COLUMBIANA COUNTY Recorder fears layoffs, firing at office

Published: Thu, August 23, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Jamison Cocklin


The Columbiana County recorder says his office could run out of funds by November, meaning he will have to lay off half his staff.

County commissioners say they don’t intend to give Recorder Craig Brown additional funding this year.

The office is charged with processing paperwork and researching the legality of property rights. It has been instrumental in generating the $3.2 million in county funds related to shale-gas leases, Brown said.

But now, a spat between the commissioners’ office and Brown, a Democrat who will leave his elected post at the first of the year after losing in the primary in March, could lead to two layoffs and one firing in the coming weeks.

The dilemma poses a problem for oil and gas companies that cannot go forward with drilling operations until the recorder’s office determines who owns the land.

Documents from commissioners show that expenses for the office stand at $162,250 to date, against its 2012 appropriation of $253,850.

Though expenses through the end of July should be about 58 percent of appropriations, they are now at nearly 64 percent.

The commissioners say they have no intention of providing any more funding before the end of the year, which could also mean the office will have to close its front desk and stop taking paperwork a few days each week to process what it already has.

In February, amid a barrage of activity related to oil and gas mineral rights throughout the county, Brown decided to hire what he called a “deputy recorder.”

He maintains his office was both understaffed and underfunded to deal with the increased level of paperwork and foot traffic his employees faced due to the oil and gas- |drilling operations.

“I told them last year that we would have this problem,” Brown said. “The commissioners don’t understand the relationship between property, business development and the economy. They don’t understand what we do here.”

Brown maintains his office should be staffed with seven employees plus himself, but it now operates with only five. Brown said it is likely the layoffs and firing will occur.

“The commissioners are literally putting a boot on the neck of this office,” he said. “Some of the documents we process take weeks, now they will take months, and that will slow down economic activity in this area.”

Mike Halleck, president of the board of commissioners, said Brown has no one to blame but himself.

“In short, funding at offices throughout the county was cut by 5 percent in 2012,” Halleck said. “We can’t manage money for [Brown]. It’s called management, and it’s simple stuff.”

Commissioner Jim Hoppel said Brown’s decision to hire what he called a “personal assistant” was completely unnecessary.

“All the lease paperwork has dropped off significantly in that office — it’s over now,” Hoppel said. “You simply don’t need that many people working in the recorder’s office.”

Both Hoppel and Halleck said it will now be up to Brown to find further cost savings and efficiencies to stay within his budget appropriation. They said he can start by firing the new hire. Brown says he’ll be taking a closer look at his budget to do that.

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