In 2002, without announcement or opportunity to debate, an eleventh hour change affecting the VSC was made to a massive state budget bill. Under that change, six non-judicial commissioner appointments could be made to the VSC if its budget exceeds one-half of the property taxes assessed for veteran’s services. The six newly-appointed commissioners would outnumber the five judicially appointed commissioners, and could control the VSC. The changed law explicitly states that the new commissioners may reopen and revise the VSC’s budget. In other words, exceeding the new one-half fiscal threshold would put control of the Veterans Service Commission into jeopardy, and would permit reduction of the same budget that allowed the new appointments.
For decades, the Summit County Veteran’s Service Commission had expended about one-half of the County’s property tax assessment for veteran’s services. Each year, the remainder reverts to the County for other uses. Since we already operated within that fiscal threshold, the changed law had no effect on services provided by the VSC.
Nonetheless, an attempt was made to appoint six new commissioners. Previous VSC Director Denny Gutowski, Assistant Director (now Director) George Baker and I met with several supporters of that attempt, but were unable to dissuade them. When Summit County Council met to discuss that attempt, Council Representative (now Common Pleas Judge) Paul Gallagher called the attempt “trickery”. With the help of several Council representatives, and because the VSC had kept its budget in check, that attempt, Council Resolution 2005-675, was withdrawn.
Meanwhile, as readers of EyesRight know, funding a new VSC building was tossed into turmoil. Since then, through meetings, the problems have been resolved. Building discussions resumed and building sites were considered, leading to a current recommendation of a site for a new VSC building.
Recently, the VSC was informed that the preferred location could be purchased. As an aside, we were told that the VSC commissioners would be required to commit the VSC to pay for the land purchase and building construction.
We are concerned with that request. We are being asked to make a commitment that exceeds the rights of our office. Ohio law denies the VSC the right to purchase our own building. If we could have, we would have done so long ago. The County is the entity authorized to budget for, build and own public buildings. Ohio law says that the County may use funds collected for the VSC to pay for a VSC building. We have no problem with that. As mentioned, money is available: we only use half of our funds, leaving the other half available for County use. Acquisition of a new VSC building is a long overdue, good use for those funds.
As for commitments, the VSC will agree that the funds needed for the building will not be spent for other purposes. However, we cannot agree to pay for the building, because the law does not permit us to do so.
The importance of this distinction is that, if the VSC were to agree to pay for the building, six new commissioners may be appointed, regardless of whether the agreement was proper. If the County pays for the building using VSC funds, the expenditure is in accord with Ohio law and does not trigger the appointment of new commissioners.
The day may come that the Summit County Veteran’s Service Commission’s budget for aid and assistance to veterans exceeds the threshold established for the appointment of new commissioners. If that day comes, we, your commissioners, are committed to request all necessary funds, regardless of the consequence of new commissioner appointments. We just don’t want to hasten that day by improperly committing the VSC to a building purchase that, by law, is the County’s to make.