Pat Dropsey

Richland County Auditor Pat Dropsey speaks to county commissioners on Tuesday morning.

MANSFIELD -- Richland County Auditor Pat Dropsey has seen many different county commissioners during his tenure in office.

He offered high praise to the current board on Tuesday during a session with commissioners to discuss a recent decision by Moody's Investor Service to award Richland County its highest-ever financial rating.

Moody's advanced Richland County on April 7 to an "Aa3" rating, is one notch above its previous "A1" rating. It's also the second improved rating from Moody's in the last two years.

The ratings company improved the county to "A1" from the previous "A2" designation in March 2020.

Dropsey, who has been the county auditor for two decades and who has worked in the auditor's office for 30 years, said it was the three-member board's fiscal policies that made the difference.

"It wasn't the economy. It was county policy. It was the financial balances. It was the way these commissioners have handled county finances for the last six or seven years.

"The (cash) balances are better than they have ever been," Dropsey said.

In its report, Moody's cited those balances, including the county's budget stabilization fund, currently at $2.67 million, which it said could "mitigate the financial impact of unforeseen risks," and another $6.75 million set aside for capital projects.

The auditor said the board has put the county in position to better survive the kind of strong economic downturn such as the nation experienced during the recession of 2008-2010.

"(Commissioners won't) have to scramble and they don't have to stay up late at night trying to figure out how are they gonna make payroll? I can remember one of the first meetings that we had back in (2011), we were not sure if people were gonna get laid off or not," the auditor said.

Richland County commissioners

Richland County commissioners Cliff Mears, Tony Vero and Darrell Banks (Richland Source file photo)

Dropsey's praise for commissioners Tony Vero, Darrell Banks and Cliff Mears also extended to former Commissioner Marilyn John, now representing the county in the Ohio House.

Vero and Banks took office together in 2017. John was replaced on the board by Cliff Mears in January 2021 after she was elected to the Statehouse.

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"The bottom line is commissioners have put themselves in a position that they don't have to constantly talk about layoffs or the effect on a short term with a bad economy," Dropsey said.

Vero, who pointed out none of the balances include any American Rescue Plan Act funds, said the board's financial principles are fairly simple.

"As wordy as these (Moody's) reports can be, ultimately it's fairly simple financial principles. Spend less than you take in. You increase your bank accounts and you reduce your debt. Generally, when you do that, you're gonna get a better credit rating," Vero said.

The county's primary revenue source has been its sales tax, which Dropsey said was bolstered by the 2019 addition of online sales tax collections through the State of Ohio.

The auditor said the county's sales tax revenues have remained strong, though he cautioned current inflation may be cause for caution in terms of revenue projections.

Inflation hit a fresh 40-year high Tuesday as continuing surges in gasoline, food and rent costs more than offset moderating prices for used cars.

The consumer price index leaped 8.5 percent annually, the fastest pace since December 1981, the Labor Department said. That increase is up from 7.9 percent in February and inflation now has notched new 40-year highs for five straight months.

The question is: When will rising prices cause consumers to reduce spending?

"The only reason I was cautious about that at the beginning of the year is because we haven't had to deal with this ... even back in (2008 and 2009), it wasn't like this.

"This is unknown territory for the majority of us. The last time that we had gas prices this high, I was in Korea (serving in the U.S. Army). So I wasn't here at home. 

"I'm cautious from the perspective of it's something that we haven't had to deal with for a very long time. And I just try to keep that fresh in everybody's mind, at least within county government.

"Let's just be a little patient. Things that we might want to deal with in our budget, let's maybe hold off a little bit and let's just see how things turn out," Dropsey said.

Chuck Hahn, Cleveland Financial Group, invests in this independent reporting through a Newsroom Partnership.

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"