What's wrong with this picture? The four members of the Columbiana County Board of Elections each earn $9,600 a year for their part-time service -- last year they attended 10 official meetings -- but it costs taxpayers $13,000 a year for each one who signs up for health insurance coverage.
What's wrong with that picture? Everything.
The only bright spot in this gloomy illustration of government out of touch with reality is that one of the four elections board members, Alfred Fricano, has chosen not to participate in the county's health plan. But with the other three members, Chairman Jerry Ward, Anthony J. Rich and Dennis Johnson, receiving coverage, the cost to the county is $39,000. That may not seem like an enormous sum of money compared to the overall budget, but when the general fund ledger is dripping red ink, every cent counts.
Feeling the pain
The county commissioners, faced with the monumental task of making ends meet with $1 million less in revenue than the $18.7 million spent in 2004, have imposed a 20 percent cut in the salary accounts and have targeted cuts in other accounts. For many departments and agencies, that has meant layoffs or four-day work weeks.
With the board of elections, which asked for $543,000 this year, commissioners Jim Hoppel, Sean Logan and Gary Williams approved $400,000. The reduction reflects, among other things, the opinion of Hoppel, Logan and Williams that the four part-time members of the board of elections should not have access to taxpayer-paid health insurance.
But their attempt to end this obvious unjustified expenditure has been blocked by Judge Ashley Pike of the Columbiana County Common Pleas Court. Yes, it is the same Judge Pike who let it be known recently that the commissioners could have a fight on their hands with regard to the budget allocation for the courts.
Pike ordered Hoppel, Logan and Williams to continue paying for the health insurance for elections board members Ward, Rich and Johnson. The insurance was scheduled to expire Tuesday.
The commissioners were obviously displeased with the judge's order and said they weren't sure how they were going to respond, but an official in the Ohio Secretary of State's Office said there isn't much they can do insofar as withholding money for health insurance coverage.
Why? Because state law gives the board of elections the power to provide group medical insurance not only for the workers, but for themselves. In other words, the four decide whether they will receive this largess.
Who are these members and what are their qualifications to serve as the top elections officials in the 88 counties in Ohio? They're political insiders. There are two Republicans and two Democrats on each board, and they're appointed by the executive committees of each party. They have no specific qualifications other than the fact that they usually are party officials. Traditionally, the chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties in each county serve, and they usually anoint the other party members.
Service of the board of elections is by no means taxing nor time-consuming, which is why providing members with health insurance is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
With the Columbiana County commissioners between a rock and a hard place, we believe the time is right for them to push for a change in state law so elections board members would not be able to receive county health insurance coverage unless they paid for it themselves.
Hoppel, Logan and Williams may not succeed in getting any legislator to take up this challenge, but the very announcement of their desire to get state law changed will trigger a statewide debate and that will turn the spotlight on this unwarranted expenditure of tax dollars.