It is essential that members of the Legislature and Administration understand the impact of policy decisions made in Columbus. CCAO engages with policy makers, the media, stakeholders, various community organizations, and the public about county government and the effect proposed legislation would have on counties.
The responsibility to provide the constitutional right to a lawyer in a criminal case falls upon the state. The current system primarily sees counties operating the indigent defense system with the state providing a level of reimbursement set by an appropriation in the budget. Historically the reimbursement rate has been low, resulting in a heavy strain on the county general fund. However, thanks to a strong partnership with the DeWine-Husted Administration and the General Assembly since 2018, counties have received reimbursement rates greater than experienced in decades. The reimbursement rate for state fiscal years 2022 and 2023 is estimated to finish at nearly 100%, but due to systemic issues such as the need to increase compensation and improve facilities, the reimbursement rate for state fiscal year 2023 is estimated to decrease to 90%.
CCAO urges the state to again provide enough funding to provide full reimbursement in the upcoming 2024-2025 operating budget while working with counties to modernize the system. Several counties have expressed interest in completely shifting administration of indigent defense in their jurisdictions to the state.
Restoration of the Local Government Fund
The Local Government Fund (LGF) is the main source of revenue-sharing between the state government and local governments (townships, municipalities, and counties). The LGF receives a portion of state general fund tax revenue set in statute. In 2011, the LGF received 3.68% of state general fund tax revenue, but over the past decade that share has decreased to 1.66%. This decrease in revenue sharing has coincided with losses of other funding streams to counties; namely, the MCO sales tax, the tangible personal property tax, and numerous sales tax exemptions.
Together with other local government partners, the LGF received important updates in the 135th General Assembly's operating budget. The percentage of state general fund revenue increased from 1.66% to 1.70% and the minimum that a county undivided LGF can receive was increased from the lesser of the county's 2013 figure and $750,000 to $850,000, providing several counties their first LGF increase in a decade. Additionally, counties using an alternative distribution method for its undivided LGF must review the method at least once every five years.
Support for County Jails
Recent changes to the Ohio Revised Code, coupled with a shift in judicial sentencing, have resulted in more justice-involved individuals being managed at the county level. In order to effectively manage this population and promote public safety, counties need a variety of tools. The county jail is arguably the most important tool a county has for public safety, and they are by in large in a state of disrepair. To illustrate this point, nearly half of Ohio’s full-service jails are out of compliance with a minimum safety standard by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Many county jails are in urgent need of repair, renovation, or outright replacement. Counties do their best with the limited funds they can raise through property taxes and sales tax levies, but the skyrocketing cost of construction has far outpaced the ability of counties to see out these projects by themselves. Thankfully, the DeWine-Husted Administration and both the 133rd and 134th General Assemblies have recognized this reality and strengthened the state-county partnership by providing $100 million for jail funding over the last two capital budgets. These funds are deeply appreciated by the state support must continue, as the $100 million is still not enough to meet the $1.3 billion need that CCAO and the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association found in a 2019 survey, a figure which likely has only grown in the intervening three years.
With the Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) system rolling out in the coming biennium, all Ohioans will have access to voice and integrated text-to-9-1-1 operability as well as image and video sharing capability. The NG 9-1-1 system would allow for accurate location data for any caller, easier transfer of calls between local jurisdictions, more robust system reliability with options for disaster recovery and a diminished chance that any 9-1-1 call would ever go unanswered. The Emergency Services Internet Protocol Network Steering Committee, a bipartisan body including state and local government officials, recommended a Universal Access Fee of 70 cents per month, applied to all devices capable of calling 9-1-1, including wireless, landline and VOIP users; ultimately, the legislature set the fee at 40 cents per month. Counties will receive about 72% of the revenue from the fee to fund operations at the local level, with the state having the authority to provide local governments more funding if the state does not need the revenue it receives from the fee. CCAO will be continuing to work with the Department of Administrative Services, the Buckeye Sheriffs Association, and other interested parties to ensure the rollout and operation of the new system is as efficient as possible.
Protecting Ohio's Children
It is an unfortunate reality that the number of Ohio children who require children services has increased steadily over the past decade, due in large part to the opioid epidemic. Children enter children services not only because of abuse and neglect but also due to behavioral health needs, developmental disability needs, and as a diversion from juvenile corrections. The child protection system faces many challenges: the placement crisis, the need for a strengthened continuum of care, and workforce shortages.
State and federal programs such as the Qualified Residential Treatment Program, the Kingship Guardianship Assistance Program, the Family First Prevention Services Act, and OhioRISE are important and potentially lifesaving but require a commitment to provide capacity-building funds and funding to assist in the expansion of provider networks.
The children services field is also facing a grave workforce shortage. Caseworkers must regularly witness the destruction of families and traumatic situations for children, leading to substantial stress and high turnover. Innovative programs such as tuition reimbursement or loan repayment could provide support and incentivize caseworkers to remain with a county agency. Additionally, mobile crisis units should be available across the state to assist counties with severe staffing shortages or critical situations. Failure to address these shortages could doom a generation of vulnerable children to a lifetime of suffering.
Counties still fund the largest share of the expenses in the child welfare system with county general fund dollars and dedicated levies (53 of the 88 counties have children services levies). The state must help its county partners overcome these challenges through increased investments in children services workforce, the State Child Protection Allocation, and the continuum of care, as well as modernization of the Revised Code to provide counties with more flexibility to address these challenges.
County Activity on Policy Issues
The CCAO and member counties are active at the General Assembly to help educate the legislature on how bills could affect counties and to provide a first-hand prospective on issues pertaining to county government. The link below will take you to an archive of testimony offered by both CCAO staff members and county commissioners (both on behalf of the Association and on behalf of their individual counties) on a variety of bills during the 135th General Assembly.
The CCAO Legislative Platform is the Association's comprehensive legislative advocacy document, guiding Association staff on advocacy issues. Read it here!