How Can We Help Local Governments in Fiscal Distress?

Written for the Ohio Farm Bureau

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ohio’s state and local governments are continuing to struggle financially as our economy slowly recovers.  With this in mind, my office is taking a proactive approach to catch fiscal problems early, provide greater assistance to the local governments we serve and prevent local communities from falling into fiscal emergency.

With the goals of providing earlier assistance to local communities and making the current process more efficient, I presented several proposals to the legislature that were included as amendments in the biennial budget legislation.  One of these new laws requires the Auditor of State’s office to identify fiscal practices and budget conditions that, if uncorrected, could result in a declaration of fiscal watch or emergency.  Should a county, township or municipal corporation meet one of these conditions, they will be notified they are in “fiscal caution.” 

This new law is modeled off current laws governing school districts in fiscal distress.  Control will stay in the hands of local leaders to fix problems before they reach fiscal watch or emergency and the state steps in to supervise. My office also fought for more flexibility for local leaders faced with fiscal distress to renegotiate collective bargaining agreements.

Also included in the budget legislation is the Local Government Stabilization Toolkit that helps streamline the process for sharing services and voluntary mergers.  Both voluntary mergers and shared services provide entities with the ability to efficiently achieve economies of scale. 

In the past, these processes have been complex and cumbersome.  Both processes now give local officials more freedom to decide what works best for their communities.  These are not top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates from Columbus.  For mergers, the decision could be placed on the ballot by local leaders or a joinder could be initiated by the people.  Either way, the question is decided by local citizens at the ballot.

My office is also working to provide guidance and information about the new law changes to local governments.  Our new skinnyOhio website is an online clearinghouse of strategies devoted to smarter, streamlined government. This website offers examples, best practices, reference documents and other resources to help local governments decide what works best for them.  Recently added is a catalog of performance audits conducted by the Auditor of State’s office. The database is searchable by topic, entity type, or entity name.  Take a minute to look at ways governments across Ohio are using proven strategies, policies and procedures to facilitate efficient and effective organizations, operational changes and budgeting.

I appreciate the opportunity to provide more information on how the Auditor of State’s office is helping local governments cope with fewer resources.  Having served as a former county auditor and prosecutor, I appreciate the dedicated service provided by local governments across our state.  I look forward to continuing our work together to address the challenges that lie ahead.