What Should Hamilton County JFS Do With Unexpected Surplus?

Apr 6, 2016

County commissioners are reviewing the options for an "unobligated surplus" in the Children's Services Levy.
Credit Hamilton County Human Resources

Hamilton County Commissioners are debating what to do with what could be up to $60 million in surplus levy funds. 

Commissioners approved a $22.5 million settlement Wednesday between Hamilton County Job and Family Services (JFS) and the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

After a 2005/2006 state audit uncovered accounting problems, JFS began setting money aside from the Children's Services Levy to pay the associated fines. But Wednesday's settlement came in at far less than expected, leaving JFS with a surplus.

Commission President Chris Monzel says there are a lot of ideas on how to spend it. "Before I think we can move forward on any public hearings on how to spend the money we need to make sure the board has as much information about it as possible.

"To that end I've requested the prosecutor's opinion to provide the board with a legal analysis of the allowable uses of any of these dollars," Monzel says.

Commissioner Dennis Deters says he expects funding cuts from the state and federal governments to affect JFS in the near future. 

"I think we'd be well served, considering where JFS is and the cuts that are coming or may be coming down the road, that we consider our director's opinion as to the appropriate use of these funds," Deters says.

Commissioner Todd Portune last week called for a countywide summit to discuss the money. Portune says he wants to hear transformational ideas from the public. 

"We also are sitting on a rather unique and unparalleled one-time opportunity to, I believe, be able to do some extraordinary things that will change the landscape for children."

Commissioners are still waiting to find out exactly how much is available.

County Administrator Christian Sigman says while some estimates put the fund at $80 million, at least $20 million will go toward the payments agreed to in the settlement. Some will be set aside to match state grants.

The Children's Services Levy is up for renewal in the November election.