts, says Pry

3/29/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

County executive encourages internship programs

Summit County Executive Russ Pry delivered his State of the County Address March 23 to an audience of about 500.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth
DOWNTOWN AKRON — In his fifth State of the County address March 23, Summit County Executive Russ Pry said the county is weathering its financial storms but blamed the state for making it more difficult.

About 500 people attended the Akron Press Club luncheon event at the John S. Knight Center, where Pry discussed the county’s efforts to stay within its means and its successes at bringing new jobs to the region, and announced an effort to give young people internship opportunities through a new program.

Pry said things for the county were looking up financially in early 2011 until Gov. John Kasich’s budget showed cuts in local government revenue sharing.

“At the end of the day, we would have been happy with just a 20 percent reduction in local government revenue sharing,” Pry said. “Instead, by state fiscal year 2013, the state will have reduced local government revenue sharing by more than 50 percent.”

He also criticized Kasich and the state legislature for “virtually wip[ing] out the tangible personal property tax phase-out funds.”

“These two reductions alone will cost Summit County nearly $7 million a year when fully implemented, and will cost our local communities tens of millions more per year,” Pry said.

Declines in property values and investment earnings also made 2011 a difficult year, he said.

Despite these challenges, Pry touted the success the county has had in trimming expenditures and maintaining services.

“When it comes to managing our finances, there are two things we do control — tax rates and expenditure levels,” he said. “I’m proud to say that all of the hard work and planning we’ve put into place the past few years has put us in a position to meet 2012’s challenges. And we are meeting those challenges while keeping in place the lowest county sales tax rate of all Ohio counties and spending less General Fund money than any other large urban county in Ohio.”

In remarks on the county’s levy-funded agencies, Pry thanked voters for supporting the Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities in its request for a renewal of its levy last fall. He noted that the Children Services Board levy will likely be up for renewal this fall, and urged the audience to support it.

He also announced that the county’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Advisory Board has been able to reduce its waiting list for residential addiction treatment for women from six weeks to two weeks and for men from 16 weeks to eight weeks.

On the topic of jobs, Pry touted the success his administration has had in helping bring new employers, such as Rochling Automotive, to the county. Pry also said he expects the Bridgestone Technical Center to be completed this spring, and he noted the new headquarters for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. is under construction.

“Collectively, these projects will keep 4,000 good paying jobs in our community and will result in hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on local construction,” he said.

That brought Pry to announce a new program of his administration to create internship opportunities for young people. He said he will work with the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce to create the Summit County Intern Experience.

Pry said his office will create 10 internship positions for this year, and he challenged others in attendance to commit to creating opportunities for young people to gain experience.

In addition, Pry said he’d like to create a Certificate for Workplace Success program that will help give young people who have completed programs and have the “soft skills” employers are looking for a chance to find employment.

In his remarks, Pry also thanked the county’s employees, who have not received pay raises in several years but still increased donations to the United Way’s annual campaign.

In follow-up questions from the audience, Pry was asked if he sees any way that he and the Summit County Board of Elections (BOE) could reach a compromise on the BOE’s budget. For 2012, the BOE requested more than $9 million, but the county budgeted $4.7 million for the agency. He said that he and his staff are continuing to meet with BOE officials and dialogue is ongoing.

Pry, a Democrat who is running for re-election this year again against Republican Frank Larson, also was asked if he would ever consider a run for governor.

After jokingly thanking Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic for writing the question, Pry said he is focused on moving the county forward.

“While I’m flattered, that’s not in the cards,” he said of the idea.

Pry’s speech is available at www.co.summit.oh.us.

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