By JIM MAURER
The venue was different, but the Hancock County commissioners’ message was the same at Tuesday’s annual “state of the county address.” The county’s prosperity is being tempered by the drug epidemic, which is impacting the county’s budget.
The commissioners took turns discussing the topics of community, county finances, flood reduction, safety and security during the nearly 40-minute presentation in the Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Findlay.
The commissioners gave a preview of the address earlier this month at a GOP luncheon.
Commissioner Mark Gazarek on Tuesday discussed the recognition of Findlay and Hancock County by Site Selection magazine as the top “micropolitan” area in the U.S. for the fourth consecutive year, based on the amount invested by companies, projects underway and employment numbers.
Hancock County’s unemployment rate is down to 3.6 percent, one of the lowest statewide. Any figure below 5 percent is considered “full employment,” Gazarek said.
The specialized skills needed to work in the companies locating in the county, and the need for workers to fill those positions, resulted in the county establishing a workforce development effort in 2015, “Raise the Bar Hancock County,” to provide necessary training, he said.
He also praised the efforts by the county Veterans Services Office to assist more than 5,500 county veterans.
The drug epidemic has created a financial strain for the county Department of Job and Family Services, especially in the area of children’s protective services to care for children affected by parents addicted to drugs, he said.
Commissioner Tim Bechtol reviewed the county’s finances and flood-reduction efforts.
The county received about $14.9 million from sales tax receipts in 2017. The county collects a 1 percent sales tax, with one-quarter percent being used for flood reduction and the remainder for general operations of various county departments.
The quarter-percent tax for flood reduction ends Dec. 31. The commissioners removed from last November’s ballot a request to extend that tax. The flood-reduction fund had a cash balance of about $18.4 million at year-end 2017.
The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District, which is now in charge of flood-reduction efforts in the county, has authority to assess property owners in the Blanchard River watershed to continue funding for the work.
Tree clearing began Tuesday and will be completed before bids are sought for a “benching” project to widen the river in Findlay by cutting into the banks. The flood-reduction fund will be used to pay for a majority of the “benching” project.
The county also purchased 20 properties in 2017 to create more open space for floodwaters.
Commissioner President Brian Robertson focused Tuesday on safety and security issues, with an emphasis on the county prosecutor, county courts, adult probation, and the impact drug addiction has on multiple county departments and the sheriff’s office.
Adult felony cases and indictments have increased from 297 in 2005 to 390 in 2017, while criminal filings in common pleas court are up 28.6 percent, reaching 408 in 2017.
Homicides, robberies and sex crimes have all increased, while weapons offenses have increased from 25 in 2012 through 2015, to 29 in 2016-2017.
Drug offenses (trafficking, possession, and permitting drug use) have increased from 173 in 2012 to 315 in 2017.
A total of 23 drug deaths were reported in Hancock County for 2017, but pending autopsy results may raise that figure.
At the Hancock County jail, overcrowded conditions continue.
The adult probation department continues to see an increase in cases, with 712 cases in 2017, up from 595 in 2013.
Robertson also noted that the county expects a decline in sales tax receipts this year. The federal government has determined that sales tax can no longer be collected on Medicaid managed care services.
The county expects about a $600,000 loss annually, but received a $235,000 state payment this year to partially offset the reduction. There is no guarantee of future state assistance.
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