Ohio Auditor Jim Petro has prescribed some very bitter medicine for the financially ailing city of Girard, but he had no other choice. Government is hemorrhaging, with the general fund recording a $1.5 million deficit at the end of last year -- up from the $800,000 deficit in 2000. If nothing is done to stop the bleeding, the deficit could hit a whopping $1.8 million by 2006.
It is for this reason that all Girard officials, from Mayor James Melfi on down, must commit themselves to implementing the recommendations contained in the long-awaited state performance audit.
There can be no sacred cows when it comes to making the spending cuts that Auditor Petro believes are necessary to put Girard on a firm financial footing. The state auditor's office already has declared the city to be in fiscal emergency because of its general fund deficit and its inability to make loan payments.
Yet, the initial reaction from Judge Michael Bernard makes us wonder whether the executive and judicial branches of government will ever be able to work together. It is no secret that Bernard and Melfi are political adversaries who have publicly clashed over the construction of the justice center, but the state audit has nothing to do with individual officeholders.
Blueprint: Rather, it is a blueprint for Girard's fiscal recovery, which is why we were dismayed by Judge Bernard's contention that the municipal court should not be included in the performance audit and that the recommendation of a reduction in staff is without foundation. The auditor's office is calling for the equivalent of 41/2 employees to be cut from the 16-member court staff.
Bernard's negative reaction to the audit may well have been triggered by the fact that the conclusions reached about the justice center vindicate the mayor. The state pegs the cost of constructing the center, which houses the municipal court and police department, at $5.3 million -- $100,000 more than what the mayor had long contended. Bernard, on the other hand, had insisted that the cost was $3.5 million.
We would hope that the independent analysis of this highly controversial issue would prompt the judge to set aside his personal feelings and work with the administration to return Girard to financial stability. The individuals from the state auditor's office had no axes to grind and had no personal agendas. Their findings reflect an objective evaluation of the city's operations and their recommendations are based on a sound understanding of government accounting.
It would be highly irresponsible for any elected official to simply shrug off the audit as invalid.
We urge Judge Bernard to get on board with the executive and legislative branches so that the development of an economic recovery plan, which is required by state law and must be presented to the state oversight commission, can proceed in a spirit of cooperation.