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Published: Tuesday, 7/18/2006

Fulton County officials disagree on unbid pact

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Yackee Yackee
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WAUSEON - The Fulton County auditor and county commissioners are in a standoff over a nearly $441,000 contract that the commissioners say should have been put out for bids.

The contract is for the county real estate reappraisal, which is done every six years, and by law, it doesn't have to go out for bids. Such contracts are among exceptions in the Ohio Revised Code, which says most public expenditures above $25,000 must be bid. But it's the largest contract the auditor's office awards, and the commissioners say it's not good business to spend such a sum without getting prices from more than one vendor.

"That's a bunch of money," Commissioner Paul Barnaby said.

Auditor Nancy Yackee, however, said the county hasn't put the reappraisal contract out for bids in the past, and the company she chose - Appraisal Research Corp. of Findlay - has done a good job on other work. "It's not necessary and I don't have to, so I'm not going to" put the contract out for bids, she said.

She can't, however, get to the money she needs for the contract without the OK from the commissioners. And they unanimously refused to appropriate money for the contract last month.

That means Mrs. Yackee must either settle with the commissioners, probably by checking prices with other vendors, or ask Ohio Tax Commissioner William W. Wilkins to order the commissioners to appropriate the money.

Such orders from the state tax commissioner are rare. A tax department spokesman said only two or three such orders have been issued in the last 10 years.

"We really don't want to go so far as an order if we don't have to," Mrs. Yackee said, adding that she discussed the situation with state tax officials Friday.

She plans to address the commissioners when they meet Thursday or Monday and ask them again to appropriate money for the contract. If they don't, she said she'll request a state order.

County Administrator Vond Hall predicted commissioners will hold out for the order unless Mrs. Yackee agrees to check prices. Commissioners, he said, are extremely worried about the county budget because of a big spike in health insurance expenses this year, and they're checking every line item more closely because of it.

This isn't the first time in recent months the commissioners and auditor have been at odds.

Mr. Hall said he personally took a contract he said could have cost the county at least $135,000, and perhaps much more, back to Mrs. Yackee and told her he and the county prosecutor's office agreed it had to be put out for bids, which she had not done.

Mrs. Yackee said the contract, which was for shooting photos of nearly every building in the county, would have cost more like $45,000.

Instead of putting it out for bids, when Mr. Hall returned it to her, she said she renegotiated with the vendor - the same firm she wants to do the reappraisal - and the vendor reduced the contract to $25,000, which is the maximum amount without seeking bids.

Later this summer, commissioners were stunned to learn Mrs. Yackee gave $500 bonuses to 10 of her staff. The commissioners have no authority over that decision.

Last winter, however, they put a stop to Mrs. Yackee's attempt to trade in a county van at an area dealership. She wanted to use $20,000 of funds allotted for her office, along with the county-owned van, to get a new vehicle for her office, but she did not have a title for the van, and the commissioners refused to go along with her plan. They have since traded that van in, Mrs. Yackee said.

Mrs. Yackee said she feared her problems with the commissioners' office might be related to the fact that she easily beat the president of the county commissioners, Jack Graf, in the primary election when he ran against her for the Republican nomination for county auditor. She is unopposed for re-election on the November ballot, although a write-in candidate could still file.

She said communication with the commissioners' office has been poor, "and that to me is not how you should run county government," she said.

However, Mrs. Yackee did not attend either of the June meetings where commissioners considered the reappraisal contract. She said she has not contacted any of them since.

That didn't surprise Mr. Hall.

"When she's in to talk to them, there's a different feel than when any other elected officials come in to talk to them," he said. "There's just a strain in the discussion."

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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