Erie County left out of bond funding

SANDUSKY Erie County residents upset about the bad economy can take heart -- by the government's sta
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010



Erie County residents upset about the bad economy can take heart -- by the government's standards, this area is thriving.

The numbers show Erie County's unemployment rate is in the double digits and well above the state average.

But a document released by the U.S. Department of Treasury shows only two Ohio counties are getting nothing from a government bond program designed to help communities in recession: Erie County and Mercer County. The program will benefit 86 other counties.

Gov. Ted Strickland said Tuesday that Ohio is getting $1 billion of bond financing opportunities from the federal government.

The Recovery Zone Bonds are meant to make low-interest loans available to big cities and Ohio counties hit hard by the economy.

"Thanks to the quick actions by President Obama and the Ohio Congressional Delegation, these recovery funds will provide direct assistance to those communities hit hardest by the economic downturn," the governor said.

For example, Ottawa County qualifies for more than $6 million in bonds, while Huron County qualifies for about $3.8 million.

Steve Fought, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, said a statistical oddity explains why Erie County was left out.

The Recovery Zone Bonds program allows both local governments and private businesses to borrow money at very low interest rates for economic development. The program was created by the federal stimulus bill President Barack Obama signed in February.

Fought said the formula in the law says that to qualify, a local area must have fewer people employed in December 2008 than in December 2007.

Statistics from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services show that in December 2007, Erie County had 37,800 people employed. In December 2008, that number rose to 38,100. From December 2007 to December 2008, the unemployment rate rose from 7.2 percent to 9.6 percent.

While the numbers don't seem to match up, the Department of the Treasury apparently followed the law in determining who would get money and who wouldn't, Fought said.

Brian Harter, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said unemployment and employment can both rise if the entire labor force grows, as apparently happened in Erie County. According to the department's statistics, the labor force in Erie County rose from 40,800 in December 2007 to 42,100 in December 2008.

Erie County's unemployment rate in April was 11.6 percent -- higher than Ohio's 10.2 percent unemployment rate.

Fought said it's "discouraging" Erie County did not qualify for help.

"This just isn't right," he said.

An official for the Department of the Treasury, who spoke to the Register on condition that she not be identified, said that Erie County could still obtain leftover bond funds if the state government made an extra effort.

"The law allows localities to waive unused allocations back to the states and then allows the states to reallocate the unused volume cap," she said. "Since Ohio received a fairly large overall share, possibly Erie County could use some waived funds allocated by the state down the road."