Seneca County’s new commissioner Zoeller to put up own cash for ideas on savings

Fred Zoeller.
Fred Zoeller.

TIFFIN — Newly elected Seneca County Commissioner Fred Zoeller made a splash at his first board meeting Tuesday by offering cash to employees for money-saving ideas.

Mr. Zoeller, who founded the highly successful Laminate Technologies in Tiffin, said he would donate half of his $54,000 annual commissioner’s salary to start an account to fund the program during a one-year trial run.

“In my business career, I've always found that the best way to find money is to get with the people in the trenches,” Mr. Zoeller said. “The process is to get people out and looking for every way we can to save money in the county because I believe strongly that there are going to be less funds coming from the state down the road and more demands on the county.”

Mr. Zoeller, a Republican who defeated two-term Democratic Commissioner Ben Nutter in November, proposed the “Bonus Through Suggestion” program as a way to reward county employees who formulate cost-saving ideas the county can implement. He said the money would not come from the taxpayers.

Although County Administrator Stacy Wilson cautioned that the board would need to create guidelines, Mr. Zoeller outlined the general concept of the program, which he said would be open to any county employee.

The employee would have to go to his or her department head with a legitimate suggestion that would reduce expenses in the department. In turn, the department head would present the idea to the county auditor for verification.

If the idea was deemed feasible, the employee would receive a cash bonus, Mr. Zoeller said.

Commissioners Jeff Wagner and Holly Stacy agreed that the program would be a worthwhile experiment, although neither offered to put any of his or her own wages into the fund.

“Economic development is our way to get out of the long-term [financial] problem,” Mr. Zoeller said. “But we also have to manage the bottom line.”

Also Tuesday, Mr. Wagner was elected board president, and Mrs. Stacy was named vice president. The new board chose to meet at 10 a.m. every Tuesday and the last Thursday of each month.

The commissioners also are considering meeting in a county village on a rotating basis at least once a month.

In an effort to maintain an active rapport with the general public, the commissioners agreed to begin work sessions — informal gatherings with residents — at 9:30 a.m. the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

“We would like this board to be more open,” Mr. Zoeller said. “I want to make sure we don't do anything that isn't appropriate. By having an open work session, we can have a dialogue that’s open to the public.

"Our interest is to keep government moving and be proactive,” he said.