COLUMBIANA COUNTY Veterans agency, commissioners settle suit

Commissioners promised more money this year.
LISBON -- Several hours of closed-door bargaining produced a settlement in a lawsuit filed by a Columbiana County veterans agency against county commissioners.
Commissioners agreed Wednesday to a deal with the county Veterans' Service Commission that provides additional funding for the agency this year and specifies how much it will receive in the county's 2003 budget.
In exchange, the veterans agency will drop a lawsuit it filed in May seeking an additional $104,154 in 2002.
That amount represented the difference between how much the agency asked commissioners for in its 2002 budget request and the amount commissioners actually appropriated the agency.
The deal reached Wednesday calls for commissioners to appropriate an additional $31,000 for the agency this year. That's on top of the $294,712 the county already earmarked for the agency in this year's budget.
Commissioners also agreed to appropriate the veterans agency nearly $478,000 in 2003.
The promised 2003 appropriation is nearly $80,000 more than the agency sought this year, when it asked for $398,886.
Why it's higher
Commissioner Dave Cranmer said he thinks the 2003 appropriation is higher because it factors in the agency's contribution to the public employee retirement system. The agency's 2002 budget request apparently didn't have that amount in it, Cranmer said. Commissioners didn't meet the agency's 2002 appropriation request because the county was undergoing a funding crisis for much of last year and this year.
"We'll just have to take it from some place," Commissioner Jim Hoppel said regarding where the county will get the $31,000 to satisfy part of the veterans agency settlement.
Hoppel noted that county finances are stabilizing, thanks to better-than-anticipated revenue from the county's 1-percent sales tax.
Next year, the county expects to have nearly $3 million in additional revenue from a 0.5-percent sales tax increase imposed in June, bringing the county's sales tax to 1.5 percent.
Reaching a deal with the veterans agency marks the second lawsuit commissioners have settled recently.
In August, commissioners struck a deal with county common pleas judges who sued them in June, seeking $487,753 in additional funding for courts and court-related operations such as the probation department.
The settlement with the judges required commissioners to appropriate $184,655 to the courts.
Commissioners made the appropriation last week.