Sharing services, reducing costs
When it comes to public services, Ohioans want quality and efficiency. Whether these criteria are met best by each governing entity providing services individually or in conjunction with other entities makes little difference to most people.
House Bill 509, recently passed through the Ohio House, gives local governments the ability to team up with other municipalities to provide shared services. In the process, they will gain greater flexibility to manage their costs while still providing quality services.
A report released in February by the Buckeye Institute pointed out that the state of Ohio has 46 percent more local government bodies per county than the national average. These entities are funded by taxpayers, and as the number grows, more money is required in order to keep up with costs. During times when all levels of government are cutting back to manage costs, the potential burden that could be left to taxpayers grows indefinitely.
Increasing reliance on taxpayers to keep up with government costs is no way to improve the economy. It makes Ohio less competitive in comparison to other states, which can lead to population decline and, thus, less tax revenue being collected by the state.
Therefore, HB 509, among other things, allows local health departments to venture outside their traditional borders to share or contract staff. If the manpower to provide health-related services is available and capable, then every effort should be made to utilize them and keep public costs low. In a similar way, the bill also allows county auditors to serve as fiscal agents for other offices within the county and permits the auditor to share employees across county lines.
The aforementioned Buckeye Institute report also highlighted the success that these kinds of changes have had on Marion County, the first county in the state to consolidate its services. By combining health departments, for example, the county saved $150,000 in the first year-and-a-half. It is important not to automatically associate cuts in costs with a diminishing of services. Through Marion County’s consolidation process, much of what was cut were excess expenditures taken on by providing duplicative services. This allowed the county to avoid the prospect of tax increases while still not losing quality services.
The biennial budget passed in 2011 laid the groundwork for consolidating services through what was called the Local Government Innovation Fund. The program provided loans and grants to local governments wanting to consolidate. Now, through House Bill 509, the final measures have been put in place to help local municipalities realistically manage their costs.
State Rep. DeVitis may be reached by calling 614-466-1790, writing to 77 S. High St., Columbus, OH 43215, or emailing District43@ohr.state.oh.us.
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