I was to be in Columbus at 10:00 Thursday, April 7th, to testify before the Agriculture Sub Committee of the House Finance Committee about the Governors Budget and its effect on Darke County. I arrived at about 8:00 a.m. and parked at the County Commissioners of Ohio building on State Street. I walked two blocks to the Statehouse where at 8:30 I met Senator Bill Beagle. It was good to see my old friend and we had a nice chat about where we had both come from and where we were now. Bill looked tired to me and, well, he should be because he has been right in the middle of the Senate Bill 5 storm from the beginning. It has taken a toll on him and his family, but Bill is tough and will continue to do the right things as he has changed so much since we first met (he was the shy, quiet one of the two of us!). He will serve us proudly I am sure.
After our meeting (by the way, his office is easy to find and pretty nice with a view of 3rd Street!), I went to where my hearing was to take place. It was room 018 in the Statehouse basement. I still had about an hour, so I walked over to see Rep. Buchy and Rep. Adams. Rep. Adams was out of the office and Rep. Buchy was in a committee hearing so I got to talk to his aide, Justin Barnhart, for about a half hour. Justin then walked me to the hearing room so I would know where it was located. When he left I wandered around the Statehouse looking at the pictures and the Statues there and talked to some people from other counties that happened to be there for whatever reason. At 9:45 I walked to the hearing room and a note on the door said the hearing was moved to room 114. I had to look for that one as I had no idea where it was. After a few inquiries, I found it just off the rotunda to the south down a short hall.
The room was full as I walked in and was told to fill out a form stating why I was there and what I was going to say. I filled it out and in the part where it wanted to know what I was going to say, I wrote “Darke County will do what we have to do!” The hearing started at about 10:10, and Larry Long from the County Commissioners Association was chosen as the first speaker. He did a great job! He explained the Counties’ position and had some very good information for the committee. I think some things will change because of his testimony. He spoke for about 40 minutes. After Larry, the Township association had a speaker, their Executive Director Matt DeTemple, who pretty much echoed Larry’s statements. He spoke for 20 minutes. Then the flood gates opened! For the next 90 minutes I heard three Mayors and Commissioners, all from up north around the Cleveland area, who did nothing but tell how they had only budgeted for a 10 to 20% cut for their governments over the next two years and how they would all die and have to eat dog food if any more was taken from them!
The Darke County Commissioners looked at the first draft of the budget in late February, and in about 2 minutes we decided that the counties were going to get hit with 50% cuts, and planned accordingly! I was amazed at how everyone was so passionate about getting no cuts to their budgets, because “We are operating on bare bones now, and any other cuts will make us do horrible things like lay off people or, heaven forbid, cut some services!!” One township Trustee from Cuyahoga County even went so far as to tell the Committee they were so stretched that they had to turn off 70% of their new street lights to make ends meet! (Street lights, really?) There was then a lunch break for an hour and we resumed at 1:30. After lunch, we started in again with more testimony, all the same. Everyone in the State was prepared for 10 to 20 percent cuts over 2 years, but not this! This was outrageous! One mayor, whom I talked to for a while before his testimony was literally sick to think they were going to lose about $400,000 dollars over the next 2 years. He said they were operating on a shoestring now, and if they had to cut that much money, they would have to lay off 3 firemen and maybe a policeman, because they couldn’t find any more cuts in their 15 Million dollar budget to cut. This seems to be the story they always tell about how firemen and policemen are the first to go, I mean really, do you have to cut them, or are you just scaring the public?
At 3:15 the Chairman, I believe his name was Balderson, called for me to testify. He made the point of telling the committee that he rode up in the elevator with me earlier in the morning and had enjoyed our little two minute chat (I didn’t know who he was at the time, and I didn’t think he would even remember me!). I told them my testimony would be different, short and sweet. I did not bombard them with numbers, although the County Commissioners association had done a great job of giving me tons of information to use (Thank You Brad Cole!). I gave a brief history of Darke County, and then told them that since this was an Agricultural Sub Committee I thought they would like to hear some Agricultural Statistics instead of all the charts and graphs they had been looking at about cities and Counties for the last 5 hours! They got a kick out of that, so I told them about how Darke County ranked in Agriculture in the State, and how important this was to us and them. They really did appreciate that. I closed by telling them that the people of Darke County are hard working, honest, God loving people who do not complain much, just accept what comes to them, overcome it, and go on.
The Chairman then asked if anyone had any questions. Rep. Driehaus, from Hamilton County asked me the same questions she had asked everybody: Would the budget cuts affect us in Darke County (WELL, DUH!), and how would we cope with it. I told her it would definitely affect us but we had already made plans for that. She was totally amazed that we had thought that far ahead! She wanted to know how we did that. I told her that the Commissioners before me had started back in 2001 with cuts, and because of the people that work with us, we were making it work. I gave her the example of Jobs and Family services in the County who had made big cuts and also some of our other Departments who had sacrificed to make this work. She was shocked! She said if they did that in her District, why they couldn’t operate and wanted to know how could we possibly get work done with those cuts in personnel. I said “Maybe our people just work harder than your people!” She did not like that, but the other members of the committee did!
I mean really, what else can you do? You do more with less like our people are doing. That is why I keep telling the people of Darke County that they don’t know how lucky they are. I do not think I am Ms. Driehaus’s favorite Commissioner. She then asked me if I thought the cuts were equitable, and I said no, but we knew they wouldn’t be. She said how did we know that and I told her that we, The Darke County Commissioners, know how government works. The people in Columbus see how much money is going to the Counties and Townships, and instead of cutting things in Columbus, they cut us! Not real sure she liked that, but it is the truth. I then told her that at least in this budget, everyone is taking a hit, so that makes it a little more easy. I then told her I would make her and the Committee a deal, we would accept a 15% cut in 2012 and a 20% cut in 2013 for a total of 35% over 2 years. That would be half way between the 20% I had been hearing from everyone else today, and the 50% the Governor had recommended, so everyone should be happy!! She smiled a little on that one, but the others liked that a lot, I could tell by their big smiles! She asked a few more questions, along with another Rep. who’s name escapes me now. I could tell they both were not from rural areas, because all their questions were how they could not see how people could survive with more Government cuts.
After my testimony, I thanked the committee and asked if I could leave them with one final thought. The Chairman, who I think enjoyed my small banter with the Rep. said “Absolutely, please go ahead.” I told them I would like to leave them with the words of Sir Winston Churchill who said, “It is not enough that we do our best, sometimes we must do what is required.” I then asked them to do what is required to get our State back on track and out of Debt. They thanked me and I left.
As I walked out with Josh Hahn from the Commissioners Association, I asked him how I did. I wanted to make sure that I did not represent all of you back here in a bad light. He slapped me on the back and said I did just fine. I told them what I thought and told them what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. At that time a man from the Committee, Rep. Hall from Holmes county, came out into the hallway to tell me that he thoroughly enjoyed my testimony and that I was not to worry about the other 2 reps because they were from large metropolitan areas and all they knew were Government entitlements. He then said “If I were to bring folks from the 3 counties I represent, they would have told the Committee the same things you did! He then told me good luck and told me I could come back anytime (I think one appearance is enough!). He then returned to the conference room to hear one more person testify. I then walked back to the Senate side of the Statehouse, saw Senator Beagle again, and after a quick chat, walked back to the County Commissioners Association Building. When I got there, they gave me the grand tour, and I got to meet all of them. Thanks to Brad Cole, Josh Hahn, Cheryl Subler, and Melissa Bodey (I think that’s how she spells her name), for the tour, and thanks for the help. All in all, it was a good experience, and I hope I made Darke County as proud of me as I am of them.