Operating efficiently in Clermont County

Since becoming County Commissioner in 2012, I have learned much about local government. Coming from the perspective of owning and managing private sector companies, I was familiar with how the recession had impacted the manner in which business had to adjust and react in order to continue to grow and prosper.

The same forces impacted local government as well requiring creative, innovative, and disciplined policies so that local government could continue to provide needed public services in an environment of reduced revenues.

Between 2008 and 2014, Clermont County government reduced employee headcount by 90 positions, a 6.9% decrease. Total payroll for that same period was reduced by over $500,000 annually. These reductions occurred at the same time as the county’s population grew by over 16,000 citizens, an increase of 3.1%.

As a point of comparison, these increases in efficiency at the county level have come at a time when our national government has increased its debt by over $10 trillion, increased the number of employees in the executive branch, and has increased the average per employee compensation to $116,828!

How has Clermont County managed to do more with less? First of all, “a rising sea lifts all boats!” Given Clermont County’s increasingly diverse business base, we saw an increase of 16.5% in sales tax collections last year. Sales taxes accounted for 49% of Clermont County’s general fund operating revenues.

As we adjust and recover from the recession and the resulting property valuations, property tax related revenues have decreased by 11.5%. These revenues now make up 17% of the county’s general funds. While property owners as a whole have seen a decrease in taxes, the increase in sales taxes has allowed the general fund to balance, benefiting all citizens.

Economic development steered, encouraged, and supported by your local government has played a role. You see it in the form of new development, business attraction, business expansions, and bringing in more events, activities, and visitors into our community all helping to generate additional sales tax.

County government is run by fiscal conservatives. Clermont County has had a balanced or surplus operating budget for each of the past four years. General fund reserves have steadily increased from 25% to 33%.  Clermont County has taken proactive steps to create a long-term capital plan, allowing us to pay cash for most capital expenses related to buildings, deputy vehicles, 911 cell towers, and economic development. This practice allows the county to avoid debt and the resulting interest costs associated with such debt.

We have also embraced technology in each department, seeking ways to deliver our services to citizens in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. This, in turn, has allowed us to deliver services with fewer employees. As employees retire, we have sought ways to maintain or improve upon services provided to the public without hiring replacement employees, thus giving the citizens of Clermont County a better rate of return on their tax dollars.

Clermont County is a wonderful place to live, work, raise a family, and retire. Our local government operates within its means. We have safe neighborhoods, good schools, and low unemployment. I’m fortunate to call Clermont County home and feel both humbled and blessed to serve here as county commissioner.


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Two Worlds, One Lifestyle

Professionals David Uible and his wife, Cindy Cassell, raise buffalo in New Richmond.

Fall 2015

Buffalo-herd

Bison graze at Vista Grand Ranch, New Richmond, OH.

Two worlds. That’s where David Uible and his wife, Cindy Cassell, live. One is the professional world of business, politics and health care.

In the professional world is where Uible owns two businesses, serves as a Clermont County commissioner and is chairman of the Clermont County Republican Party.

That professional world is also where Cassell, a registered dietician, works for the University of Cincinnati and Kettering Sports Medicine, owns a private practice and is the incoming president of the Clermont County Farm Bureau.

Then there is the other world in which they live —the world of agriculture.

In the world of agriculture Uible and Cassell raise and grow all their own food on their 171-acre farm in New Richmond. That world includes raising all the typical farm animals such as cows, chickens, pigs and turkeys.

Oh, and buffalo.

You know, massive heads, menacing horns, thick fur, thundering across the Great Plains in choking rivers of dust in the early 19th century.

Yep, those buffalo. They’re in the couple’s backyard.

About 57 buffalo, including at least 12 calves born this spring, roam the pastures behind the couple’s main house. They’ve been here for 20 years, as long as Uible and Cassell have owned the property, which is named Vista Grand Ranch.

But raising buffalo and selling their meat wasn’t something the couple set out to do when they bought the property in 1994. It just made sense.

It made sense because the couple simply couldn’t afford to pay the residential tax rate on 171 acres, says Uible. That meant they needed to devote 10 or more acres of their land to commercial agricultural use in order to qualify for a substantially lower property tax rate under the state’s Current Agricultural Use Value assessment program.

But because of their busy schedules in the professional world they needed to find an agricultural activity that wouldn’t take too much of their time. After conducting research the couple concluded that buffalo fit that low-maintenance definition.

Buffalo, after all, were once prolific in North America with a range that stretched from the Yukon Flats in Alaska all the way to northern Mexico, says Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association.

How prolific were the American buffalo, scientifically known as bison, in adapting to the North American ecosystem? “It was estimated at the time when white men came to North America there were probably about 40 million [buffalo],” says Carter.

So buffalo, which had already adapted to the environment of the area and thrived by themselves, required very little maintenance. And that fit the couple’s busy schedule, especially Uible’s, since he was tending to his business interests in Switzerland and Russia. “I could leave for two weeks and they were fine, whether it’s winter or summer,” he says.

DavidCindy

David Uible and his wife, Cindy Cassell.

The couple initially bought 12 buffalo calves and began the process of raising them. After doing some market research Uible and Cassell decided that they wanted to be known for their ground buffalo meat. They sold the meat to the local IGA grocery store and then to the three Dorothy Lane Markets in the Dayton area.

Dorothy Lane Markets now buys about 70 percent of the buffalo meat from the Vista Grand Ranch, says Uible. Buffalo meat from the Vista Grand Ranch is also available at the Jungle Jim’s stores in Fairfield and Eastgate, and at the University Club restaurant and all of chef Jean-Robert de Cavel’s restaurants, says Uible.

That’s typical of the commercial buffalo industry, says Carter, where about half of the meat is sold to restaurants and half to retail outlets. “We are a very, very diversified business,” he says.

It’s also a business that’s in need of more people like Uible and Cassell. “My job consists primarily of going out and trying to find more producers raising bison just because we’re running so short,” says Carter. “The demand has outstripped our supply.”

Carter says the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent census shows there were 46 bison farms in Ohio with 849 animals, 41 bison farms in Kentucky with 1,411 animals and 58 bison farms in Indiana with 1,319 animals.

There are about 162,000 bison on private ranches in the U.S. and an equal number in Canada, says Carter. Those figures do not include the public bison herds in places like Yellowstone National Park or Custer State Park, he says.

Buffalofamily

Cindy Cassell, David Uible and their daughter Emma.

Demand for commercial buffalo meat has skyrocketed because more people have tasted it in restaurants or farmers markets, says Carter.

Demand for buffalo meat has also soared because of its nutritional profile. “This is an incredibly healthy meat,” says Carter. “It’s low in fat, high in protein, high in iron.”

But this story isn’t about buffalo, insists Cassell. It’s about the life she and Uible have carved in the country since moving from Mt. Adams 20 years ago.

“I am not a farm person and neither is David,” says Cassell. “So many people who live out here are. And many people that we associate with are. So I learn things every day.”

Whether that means learning which day the closest turkey processor is open, or how to string wire on an electric fence or where to take frozen meat when the power goes out for nearly a week, each challenge faced and conquered is rewarded with a nugget of knowledge.

But don’t call this agriculture world in which they live a job. “It’s not a job,” says Uible. “It’s a lifestyle.”

Cassell says, “I love gardening. I like knowing where my food comes from. I like raising buffalo. I like raising chickens. I like raising pigs. I like it. Nobody is making me do this. You know, I think it’s a good way to be.”

Uible and Cassell wouldn’t have it any other way.

They may live in two worlds, but they have just one lifestyle on top of this hill overlooking Clermont County’s 12 Mile Creek valley.

“It’s wholesome,” says Uible.

“It’s normal,” says Cassell. ■

As appeared in CincyEastsm

Written by Eric Spangler


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Clermont County to Make its Financial Data Available on OhioCheckbook.com

Accounting concept: pen, calculator and paperwork

BATAVIA, Ohio (June 17, 2015) – Financial data from Clermont County will appear later this year on the State Treasurer’s OhioCheckbook.com site. On June 15, Clermont County Commissioners approved the transfer of the data to the Treasurer.

OhioCheckbook.com was launched by Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel in December 2014 to give citizens complete access to the state’s financials, which citizens can search, download, compare and analyze. Now, counties, cities and other jurisdictions across the state are piggybacking on OhioCheckbook.com, and will use the software to post their own revenue and spending information in a similar format. Clermont is the eighth Ohio county to partner with the Treasurer.

Clermont County Commissioners praised this commitment to transparency. “While our financial information has always been available to citizens, the OhioCheckbook.com website will make accessing that information much easier,” said BCC President Ed Humphrey. “This is the right thing to do.”

“It is a great idea,” said Commissioner Bob Proud. “I am pleased that we are taking this step; citizens and taxpayers should be able to find this information without jumping through a lot of hoops.”

Added Commissioner David Uible, “We are proud to be partnering with OhioCheckbook.com to make this information available and usable to our citizens.”

“I believe the people of Clermont County have a right to know how their tax money is being spent and I applaud local leaders here for partnering with the Treasurer’s office to post their finances on OhioCheckbook.com,” said Treasurer Mandel.  “My vision is to create an army of citizen watchdogs who are empowered to hold public officials accountable.”

Mandel has been praised by advocates for OhioCheckbook.com, including the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which moved Ohio to the top of its list in a ranking of states’ “transparency” websites, judged by easy access to financial information.

Once Clermont County’s information is on OhioCheckbook.com – with the url clermontcounty.ohiocheckbook.com — a link will also be posted on the county’s website, www.clermontcountyohio.gov.

OhioCheckbook.com is built on a platform developed by OpenGov, a company created in 2012 to help governments share financial data.


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Ohio’s Farmers Should be Growing Food, Not Fuel

Sixteen and counting. That’s 16 Republican presidential candidates in case you hadn’t been keeping track.

If that seems a bit ridiculous, you might be right, but one of the candidates – our Gov. John Kasich – is likely to influence the national dialogue in a way that will benefit Ohio by virtue of his experience here in the heartland of America.

Many of you know me as your Clermont County commissioner, while only a few of you may know that my family owns and operates Vista Grand Ranch, a bison farm that provides locally-raised buffalo to support healthy lifestyles right here in southwest Ohio and throughout the state. How we utilize our natural resources and farm our land is a critically important decision for us that will impact future generations. Interestingly, a federal mandate with good intentions – to reduce our fossil fuel consumption – is having unintended consequences that greatly impacts how we’re farming our land.

The Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, is a federal mandate that calls for an increasing amount of biofuels, mostly corn ethanol, to be blended into gasoline. The requirement causes farmers to switch fields to corn or plow over unplanted areas and prairies to grow more of it. To get the best yield on soils not ideal for the crop, they douse it with fertilizer, releasing excess phosphorus and nitrates into the environment, where they help native plants in rivers and lakes proliferate. We’re even seeing fertilizer run-off from corn acreage as a large contributor to the Gulf of Mexico’s annual dead zone, an area where there is too little oxygen for marine life.

In Toledo, a massive bloom in 2014 left more than half a million people in the city without drinking water. The Ohio Environmental Council declared, “A much better job needs to be done of managing the agricultural phosphorus that feeds the algal blooms.” They’re right. We do.

What’s more, one in six Ohio households reduces the number or quality of their meals because they cannot afford nutritious food, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture survey, and we have a 13.9 percent food stamp participation rate in our state. Here’s an alarming fact that makes those numbers even more unsettling: a significant amount of corn grown in Ohio is being used to create ethanol, when it could be feeding these individuals and families in need. Repurposing the significant corn production in this state to be used as food instead of fuel can help to reduce these statistics.

There’s no question, it’s time to reform the RFS.

Gov. Kasich has denounced arbitrary mandates and government subsidies that would do harm to the livelihood of Ohio farmers. As a leader on the national stage, our Governor has a tremendous opportunity to speak against the RFS, represent the interests of the heartland and ensure this bad policy can do no additional harm to our quality of life.

Just last month, U.S, Rep. Brad Wenstrup announced he is cosponsoring HR 703 – the Renewable Fuel Standard Elimination Act. If enacted, the bill would repeal the RFS entirely.

It’s time for us to raise our voices. If we want to see real change in Ohio, we need to work together to fight for what is best for our state. Join me in protecting Ohio by visiting smarterfuelfuture.org to learn more and take action to help reform the ethanol mandate.

 

Written by David Uible

Published in the Cincinnati Enquirer, August 5, 2015


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