Auditor George Tablack said hiring a personnel director should be the top priority.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- High on Mahoning County commissioners' priority list this year is finding the right people to lead the county's budget and human resources departments.
"Those are two of the most important positions in county government," said Commissioner Ed Reese. Commissioners have advertised both positions and hope to have them filled within six months, Reese said.
The county has been without a budget director since January 1998, when Tom Stanko resigned to take a job at Youngstown State University. Commissioners did not fill the position at the time because of financial instability brought on by the on-again, off-again status of a 0.5 percent county sales tax.
County Administrator Gary Kubic and employees of the county office of management and budget and auditor's office have tackled budgeting duties since then.
Priority: The human resources position will become vacant in April with the retirement of J. Kevin Sellards, who's held the job since 1996. Kubic said filling that position will be the top priority.l More than 20 applications have been received.
Auditor George Tablack said the new human resources director should have time to work alongside Sellards before taking over on his or her own.
"We have numerous collective bargaining contracts with all kinds of twists and turns in them," Tablack said. "The new director would be easy prey for our bargaining units without guidance from Kevin."
Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock said it's important to hire a director who understands county government and is willing to work cooperatively with the labor unions.
What's in audit: The Ohio Auditor's Office recently completed a yearlong performance audit of county government. Its report included more than 200 recommendations to improve efficiency and cut operating costs. About 80 percent of them deal with the human resources office, Tablack said.
One of the primary objectives listed in the report is pulling together the county's fragmented, decentralized personnel operations, something Tablack said he's pushed for some 15 years.
"Personally, I don't even think the budget functions are a distant second place to the importance of that HR position," he said.
Tablack said he's had no formal discussions with commissioners about hiring a budget director, though he's willing to "sit down with them and see what their wishes are."
Kubic and the others have done good budgeting work, but commissioners feel it's finally time to hire a budget director, Sherlock said.
For one thing, Kubic has his hands full with other administrative duties. For another, a full-time person is needed to assist with implementation of the performance audit recommendations, she said.
Reese said commissioners waited for the performance audit to be released so the new budget director can use its findings as a guide for budgeting.
Commissioners intend to move ahead with the hiring even though they are again uncertain of the future of the sales tax, the county's main source of revenue.
Sales taxes: The county has two 0.5 percent sales taxes on the books, one of which expires at the end of this year and will be on the ballot for renewal in May. The other tax expires in December 2004. Together, they account for about 52 percent of the county's general fund revenue.
Ohio Auditor Jim Petro said commissioners have been good stewards of the money and that the revenue is crucial to the county's ability to maintain services.
Reese said uncertainty over the tax's status will make it more difficult to attract good candidates for the budget position.
"Anybody looking for a job is going to want stability," he said, noting that commissioners want to hire someone with government experience.