There are several tell-tale signs that fall is just around the corner. Temperatures are dropping, children have returned to school, and Friday night football is under way.
And of course, politicians are hurling propaganda at their opponents.
The bashing took center stage this past week, as Republican and Democrats gathered at their respective national conventions for some rallying and railing in the presidential race.
In Erie County, meanwhile, a local GOP candidate slammed his Democrat opponent about as hard as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan continue to attack President Barack Obama’s policies.
County commissioner candidate Jude Hammond recently distributed campaign literature targeting incumbent Democrat Pat Shenigo.
Hammond, who’s also the treasurer for Edison and Margaretta schools, accused Shenigo of preventing and hindering area development.
The two men face off in November for a $53,000-a-year position.
To keep the books straight leading into Election Day, the Register set out to determine if Hammond’s allegations against Shenigo are accurate, or simply way off the mark.
And for the most part, Hammond’s claims are wrong.
The Register obtained Hammond’s mailer and vetted the information by requesting financial documents from various county departments, all staffed by non-partisan workers.
Here are the results:
Issue: Erie County’s debt
Hammond’s claim: “The commissioners actually added $2.1 million of new debt last year.”
Truth meter: False
Facts: Erie County’s debt has actually decreased $12 million, or 10 percent, from 2008 through August 2012. The debt also decreased in each year from 2008 to 2012.
The debt peaked at $116 million in 2008, or just before Shenigo started his four-year term. Today the debt totals about $104 million, with expectations that the red ink will lower to $99 million by year’s end.
The debt figure does not account for compensated absences and some landfill costs totaling about $17 million each year, since those are accounted for as projections.
Shenigo’s response: “(Hammond’s) charge that commissioners added $2.1 million in new debt is simply his own fabrication of the facts.”
Source: Erie County finance department
Issue: Erie County land bank
Hammond’s claim: “My opponent has been advocating a county land reutilization program. The city of Sandusky started a land bank program when I was the county auditor and it has been successful. My opponent believes that this concept would work in areas outside the city. The amount of growth in the marketplace to offset the fees would require the overall expansion of real estate values in three years of over $300 million.”
Truth meter: False
Facts: The city of Sandusky can’t expand its land bank outside city limits, such as into Perkins Township or Huron.
The land bank is an initiative targeting neglected land parcels, ideally transforming them into tax-generating properties.
Thriving Communities Institute director Jim Rokakis, who has organized other land banks, said ErieCounty’s revitalization program can aid and further develop the city’s land bank program, helping to achieve funding the city could not otherwise obtain.
Earlier this year, for instance, the county acquired $473,000 to demolish abandoned or vacant buildings, which includes many targeted areas throughout Sandusky. To generate $250,000 for land bank purposes, real estate market values must increase $15.8 million in increased market value, not $300 million.
Shenigo’s response: “The newly created land bank is set to begin work on over 2,100 properties totaling over $11 million in uncollected taxes — money that our schools and local governments desperately need.”
Source: Thriving Communities Institute, Erie County prosecutor’s office
Issue: Erie County Care Facility
Hammond’s claim: “Last fall, the county commissioners remodeled the care facility. My opponent believed that if he could separate portions of the project, use county employees and some of his own construction companies as volunteers, he could avoid paying prevailing wages to workers. (This) led to a lawsuit, spending over $100,000.”
Truth meter: Somewhat true.
Facts: The lawsuit actually cost the county $75,000.
But Hammond failed to include an even more extreme number: The public nursing home has lost $3.8 million since 2002.
During the past three years, Shenigo spearheaded a complete modernization project to help offset year-end deficits, while at the same time attracting a maximum of 130 people to stay at the home.
Shenigo did donate labor and materials himself, along with staff volunteering time, to remodel 81 rooms, intended mostly for Alzheimer’s and hospice patients.
Paying for the upgrades came from commissioners selling the bed licenses two years ago, totaling about $300,000.
Several staff employees, including interim administrator Donna Patrick, said the improvements were necessary to compete with nearby nursing homes and attract residents with the ultimate goal of reversing the woeful financial standing.
Shenigo’s response: “I really didn’t understand that we would be sued for using county employees and volunteer labor to improve the nursing home. Doing the work ourselves saved hundreds of thousands of dollars and we are already seeing the benefits.” Shenigo said the project still saved the county more than $1 million on design, construction and labor costs.
Source: Erie County Care Facility
Issue: Erie County landfill
Hammond’s claim: Past commissioners “entered into a contract with a company to extract methane gas from the landfill cells, convert the gas into energy and sell the energy credits into the worldwide marketplace. The potential to the landfill revenue is more than $200,000 annually, however, my opponent is not willing to make the reasonable repairs and improvements to bring about this project’s success.”
Truth meter: False
Facts: A landfill gas lawsuit revolves around the annual income from gas sales and Erie County bearing all related expenses.
Gas sales totaled $50,400 in 2011 and only $29,800 in 2012. Meanwhile, ErieCounty taxpayers have invested roughly $1 million into the gas collection system since its inception.
The gas flare’s operator wants taxpayers to spend another $1.75 million for a guaranteed return of under $50,000 per year for gas sales.
Shenigo quarterbacked a sweeping initiative to make the landfill a more efficient operation. Before his term, the landfill generated low amounts of tonnage, creating year-end deficits and overburdening debt.
The landfill’s debt today totals $18 million.
Shenigo — who helped increase the landfill’s tonnage after negotiating with Huron County for the government to dispose of its waste at the Milan Township landfill — played an integral role in turning finances around.
The landfill made more than $1.3 million in 2010 and 2011. From 2006 through 2009, the landfill lost $1 million.
Shenigo’s response: "Most industry experts agree that counting on carbon credits is a risky financial investment. The battle in court refers to our position that we agree we are more than fulfilling the original contract agreement and that this additional investment is not a prudent use of the taxpayers or landfill customers money."
Source: Erie County environmental services department, Erie County finance department
Issue: Improving Strub Road at Hayes Avenue (Ohio 4)
Hammond’s claim: The project’s “specifications missed a significant portion of the project, causing change orders resulting in nearly $200,000 in additional costs.”
Truth meter: False
Facts: There was a change order, translating to an unexpected bill along the way, totaling $45,200.
Shenigo alone blocked the first round of bids for the project about a year ago. When the second batch of prices came in, commissioners accepted a price roughly $240,000 lower than any bid submitted during the first round. In total, the original $1.7 million project is about $700,000 under budget today.
The savings allowed the county to apply for and acquire a $1.8 million grant to improve Hayes Avenue in the area.
Shenigo’s response: “Ohio 4 and the safety of the road is critical for our community.”
Source: Erie Regional Planning