By JIM MAURER
State Rep. Jon Cross told the Hancock County commissioners Thursday he would work to get more money from the state back to local governments.
Cross, R-Kenton, gave the commissioners their first update on happenings in the state Legislature since he was elected to the House seat last year.
Cross replaced Robert Sprague, who was elected state treasurer. Cross began his duties earlier this month. He was previously economic development director in Hardin County.
He wants “to make your job easier,” Cross told the commissioners, whether that is child/youth services, transportation issues, Job and Family Services funding, or pro-business/economic development matters.
The County Commissioners Association of Ohio is working to determine “how to get more money (from the state) back to local government,” Cross said, “so (the counties) can make a stronger economic development effort.”
The reduction in state funds began in 2008 during the recession.
“(I want to) look at a gradual step up in funding,” he said, to increase local government funds.
“We should not continue to put the burden on taxpayers,” he said.
Transportation funding in the state budget is also important, he said, because “you can’t let infrastructure fail.”
“I hope to be a good advocate for you,” he said. “I’ll work from the ground up to be an advocate” by attending various local meetings in the district.
“If Hancock County does well, northwestern Ohio does well,” he said.
The commissioners gave several examples of areas which need financial support. Commissioner President Tim Bechtol said the county receives just 42 percent reimbursement from the state for indigent counsel representation. Legal representation for people who cannot afford an attorney is required by law, but is costly to counties.
Commissioner Mark Gazarek said one solution would be for the state to take over indigent defense funding.
While Hancock County benefits from having Interstate 75 for transportation purposes, it also serves as a major route for drug trafficking, Gazarek said. When people are arrested on I-75, multiple county offices get involved in processing those individuals. It is costly and time-consuming, he said.
Commissioner Brian Robertson said the amount the state Department of Job and Family Services receives for “kids in care,” such as foster care and child care services, ranks 50th nationally. Hancock County spent about $1 million for the services last year.
Robertson wonders what less successful counties across the state are doing to fund these services if it is a struggle for the top micropolitan area nationwide.
“Hancock County generates more for the state than what we receive back,” Robertson said.
Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to unveil his budget in March, Cross said, so available funds will be better known then.
Cross also told the commissioners he hopes to improve the state’s business climate.
“My number one goal,” he said, “is 10 years from now, have Ohio move into the top 10 business-friendly states.”
Depending on the poll, the state ranks from 42nd to ninth, with a Columbus Dispatch story in July listing it 15th. The variance doesn’t matter to Cross, it’s not good enough.
“As long as I’m in this position, I’ll fight every day to make Ohio a business-friendly state,” he said.
He is working on a bill to “incentivize young (college and high school graduates) to stay and work in Ohio for three to five years.”
Certain types of business would be identified and granted tax credits for hiring those individuals. Students who agree to the guidelines would get assistance with repayment of school loans.
“We want to keep the best and brightest in Ohio,” he said, as unfilled jobs remain.
Cross said he hopes to visit the commissioners quarterly for updates and feedback on county needs.
He also hopes to get other state legislators to the area to view what has been done and hear about plans to reduce the flooding, to make sure companies as large as Marathon Petroleum Corp. or as small as “the local deli shop, never feel the need to leave.”
As a result, flood mitigation will remain a top priority, Cross said.
Robertson mentioned the $15 million recently earmarked by the state government for flood mitigation.
“To finally have someone outside Hancock County” realize the need, he said, “it’s meaningful.”