Auditor: Clark County could be test case for shared services

6:00 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016 Politics

Springfield and Clark County could be a test case for a new state program that looks at ways cities and other government agencies can share services to improve efficiency.

Ohio House Bill 5 has been signed and is expected to take effect this fall, said state Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, who proposed the legislation. The new law allows state agencies or local public entities to petition the Ohio Auditor’s Office to conduct a feasibility study to determine if sharing services could lead to cost savings.

Staff in the auditor’s office would study ideas like sharing emergency dispatchers or a school district treasurer to determine if it could improve efficiency and cut costs, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said during a roundtable discussion in Springfield on Wednesday morning.

“I’m pretty confident you could find two or three pieces of low-hanging fruit where we can give you a good work-up in a relatively short amount of time,” Yost said.

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Once in effect, the bill will set aside funding through the Ohio Auditor’s Leverage for Efficiency, Accountability and Performance Fund to pay for the studies. About half the revenue in the LEAP fund, about $500,000, could be used for the studies.

Springfield would be a good test case because it’s a medium-sized community with an urban core that’s similar to many other communities statewide, Yost said.

“This is the kind of place that could be replicated in other communities,” Yost said.

In Clark County, local officials have debated combining emergency dispatch and other services. Increasingly, local communities are looking to save money as state lawmakers have cut funding for local governments in recent years, Koehler said.

Because funding is limited, only a two or three studies would likely be approved each year, making it important that the study could be useful to other communities, Yost said.

Communities also have the option to opt out, so if a crucial entity doesn’t want to take part, the study won’t go forward, Yost said. That makes it more important that entities involved are on the same page before seeking help, he said.

Merging governments is often a difficult task. Discussion of a merger between the city of Dayton and Montgomery County broke up earlier this year. In Springfield, plans for a shared dispatch center with Springfield and Clark County have also been ongoing for years.

Sharing services doesn’t always lead to improved efficiency or cost savings if done poorly, Yost said.

“It’s really important to do the homework and the analysis in a way that makes sure you’re not just throwing money at a problem,” Yost said.

In some cases, voters also view sharing services as a new layer of government that’s not as accessible, Springfield City Commissioner Dan Martin said. He noted the city and county previously shared park services, but that has since been split between the Clark County Park District and the National Trail Parks and Recreation District.

“Sometimes it looks like a perception that rather than eliminating a layer of government, you’re creating a new layer of government,” Martin said.

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The LEAP funds were set aside in the Ohio Auditor’s office beginning in 2011. In recent years, local governments could request a performance audit from Yost’s office to look for ways to become more efficient, using the LEAP funds to pay for the audit. The savings local governments saw helped repay the cost of the audit.

Yost estimated communities save about $22 on average for every dollar spent on a performance audit.

Koehler’s bill sets aside about half that funding to also allow communities to review shared services. It also set up a website that allows state and local government entities to share heavy equipment and save costs on projects like road repairs.

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