Candidates address opioid crisis and growth
- Published: May 10, 2018
The county jail is overflowing. Mental health cases are growing in the double digits annually. The foster care system and other social services are overloaded.
The opioid epidemic has hit Greene County hard, and the elected county commissioners aren’t doing enough to support those affected by addiction, according to two candidates seeking the Democratic Party nomination for county commissioner in the May 8 primary.
“We know there is a need and [the commissioners] need to do more,” candidate Susan Lopez of Beavercreek said of the opioid crisis this week.
As the commissioners begin planning for a new jail, Lopez, a program manager at a family resource center in Bellbrook, has been attending commission meetings and encouraging a focus on rehabilitation.
“It costs three to five times less to do a year of treatment than a year of jail,” Lopez said. “If you’re just going to incarcerate someone and they don’t get the treatment, they will funnel back.”
Lopez’s Democratic opponent, Steve Bujenovic of Yellow Springs, would also devote additional resources to treating those addicted to opioids.
A physician at a Dayton free clinic, Bujenovic sees many patients struggling with drug addiction. But though they can identify those who are addicted, neither he nor his colleagues in the emergency rooms of local hospitals can begin treatment because hospitals “don’t want to do it — there is no money in it,” he said.
“For treatment we have to refer them to TCN [behavioral health services], but it takes two or three days to get in,” Bujenovic said. “During that time they go back to drugs, because they can’t tolerate that period.”
So Bujenovic envisions developing a mobile treatment lab and new transportation options to get those addicted to the services they need.
In filling the one open seat in the November general election, Lopez and Bujenovic hope to become the first Democratic commissioner elected to the office more than 30 years. Although the county is majority Republican, both candidates feel at least one of the commission’s three seats should represent the minority party. And both believe they would add balance to the board, currently comprised of two businessmen and one lawyer.
Greene County Commissioners serve four-year terms, command a $75,000 annual salary and manage a budget of around $50 million. They oversee the budgets of all county agencies including the courts, sheriff’s office, parks and recreation, animal control, coroner, job and family services, children services, regional planning, engineering, soil and water conservation and more.
But incumbent Alan Anderson, a Republican seeking the nomination to run for his fourth term, said the commission has taken the opioid crisis seriously and is already working to combat it.
“Greene County is as much the center of the opioid crisis as anywhere,” said Anderson, a Xenia attorney who represented the Village of Yellow Springs from the early 1980s until the mid-90s. The impact is being felt primarily in two county agencies — the jail and children services, Anderson said. At the jail, about 80 percent of county felony cases involve opioids, he said.
To address the crisis, the commissioners have purchased a body scanner to prevent drugs from being brought into the jail and are working with drug treatment professionals to incorporate rehabilitation into the design of a new jail.
“We know that sitting in jail doesn’t really help with an opioid addiction,” Anderson said. “We want to help people on the rehab route.”
Dick Gould, who is currently serving as Greene County Treasurer and is challenging Anderson for the Republican nomination, also believes the opioid crisis is affecting many countywide. He would like to streamline the delivery of services and better manage the county’s resources to deal with the crisis. Some organizations overlap and those affected by addiction are unaware of what the county may offer.
“The county could become a clearinghouse for information — so many people don’t know where to turn,” Gould said.
New approaches to county issues
The three candidates opposing or wishing to challenge Anderson each said they would bring something new the commission. They also discussed the challenges they see facing the county and how they would solve them. Anderson defended his record and accomplishments.
The current makeup of the commission, which also includes Tom Koogler and Bob Glaser, lacks a financial professional, according to Gould, a CPA with a background in real estate and accounting.
“There are a lot of big financial decisions to be made,” Gould said. Foremost among them is a new jail, which Gould estimated may cost nearly $50 million.
Gould previously advised the commission its cash carryover was excessively large. Gould found it “disconcerting” that a county would have nearly $30 million in reserves with a $50 million budget.
“If we have a need for funds, we need to identify those and put the funds to use,” Gould said. “If not, we need to give the money back to taxpayers.”
Eight months later, the commissioners approved a roll back for half as much as Gould advised, he said, electing for a 0.5-mill property tax roll back that will save county property owners $1.9 million annually starting this year, according to a county press release.
Anderson contends that the commission is fiscally responsible, during his tenure weathering the 2007–08 economic downturn and improving the county’s bond rating to AA1, which allows the county to access lower interest rates.
“You can get a lot more bang for your taxpayer money now,” Anderson said.
Anderson is also proud of pushing Clark State Community College to build educational facilities in the county, setting up a port authority and supporting farmland preservation.
Gould said that the commission should establish better relationships with the municipalities and townships and that he would listen to each community’s economic development needs.
“I would be hard-pressed to convince the people of Yellow Springs to build a factory, but I would like to talk with them to see what their assets are,” Gould said.
Bujenovic said as a moderate candidate, he would help bridge divides and balance “competing interests.”
“I’m getting hit from both sides cause I’m kind of in the middle,” he said. “But my hope is that we come to the middle somewhere because that way there won’t be so many people who are upset.”
Lopez said that the current board is too heavily weighted toward business concerns over those of people.
“The county is made up of businesses and people and they are missing the people part,” Lopez said. “And a lot of [county] money funnels through social services.”
Striking a balance between development and the environment is important to Bujenovic, but he cautioned against “beating up on retail too hard” since brick-and-mortar businesses are already struggling, he said. The county’s principal revenue source comes from sales tax.
But to Lopez, development in the county should be reigned in. According to Lopez, fast-growing development has impacted the flow and direction of the Little Miami River, causing more flooding and affecting the health of the river, “which in turn affects everyone’s land.”
Lopez’s approach to economic development would be to take care of the people of Greene County and their problems first, saying business will come “when things look good and and feel good in Greene County.”
“Building a community is not just the business aspect, not just putting sewer to the street,” Lopez said. “That is important, but it’s also important to know that our citizens have the resources they need.”
Commissioners Koogler and Glaser are up for re-election in 2020.
Clerk of courts race
In the Republican primary for Greene County Clerk of Courts, AJ Williams of Yellow Springs is running against Alexander Blaschak of Spring Valley, a 21-year-old newcomer.
Williams was appointed clerk of courts in January when former clerk Terry Mazur retired. He previously worked in the county recorder’s office and for the Ohio secretary of state, the News has reported. If elected, Williams said in addition to his regular duties he would reach out to area schools to promote courthouse tours and work with teachers to educate kids about the legal system.
Blaschak graduated from Carroll High School in Dayton in 2014 and is studying political science and sociology at Wright State University, expecting to graduate in May, according to his campaign website. Blaschak did not respond to News request for an interview.
The winner of the Republican primary will face Cyndi Pauwels of Yellow Springs, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary, in November’s general election. Pauwels, a writer, has experience as a police/fire dispatcher, deputy clerk at the municipal and federal court level in Toledo and liaison between schools, social service agencies, law enforcement and the Lucas County Juvenile Court.
Other contested races
Registered Democrats in Yellow Springs and Miami Township will also choose their party’s nominee for governor of Ohio and congress. Registered Republicans will select a candidate for state representative, governor of Ohio, congress and the U.S. senate.
In the 73rd Ohio house district, State Rep. Rick Perales of Beavercreek faces a challenge from Jocelyn Smith, a registered nurse who lives in Fairborn, for the Republican nomination. Perales, who was formerly a Greene County commissioner, is seeking his fourth two-year term for the district, which covers western Greene County. The winner will face Kim McCarthy of Bellbrook, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
In the contest to be the next representative of the Ohio 10th district in the U.S. Congress, three Democrats and three Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination. Incumbent Mike Turner of Dayton is seeking the Republican nomination but is up against John Anderson of Enon and John Mitchell of Dayton. Three challengers for the Democratic nomination hope to unseat Turner: Theresa Gasper of Dayton, Robert Klepinger of Dayton and Michael Milisits of Huber Heights.
Races are already set for the statewide offices of attorney general, auditor of state and secretary of state and for the two openings on the bench of the Ohio Supreme Court, while Republicans will chose a candidate for state treasurer.
But the gubernatorial ticket is not set for either major party. On the Republican side, Yellow Springs native Mike Dewine is teaming up with Jon Husted for the nomination.
Six Republicans are competing for the Republican nomination to be a candidate for U.S. Senate. The winner will challenge Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown.