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Published: Thursday, 2/23/2006

Hancock County veterans' agency battles budget cuts


FINDLAY - The agency that assists veterans in Hancock County has given county commissioners until March 10 to restore the $100,000 they slashed from the veterans commission's 2006 budget.

The five-member Veterans Service Commission voted yesterday to seek legal counsel with a Columbus attorney who successfully argued a similar case before the Ohio Supreme Court in 1996 if county commissioners don't change their mind.

"We have to, because we don't know what the future's going to bring," said Norman Willier, president of the veterans commission. "We don't know what our boys are going to be like when they get back here, what they're going to need."

Board member Roger Neff said the agency is seeing an increase in requests for aid from veterans and their families.

By state law, county veterans commissions are permitted to receive up to a half mill of property tax revenues to run their operations. The agencies provide a variety of services for veterans.

While a half-mill in Hancock County amounts to more than $800,000, the Veterans Service Commission requested $420,000 for 2006.

Citing the county's financial crunch and the fact that the veterans agency traditionally returns at least $100,000 in unspent funds each year, commissioners appropriated just $319,000.

Ed Ingold, chairman of the county commissioners, said the county isn't asking the agency to cut staff or services, but to submit a more realistic budget.

"They have for the past number of years submitted a budget that's inflated. They know it's inflated, we know it's inflated, and at the end of the year they end up spending about 70 percent of their funding," Mr. Ingold said "... Our problem is that with the financial situation we've found ourselves in over the last couple of years, when they come in with an inflated budget, that basically takes money away from our ability to move it around toother areas of the county where it's needed. It locks it up."

State officials said commissioners will have an uphill battle if they try to press the issue.

"As long as the budget is legal, as long as it doesn't exceed their half mill, and as long as they don't rent a limousine to transport veterans to medical appointments, then the county commissioners should approve it," said Jim Forster, assistant director of the Governor's Office of Veterans Affairs.

Depending on the size of the county, it's not unusual for a veterans commission to request less than a half mill in funding, use less than what they're appropriated, and return the excess at the end of the year, said Timothy Espich, director of the Governor's Office of Veterans Affairs.

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.

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