Money's getting pretty tight as Washington County faces a continuing decline in support from state and federal sources. But the county's 22 townships are requesting additional funds, and there are ongoing concerns about pay increases for county employees.
Those issues were recently addressed by the three Republican challengers facing off in the March 6 primary for one Washington County Commissioner seat.
Incumbent Steve Weber, David White and David Locke will be on the primary ballot with the winner facing Democrat Peg Littler, 67, of Devola, in the November general election.
Candidates for the other open seat, incumbent Cora Marshall, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Ron Feathers, 47, of Marietta, will compete for a second seat in November.
Incumbent Steve Weber noted township trustees recently approached the commissioners about the possibility of obtaining more funding from the county's 1 percent permissive sales tax. Townships currently receive about 72 percent.
Republican Washington County Commissioner candidates include:
Address: 233 Third St., Lowell.
Occupation: Retired Ohio Highway Patrol trooper and elected to first term as commissioner in 2008.
Address: 112 Seventh St., Marietta.
Occupation: Small business owner and two terms on Marietta City Council.
Address: 515 Tupper St., Marietta.
Occupation: Former Marietta City Auditor and currently has an accounting practice.
"We have to try and give them a higher percentage of the sales tax and maybe increase the funding by a certain amount each year," he said. "We have a committee that's working on the issue and are hoping we can come up with a formula that will provide a little more of a percentage increase every year."
Weber said he would like to see some of the lesser-funded townships brought up to par with those receiving more money from the county to help level the playing field.
"We need to help the poorer townships where we're hearing a lot of complaints about road conditions," he said. "That's especially a problem for the township trustees who must deal with land slips and deteriorating roadways. I think a lot of those problems could be alleviated if we can get the townships a little more funding."
He said a total of $736,915 has been appropriated for distribution to the townships in the county's 2012 budget.
Each township receives a portion of the funding based on needs for road repairs and other infrastructure maintenance.
As for pay raises, Weber said county employees deserve pay increases for the hard work they do.
The commissioners were recently criticized for granting some workers a 50-cent per hour pay raise. Some of the other elected county officials say they should have final say on pay raises within their departments.
Another pay raise issue was faced by the commissioners at the end of 2011 when county judges issued a court order demanding 41 court employees receive a 6.2 percent increase retroactive to June 26 of that year.
"We'd like to bring everyone up to snuff but it all depends on our available finances," Weber said. "We've put enough money into the 2012 budget to provide raises but it's really up to the elected officials in each office to determine how they distribute that money."
Weber also noted the county maintains 3-year contracts with bargaining units that usually negotiate annual wage increases.
Former Marietta city councilman David White is one of Weber's two challengers in the March primary.
White said the formula setting how much each township receives from the 1 percent tax hasn't been reviewed for several years.
"It really needs to be looked at to find a much more equitable way to distribute the sales tax funding to the townships," he said.
White said he's not advocating for new taxes, but he believes in addition to the number and mileage of roads in each township, the funding formula should also consider how many people are using the township roadways.
"I would be open to considering an adjustment to the funding allocation," he said.
On the issue of pay increases, White also noted the commissioners budget a certain amount every year for that purpose.
"The commissioners set the overall budget but it's up to the elected officials to decide who receives a pay raise in their offices," he said.
White said one of the top concerns he's hearing from county residents is that they may be forced to tap into a county-wide sewer system.
"Nobody wants to be forced onto a sewer system," he said. "But there's tremendous pressure coming from the state Environmental Protection Agency for people with septic systems to tie into a county sewer system."
He said it should be a resident's right to choose which system they want to use.
The third Republican county commission challenger is David Locke, former auditor for the city of Marietta.
"Maintaining roads and bridges is a prime responsibility of government and two-thirds of the roadways in this county are township roads," he said.
"Improving that infrastructure and creating jobs is a priority for me and I've been telling that to people all over the county," Locke said. "I'm all about creating living wage jobs."
He noted that some of the thousands of jobs lost due to a sagging economy over the last few years could be picked up by putting people to work on roads, bridges and other needed infrastructure projects.
Locke said sales tax collection has increased in the county but the amount of that tax distributed to townships has not kept pace.
"The county has been balancing its budget on the backs of the townships," he said. "Taxpayers deserve safe roads and more improvements need to be made."
Locke said concerns about county employee pay are bigger than the 50-cent raise the current commissioners have budgeted for workers.
"In a tough economy we should be working together on addressing these issues," he said. "And everyone needs to realize we are dealing with some tough economic times.
"Elected officials have the right to hire and fire employees and they need to get in on this discussion, too," Locke added.
He said his guiding principle for government is based on how to best provide services for county taxpayers.
"It's unfortunate, but the county has more priorities than we can possibly pay for, so some very tough decisions will have to be made," Locke said.