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Commissioners discuss EGCC Dissolution, Debts

Jefferson County OH commissioners met today to discuss their role in picking up the pieces of Eastern Gateway Community College. I am glad to see that they are taking steps to protect the interests of Jefferson County taxpayers from the EGCC fallout.

I am not a lawyer, but Section 3354.17 of the Ohio Laws and Administrative Rules seems to place the responsibility for repaying EGCC’s bonds on Jefferson County.

β€œIn the event of any such dissolution, or in the event of any failure on the part of the officers of any district to qualify and act, or in the event of any resignations or vacancies in office which prevent action by said district or by its proper officers, the county auditor and all other officers charged in any manner with the duty of levying and collecting taxes for public purposes in any county in which such property is situated shall perform all acts which are necessary to the levying and collecting of any taxes which are necessary to pay the principal and interest of such bonds or notes. Any holder of any bonds or notes issued pursuant to sections 3354.01 to 3354.18, inclusive, of the Revised Code, or any person or officer who is a party in interest may, either by suit, action, or mandamus, enforce and compel performance of the duties required by such sections of any of the officers or persons mentioned in such sections.”

About 10 days ago, I wrote about the inherent unfairness of this. Jefferson County voters didn’t elect the Trustees who issued the bonds in question. The Governor of the State of Ohio is vested with the authority to name the Trustees of the state’s public higher education institutions. EGCC’s Trustees issued millions of dollars in bonds in 2020.

EGCC Trustees weren’t looking out for Jefferson County residents

As we all know, 2020 turned out not to be among our finest moments. In retrospect, it was probably not a good idea to borrow against the school’s operating revenues at the start of a pandemic. But then again, it is NEVER a good idea for a community college to borrow against its operating revenues. The most conservative and careful stewardship of taxpayer funds demands that any debts have an independent, voter-approved tax revenue stream to pay them off.

Why should Jefferson County taxpayers – who have the sad misfortune of living inside the EGCC district boundaries – bear the financial responsibility of decisions made by Trustees they didn’t elect who authorized debts they didn’t agree to pay for?

The Governor’s Trustees weren’t looking out for the residents of Jefferson County when they authorized the 2020 bond issue. Nor were they being judicious when they signed off on the “partnership” with AFSCME. When it became clear that EGCC needed to address serious academic and financial aid deficiencies, the Trustees chose a president with no relevant experience in either area. When the faculty and administrators at EGCC spoke up, the Governor’s Trustees ignored them.

With authority comes responsibility, so it seems fair that the Governor of the State of Ohio should bear at least some responsibility for the actions (and inactions) of his appointees.

To be completely fair, no one expects to see a community college hit the wall at ninety miles an hour, but that appears to be what’s happened to EGCC. Understandably, the Governor may be surprised to see one of the state’s community colleges get totaled by the people he appointed. But that still doesn’t justify shopping off the consequences of their actions on Jefferson County taxpayers.

Jefferson County Commissioners will shoulder EGCC’s burdens

At the end of the day, that’s exactly what Ohio state law appears to prescribe. That doesn’t make it fair, and it doesn’t make it the right thing to do. EGCC employees and retirees (as well as Jefferson County taxpayers) also need to understand who is going to manage EGCC’s unfunded pension liabilities and how that’s going to happen. These questions need answers quickly. EGCC’s bonds have an interest payment due in June, and according to the State Auditor, EGCC is running a little short on cash.

Jefferson County residents rightly have a huge bone to pick with Columbus, and I hope for their sake the Jefferson County Commissioners do their utmost to protect their residents from this gross injustice.

The EGCC dissolution is a kitchen fire that every Ohio resident living in a community college district needs to watch. Jefferson County taxpayers and EGCC employees should take every opportunity to air their concerns to their commissioners. I am afraid the Commissioners may be the only advocates these folks will have.

Photo Credit: State Farm, via Flickr