Former Bellville mayor learning complications of county government

CLEAR FORK VALLEY — It’s taking former Bellville mayor Darrell Banks a little longer to get to work these days.

Now a Richland County commissioner, Banks has to journey off into Mansfield in the mornings, returning home at night.

And, his daytime schedule is vastly different from the one he used when he led Bellville village.

He spends a lot of time as a “link” with various county departments. He specifically works with the building department, maintenance and Day Springs, an assisted living facility.

His priority list in working for the county is a bit different, too, he says.

Richland County has a $30 million budget, and what happens in that area is governed by the Ohio Revised Code. Bellville, and the other cities and six villages in the county, are governed by home rule. They write their own ordinances, and the wishes of each entity can vary widely.

Richland County has three commissioners.

In Bellville a consensus would have to be developed among all council members, Banks said.

County efforts involve working with the commissioners plus all county elected officials and department heads.

This means, he said, that when he was mayor it was “one dimensional” and it became “three dimensional overnight.”

A realization has come to Banks that county government is complicated. He said he researched things he would have to learn about, but that he doesn’t think he “comprehended” the extent of the complexity.

The commissioners are faced with coming up with a new six-month budget by July 1.

Counties were given permission to set up shorter term budgets, and a number of counties have taken that option, Banks said. In some counties officers are new and they haven’t been “around 20 years” to know what the true expenses will be, he said.

The county has 17 buildings, and in his job working with maintenance issues, he is looking at a cleaning contract with a firm. The company that currently has the contract has cut work back to two days. The money available for maintenance went down in 2008, Banks said, and some was put back a couple of years ago. The county is looking at how future contracts wold be handled.

The county’s money comes from property tax and sales tax. Banks said there is a “permissive sales tax” the county could use, but it would have to levied with a vote of all three commissioners. He said he is not sure that is a good idea because he doesn’t want to raise taxes.

Some woes come to counties because of state actions, where changes have been made that push monetary burdens to the county level, said Banks.

The state has said it will allow several counties, on an experimental level, set up a system where persons committing fifth degree felonies do not go to prison. They instead go to jail, which means counties have to foot the bill for jail time.

Banks said he doesn’t think authorities should be “handing out free passes” to people who commit crimes.

The better idea would be to change the definition of a fifth degree felony, he said. That is something, considered a low level in severity, that might come from someone selling or otherwise dealing with “small quantities” of illegal substances.

He makes reference to the opioid problem, which is all over the state. He says “one county” won’t solve the problem. He said it is “all over.”

Richland County has what he calls a “very good kindship” program where drug users can be put with family members who offer them aid. He said that can be parents, uncles, aunts.

A problem facing county commissioners is that even though their offices are located in Mansfield, the issues they handle don’t have much to do with that city. In Mansfield there is an ordinance that bans pit bulls. He said he is told there are 2,000 in the city. There is one person who is a dog warden, with an assistant, for the county. That dog warden can only use state laws to try to do anything about controlling the pit bulls, Banks said.

Under state law things can be done to control dog behavior, but it is not specific about breeds of dogs, Banks said.

At least 78 per cent of the calls that come in are about pit bulls, he said.

A typical week for Banks has two commissioners’ meetings, on Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30 a.m. The rest of his time involves going to various meetings, and receiving people in his office.

He said there is a difference in the type of telephone calls he receives. In Bellville he would be getting “barking dog calls.”

Events over the past ten years in Bellville were filled with major events like changes in the zoning ordinances, which are allowing business expansion in the I-71 and State Route 97 area.

Originally only gas stations, restaurants and motels could be allowed in that area, he said. Now, medical buildings and light industry is allowed. Avita is in the process of building a new office structure for three doctors, Love’s will be putting in a large service station complete with food service, the Speedway station is revamping to allow diesel fuel sales, and the old Mickey Mart will be a Dunkin Donuts.

Banks said the things he helped with over the last ten years “helped me get in this seat.”

He said being a mayor is like being a quarterback: “You get more blame if you’re not right, and more praise than you deserve if it goes right.”

Darrell Banks, Richland County Commissioner, in his office in Mansfield. Photo by Louise Swartzwalder Banks, Richland County Commissioner, in his office in Mansfield. Photo by Louise Swartzwalder