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Published: Wednesday, 3/12/2008

Lucas County commission approves travel curbs

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County commissioners yesterday unanimously approved a resolution prohibiting all nonessential travel by county employees in an effort to cut costs.

But a short time later, they unanimously approved spending $316 to send four employees with the county's department of Job and Family Services to a conference in Columbus.

Commissioner Ben Konop proposed the nonessential travel resolution after he objected last week to a travel request from Lucas County Juvenile Court.

"I think we need to be good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars," Mr. Konop said during the commissioners' meeting.

The resolution prohibits all "nonessential taxpayer-funded travel by our county employees." It says the only permissible travel would be "required for state or federal certification or grant acceptance purposes, or absolutely essential to fulfilling critical defined duties of a position."

The county, based on requests from several different departments, last year approved about $250,000 in travel expenses.

The money came from the county's general operating fund as well as outside sources, including state and federal grants.

The commissioners said the resolution put into words their commitment to frugal spending.

"This only codifies what we've been doing for years," Commis-sioner Pete Gerken said.

Mr. Konop said his resolution was based on an executive order signed by Gov. Ted Strickland in January restricting travel by state employees.

Deb Ortiz-Flores, director of the county's Job and Family Services Department, said the conference her four employees will attend in Columbus is not required by state or federal law but is important because it is about providing health care to children.

Mr. Konop said he decided to approve the expenditure after Ms. Ortiz-Flores said it was "critical" to the department's functioning.

Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the commissioners, also noted that the department cut some of the trip's costs by only using one car and forgoing meals on the trip.

County Assistant Prosecutor John Borell questioned whether the commissioners would be able to enforce the resolution with other county departments, or with travel funded by state or federal grants.

Although Ohio law gives the commissioners the power to approve or reject all travel requests for training or conventions, Mr. Borell said the law is riddled with exceptions, based on where the money comes from and how it is spent.

In other business, the commissioners approved a three-year labor contract which gave 198 of the county's technology workers a 2 percent raise.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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