Critics say township should spend money on roads, not salaries

Jefferson Twp. administrator says staff paid with road funds do the work, concern is just documentation issue.

Some Jefferson Twp. officials and residents are questioning why tax dollars earmarked for road work have been diverted toward salaries while streets remain in poor condition.

Jefferson Twp. trustees, its fiscal officer and some top administrators are paid in part from the road and bridge fund. Fiscal Officer Tracey Edwards said the practice will likely be flagged in an upcoming state audit report, possibly requiring that some of the money be repaid from the general fund.

“They are doing it because the general fund levies aren’t passing so they are using road funds. We would have a general fund deficit if they didn’t use these funds,” Edwards said. “I think the first thing that’s going to happen is there is going to be some action once we get the (state) audit report back.”

Township resident David Hicks has been complaining to township trustees and Township Administrator Steve Woolf about the poor conditions of township roads. He is outraged that money that he said should be spent fixing potholes and repaving rough roads has instead been used for salaries.

“When I vote for a fire, police or road levy, I expect those funds to be spent for those departments,” said Hicks, former president of the township zoning board. “Maybe it’s time for the state of Ohio to put restrictions on how these funds are spent.”

It’s unclear how much money is in dispute because it’s unknown which salaries the auditor might consider improperly paid out of the road fund.

But Woolf emphasized that the practice is legal as long as it’s properly documented. He believes that auditors are only concerned about some trustees not turning in required documentation, so any repayment won’t be that significant.

Only one of three elected trustees is fully complying with a state requirement that they certify how much road work they do in order to receive pay from the road and bridge fund, which gets about $300,000 annually from township property taxes, according to township documents.

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Trustee President Roy Mann also has seen preliminary audit results and agrees that the general fund might have to reimburse funds that were approved for specific purposes, including roads, trash and streetlights.

“There’s going to have to be some things that’s going to have to be changed. Some money’s going to have to go back to some of the funds, different funds that they were taken out of,” said Mann, also is the retired township fire chief.

Allie Dumski, spokeswoman for State Auditor Keith Faber, confirmed that an audit for 2016-2018 is ongoing but said she couldn’t comment on specifics until it is released. She said part of the audit is to test for the “reasonableness” of a jurisdiction paying salaries using money voters approved for roads or other specific purposes.

“If we were to find someone’s salary allocated to something that was not reasonable, we would likely issue a finding for adjustment to have the payment moved to the correct fund,” Dumski said.

State law classifies township trustees and fiscal officers as part-time workers and sets salaries based on the size of the township budget. For Jefferson Twp. that means $12,478 annually for trustees and $21,836 for the fiscal officer, according to the state compensation chart.

Road and bridge levy money, along with gas taxes and license fees, are used for repair and upkeep of roads and bridges, mowing, plowing snow, cleaning ditches and keeping the township’s streets clear of debris.

This year’s total township budget is $3.34 million, including $722,700 in the road and bridge, gas tax and license tag fee funds, according to the 2019 budget provided by Edwards. Police, fire and emergency medical services make up most of the rest of the budget.

Edwards couldn’t say how much in total road funds have gone to salaries so far this year.

But it pays half of Woolf’s $83,200 annual salary, and more than $19,300 of the three trustees combined salaries, according to allocations approved by trustees in January. Forty-five percent of Edwards salary is to be paid by the road funds, but she objects to that because she said she does little road work other than paying the bills.

It also pays for the entire $49,900 salary of the operations manager, who oversees the road crews.

The road funds also pay half the salary of an administrative assistant, a customer service employee and a code enforcement officer. It covers 10 percent of a zoning officer’s salary.

In November Jefferson Twp. voters will consider a new 5.5-mill, continuing levy for fire and EMS services. It would bring in $443,839 annually and cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $192.50 annually, according to Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith’s office.

Township voters there have not passed additional money for the general fund or roads and bridges since 2001. They also rejected proposed operating levies in 2017 and 2018. New levies were approved for police and fire in 2009 and 2016.

RELATED: Voters nix Jefferson Twp. levy

Township trustees may be paid out of the road fund but they need to actually do the work, such as inspecting roads, plowing or helping with maintenance, said Matt DeTemple, executive director of the Ohio Township Association.

Jefferson Twp. Trustee Jim McGuire has turned in monthly reports certifying that he did road work to justify 40 percent of his salary coming out of the road fund. McGuire said he drives the roads monitoring township workers, including checking on ditches and grass mowing.

Mann hasn’t turned in a certification since April. Half of his pay is taken from the road fund.

“I do very little road work,” Mann said.

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Trustee M. Michael McLaughlin, who heads the road and bridges committee, has turned in no paperwork certifying that he did any road work but 65 percent of his pay comes out of that fund, Edwards said.

McLaughlin said he has signed the certifications and, “I drop them in a cabinet in the office. I’m not sure who gets them.”

He has donated his own equipment, time and fuel to do multiple jobs, he said.

“I do more than enough to justify my time,” McLaughlin said. “I take days off to do work for the township. I plow snow in the winter time.”

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Edwards, who as fiscal officer pays all the bills, said she frequently reminds trustees to give her the certification paperwork.

Trustees and the fiscal officer were paid from the general fund until trustees voted in 2017 to use the road money.

“That was at the advice of our administrator, Steve Woolf, to manage the general fund,” McGuire said. “The big thing that concerns me is half of Woolf’s salary is coming out of roads, but I’m not seeing half his time being spent managing road issues.”

McGuire questions why the township is spending more than $90,000 in road money for Woolf and DeVilbiss to manage a road department that has one full-time worker and two part-time employees.

Managing the road department requires a lot of work, including filing for grants, dealing with human resources and payroll issues and legal reviews of contracts, Woolf said.

McGuire said he has asked repeatedly for documentation of what roadwork is being done, including repairs of potholes as well as other road maintenance tasks. But neither Woolf nor Operations Director Randy DeVilbiss, who is over the road department, have provided that information, McGuire said.

DeVilbiss, also a Jackson Twp. trustee, did not respond to requests for comment. Woolf said he can’t force DeVilbiss to produce the documentation because that is up to McLaughlin.

“The three trustees need to work together in the township,” Woolf said.

With little documentation of how the road money is spent and residents complaining about deteriorating roads, McGuire said trustees cannot hope that voters will approve new money, even though he said it is needed.

“Without a doubt our public does not trust us,” McGuire said. “And I think having reporting would change that.”

Jefferson Twp. elected officials - percent of salary paid using road funds

Trustee President Roy Mann - 50%

Trustee Jim McGuire - 40%

Trustee Mike McLaughlin - 65%

Fiscal Officer Tracey Edwards - 45%

Source: Jefferson Township

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