Local government, local issues

Session five of AgriPOWER Class VI focused on local government and issues facing agriculture on a local level. We met in Toledo for two great days of learning and focusing on the issues local farms may be facing.

We began our day with Leah Curtis from Ohio Farm Bureau talking about property taxes. It was a very stimulating presentation regarding just how property taxes in Ohio are calculated. She also went into how the CAUV program works and broke it down as to how it helps the farmers by basing taxes on use value for the land versus fair market value. This was particularly interesting to me as I always had an idea of how these were calculated, but had never seen it broken down.

Next, two representatives from the Lucas County auditor’s office went over what their office handles and how many staff are in the auditor’s office. They handle a variety of items, anything from setting property values, to calculating tax bills, and distributing any monies collected for all the levies that get voted in. There are 112 employees in the auditor’s office in Lucas County, by comparison Shelby County has 12. Lucas County is considerably larger, and therefore needs a lot of manpower.

We then met with Carol Contrada, and Dorris Harringshaw, county commissioners from Lucas County and Wood County respectively. The county commissioners cover a wide variety of duties in the county. They know the ins and outs of a large majority of offices in the county and work closely with the auditor’s office, and the county engineer’s office. The commissioners have a very large budget that they are in charge of, and have to be sure that they are doing projects that do the best at spending that budget wisely.

After lunch we moved into the water quality issues that Lucas County has faced and what is being done. After the water was declared “undrinkable” in August, there has been a race to learn and move forward with determining what causes the toxic algal blooms and how to prevent them from causing problems in the future. The Maumee Watershed is very large and covers parts of three states, 40 counties, and 4.9 million acres. There are both environmental and infrastructure issues contributing to these toxic blooms. There are a lot of things we still just don’t know at this point. But with time, regulations will come if we don’t try and do things on our own.

Les Disher stopped in then to discuss his duties as a township trustee. Les enjoys being a trustee, and feels that after serving the community for four to six years that turnover and “young blood” are good to bring in for new ideas. He said he believes township government is the best type of government. All townships are governed the same, per Ohio law with three trustees, and one fiscal officer. They hire all other employees. He then covered some budget issues that they deal with.

On our second day we went to The Andersons and discussed the changes in trade with other countries, and the very large scale that they do business on. They are not only grain handlers, they have retail stores, and ethanol plants. After our drive-through tour of the facilities in Maumee, we headed to Whitehouse Specialty Crops for a tour of Wade Smith’s 4,000 square foot greenhouse tomato operation. His operation is amazing and it is very interesting to see what can be done in a small area and how they are doing this with all natural ways of producing and maintaining a healthy product and environment.

This was a very stimulating session. There are so many levels of local government that all work together to accomplish common goals and to keep the public safe and happy. While all areas of the system seem to need extra financial support, they do an extraordinary job at it while losing a percentage of their budgets each year, then to see The Anderson’s large scale operation and yet they still have a very strong mission statement, and commitment to their employees and their community. And Wade’s operation is an inspiration to so many who may contemplate trying to start a farm, or making a difference one person at a time.

This program is exceeding my expectations each and every time. There are so many areas I thought I had at least a little knowledge of, and AgriPOWER continues to broaden my horizons and introduce me to so much more than I had ever expected.