MOUNT VERNON — Efforts to trim funding for recipients of money from the county General Fund ran into resistance from the Veterans Service Office on Monday, according to the Knox County Commissioners. A meeting was scheduled for Monday afternoon between the commissioners and representatives of the VSO, including Commissioner John Kaiser, retiring director Trent Ansel and incoming director Kevin Henthorn.
Moments before the meeting was to begin in open session, Assistant Prosecutor Charles McConville said the board should go into executive session for the meeting, as a threat of litigation had been made. He did not elaborate.
After the meeting ended, Commissioners President Allen Stockberger confirmed that comments about litigation by the VSO against the county had been made, but that during the meeting, the threat of litigation had been formally withdrawn. The meeting, however, continued in executive session, with the group discussing proposed budget cuts.
Stockberger summarized the meeting as a sometimes contentious discussion of expense details and larger funding issues. He said the VSO representatives said they would not voluntarily cut 9 percent from their county funding as the commissioners requested last Thursday.
“We certainly support veterans, but we have a tough job with the budget,” said Commissioner Teresa Bemiller.
She pointed out that the wording of section 5705.05 of the Ohio Revised Code states that up to 0.5 mill of revenue income can be used to fund veterans service operations, but that it doesn’t have to be at that level. Since 2001, according to Stockberger, the VSO has received the full amount in county budgets, unlike years before that, when the VSO received only about half the recent level of funding.
Stockberger said that since the VSO was resisting the 9 percent cut, he printed up some expense reports and highlighted items he thought were questionable choices, areas where the VSO could reduce spending.
“They weren’t too happy with that,” Stockberger said.
County entities who receive General Fund money have until the end of the month to detail their 9 percent cuts, in writing, to the commissioners.
In other business, Knox County veteran Michael Kirk met with the commissioners to protest that as a veteran on disability, he has to pay property taxes. The commissioners invited Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl to join the meeting, as any change in veterans’ tax status would have to come from the state legislature.
Kirk said that in Florida, where he previously lived, veterans with service-related disabilities were only required to pay property tax by level of disability. Thus, a 25 percent disability would cause an eligible veteran to get a 25 percent discount on property taxes. An eligible veteran with 100 percent disability paid no property tax. Kirk himself has a 60 percent disability that is rated as a 100 percent disability because of his unemployability.
Kirk said that when he moved back to Knox County in August 2005, he contacted then-Rep. Thom Collier and asked him to do something on this issue legislatively, but that nothing was done. Ruhl said she would research the issue, but that with the state budget pending, legislation was not flowing through right now. She said she expected there would be resistance to rescinding taxes at a time when money was so tight.
“That would shift the tax burden onto everyone else,” Ruhl said.
“I think it’s worth every penny,” Kirk said. “It’s a smack in the face to disabled veterans to not give them this.”
Public hearings were also held Monday regarding Community Development Block Grant funding applications for the Bladensburg and Millwood wastewater facility projects. Consultant Amy Shocken said she only needed a specific user fee calculation from project engineers ADR and Associates of Newark, installation permits obtained by the county and health department letters attesting to the need for wastewater projects in these hamlets. With that information, she should be able to file for the grants by mid-July.
The commissioners also signed a contract with Gateway to allow them to begin building the water storage tank in Apple Valley, and signed contracts and labor agreement paperwork for Roger Shooter.