Behavioral health levy a step closer to ballot

By Sam Shawver

Special to the Times

A proposed 0.5-mill property tax levy to support behavioral health services was moved a step closer to being placed on the November general election ballot by the Washington County Commissioners Thursday.

Commission clerk Rick Peoples said the resolution requests the county auditor to certify the tax valuation and determine the dollar amount of revenue from the levy.

“I expect the resolution will be certified next week, then we will notify the board of elections to place the language on the Nov. 7 ballot,” Peoples said.

The commissioners approved the ballot measure for the five-year levy as requested by the Washington County Behavioral Health Board.

If passed, the levy would cost the owner of a home appraised at $100,000 about $1.50 a month and would generate an estimated $737,001 annually.

The tax would become effective in January 2018.

Also on Thursday the commissioners discussed the county’s annual contract with the local Ohio Public Defenders Office.

Public defender Ray Smith, accompanied by staff attorneys Shawna Landaker and John Marsh, provided the commissioners with a draft copy of the proposed fiscal year 2018 budget.

Washington County covers 60 percent of the total $801,462 defenders office budget while the state is responsible for the remaining 40 percent.

“The county cost will increase by more than $92,000 over last year’s contract. That’s a 23.9 percent increase,” said Commissioner Rick Walters.

The contract estimate was $388,055 in total county funds to support the office in fiscal year 2017. The county’s 60 percent portion of the total Fiscal 2018 budget comes in at $480,876.

There are seven positions in the local defenders office, including four attorneys and three administration posts. Smith said he’s currently looking for a candidate to fill the fourth attorney position.

The defenders office also subcontracts with local attorneys Rolf Baumgartel and Eric Fowler who take on some public defender cases.

The Ohio Public Defenders Office has set limits on the total number of cases that can be handled by the local office’s attorneys and subcontracted attorneys for fiscal year 2018.

Those figures total 428 felonies, 1,635 misdemeanors and 96 juvenile cases.

Commissioner Ron Feathers noted the county is bound by state law to pay its share for the public defenders office.

“We really have no choice,” he said, adding that a representative from the Ohio Public Defenders Office is slated to meet with the commissioners next week to finalize the 2018 budget proposal.

What’s next

¯ Regular Washington County Commission meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday in the county courthouse annex meeting room.

¯ All commission meetings, except executive sessions, are open to the public.