Paul McKibben reports:
For the seventh straight year, Warren County commissioners are doing something unheard of in these parts.
They are organizing a taxpayer-funded food drive to benefit county pantries.
The commissioners’ role in a charitable campaign is unique among Southwest Ohio’s four county commissions – and possibly the state. But with zero general fund debt, the county can afford to donate, as commissioners did this year, $30,000 of taxpayer money to the drive.
The County Commissioners’ Association of Ohio said many counties often partner with the United Way on charitable campaigns, but its officials didn’t know of any county taking it further.
Commissioner Pat South originated the idea in 2006. She said “there’s a major need out there” that’s not being filled by government and social service agencies. She said those organizations have not been able to keep pace with the demand on food pantries.
Despite a relatively low unemployment rate – Warren County’s 5.8 percent unemployment rate in September was below the state’s 6.5 percent – there is still a need for food pantries in Ohio’s second-fastest-growing county.
“We still have a lot of people unemployed, and we have a ton of people under-employed,” South said.
Franklin Area Community Services, an agency serving northern Warren County, has seen an 8 percent increase over last year at its food pantry.
“It’s really a struggle because not only is the demand increasing but the cost of food is increasing at about the same rate,” Director Terry Coyle said. “We’re barely keeping up.”
Gina Brown, director of the Mason Food Pantry, said the commissioners’ involvement adds credibility to the drive, which is sorely needed there. From January to October, her pantry served 28 percent more families than in the period last year.
The $30,000 contribution represents a minuscule portion – less than one-hundredth of 1 percent – of Warren County’s $62 million general fund budget. South said commissioners have never been criticized about using tax dollars toward the food drive.
But Clearcreek Township resident Kelly Kohls isn’t sure if she supports spending the money.
“There is an end to the money and that’s part of the formula that I think many of our elected officials forget,” she said.
Commissioner Dave Young said the $30,000 is well spent.
“As blessed as Warren County is financially,’’ he said, “I think we’re being good stewards of the taxpayers to say, ‘Here is something tangible at the holidays.’”
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