Stephanie Warsmith and Rick Armon
The long and ugly budget battle between Summit County and the elections board may be over, with the county agreeing to again boost the board’s budget, raising it to $6.1 million.
Jason Dodson, chief of staff for Democratic County Executive Russ Pry, said Thursday that the administration is willing to increase the spending plan for several reasons, including it finally saw some justifications from the board on why more money is needed.
Meanwhile, he said, the board had threatened to go to court with the November election fast approaching. There also was a fear that a judge would order the county to cough up $6.1 million anyway and taxpayer money would be wasted in a legal battle, he said.
“We still do believe that room exists to operate the board more efficiently and the board should explore those opportunities in the future,” Dodson said.
Legislation calling for the $6.1 million will be introduced Monday before the Democratic-controlled County Council.
The board’s Democrats are satisfied with the county’s latest offer, but the Republicans are skeptical about whether it will be enough to get through the year — a presidential election year when boards are busier.
“We will do whatever we can to work within that number,” said Tim Gorbach, the board’s Democratic chairman. “We will be monitoring. If we see an issue, I know the county will be there to help us on that front. I’m not concerned — at all.”
Alex Arshinkoff, a Republican board member, is worried the board will have enough to make it through the election, but not to the end of the year. Joe Masich, the board’s Republican director, has estimated the board will need $6.48 million, which doesn’t include another $300,000 in potential contingencies.
“I’m going to instruct Joe [Masich] to get a hold of the state auditor,” Arshinkoff said. “I want to know on a daily basis where we are financially.”
Attorney General Mike DeWine advised the board that it couldn’t spend any money it didn’t have and, if it did, board members would personally be liable.
“The idea we would spend money above … I’m not going to do that,” Arshinkoff said. “I’m a little nervous.”
Arshinkoff said the Republican board members won’t take the fight to court without the support of the Democratic board members.
The money spat has been going on since late last year. The four-member board asked for $9.3 million, which included $1.1 million in contingencies.
But Pry recommended and County Council approved a $4.7 million spending plan.
The board cut its spending to try to appease the county, eliminating 18 jobs and reducing the number of voting precincts to save money.
The county subsequently agreed to give the board $700,000 more and then added the same amount with its latest offer.
The administration has repeatedly complained that the board hasn’t justified why it needs so much money. But Dodson said board representatives recently provided details on the spending.
“We don’t agree with all the operational choices, but it is what it is,” Dodson said. “It represents a fair resolution.”
Gorbach and Kim Zurz, the board’s Democratic deputy director, said the board has its own computer system that will be sufficient for monitoring its finances. Gorbach said the county also will be keeping a close eye on the board’s spending, as it does with all county-funded agencies.
Zurz said Arshinkoff might want to rethink bringing in the state auditor, who might look at the board’s finances and find expenses he thinks are unnecessary or technology he thinks the board should have invested in.
“I’m not sure he wants to go down that road,” she said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.