Licking County Year in Review 2009
In what has been a challenging year, I would like to share some thoughts about the achievements of your Licking County Government in a time of declining resources.
Much has been said recently about cutbacks, and any review of 2009 must begin with the effects of the recession. Unemployment in the neighborhood of ten percent and home foreclosures continue to be the result of a severe national recession. You should know the County development staff continues to work with existing and potential employers to retain and create jobs. In addition, the County in partnership with the State, Pataskala City and Etna Township is building a ‘development road’ through the JRS industrial site in the Pataskala area. Opportunity Links, the job service outreach program of the Department of Job and Family Services continues to help those who have lost jobs to find employment. And the County Treasurer and his staff work daily with local residents to make accommodations and help keep people in their homes.
Entering 2010 it is a concern the County’s carry over has declined by half, and all departments and offices have been cut by ten percent or more. Across the board, elected officials and department heads worked hard throughout the year to reduce costs while working to maintain acceptable levels of service. The interim budget to begin 2010 is in balance, and we are hopeful the slow national recovery will mean a steady and stronger local economy in the year ahead.
Considering the conditions, I am proud to say it has been a year of achievement on a number of fronts.
The County Commissioners, in a cooperative effort with the Auditor, Treasurer, Prosecutor and Recorder, initiated a comprehensive County Records Program led by Katy Klettlinger. This was done by rearranging resources and using special funds to staff the effort, and the initial Records Center is located in existing County space. In effect, it’s a new department with minimal impact on the County General Fund. Efforts are well underway to salvage precious permanent records from the attic of the Courthouse, and to properly archive and store all County records, paper and electronic, as required.
In an effort to save money, the five offices using the former Children’s Home in east Newark were all relocated. Due to age and deterioration, the old Home is no longer suitable for any use, and at some point will be demolished. Just by emptying the building and decommissioning the systems, the County will save some $70,000 per year in utility, insurance and maintenance costs.
The County’s Information Technologies Department is moving forward under the leadership of new IT Department Head Darrin Baldinelli. The County’s excellent IT staff is implementing a critically needed data back-up center to protect the millions of computer records and actions, encompassing all aspects of County Government. In addition, the IT staff, Economic Development, and the Commissioners are working to bring a higher degree of fiber optic connectivity to the County, which is a key to future economic success.
Another County IT system upgrade has been installation of paperless digital computer systems for processing work at both our JFS and Child Support Enforcement Agency. These improvements are critical at a time when State financial support for these State/Local operations is dwindling.
The County’s Animal Control Department has ascended to a new level with continued emphasis on professional leadership, enhanced spay and neuter programs, and an aggressive adoption program supported by our community and several helpful rescue groups.
After years of debate, the Commissioners in concert with the judges and other users of the County Courthouse initiated a security plan for the Courthouse. Based on State Supreme Court guidance, a single secure entrance to the Courthouse was established. Also, policy and procedural changes were implemented to protect the Court, its employees, and the public who use and visit the Courthouse.
The County completed restoration work on its parking garage downtown. A gift from the City a few years ago, the garage was deteriorating due to poor construction in the ‘70s. The County rebuilt the sagging corners of the much-used facility, and updated its systems as well. The garage will continue to be an asset in the decades to come for County employees, customers of County services, and the general public.
Finally, at year end the County took the leadership to save and retain quality local building code enforcement services both for residential and commercial/industrial projects. The abolishment by Newark City of its code enforcement department put this important function at risk. The unincorporated areas of the County and most of the areas serviced by municipal governments will continue to have the valuable service provided locally as the new County Code Enforcement Department is staffed, on a sized-down basis, which opened Jan. 4.
These highlights represent achievement for the people of Licking County in a challenging year, and on behalf of fellow Commissioners Doug Smith and Brad Feightner, I am proud to share them with you.