Barborak fields questions and concerns during Columbiana town hall event

COLUMBIANA – Newly-seated state Rep. Nick Barborak went to the people Saturday, asking what constituents want him and other legislators to focus on in Columbus.

During a town meeting he said won’t be his last, Barborak fielded questions and concerns primarily focused on Gov. John Kasich’s proposed budget, including Medicaid expansion, a sales tax reduction, school funding and a severance tax on gas and oil royalties.

Barborak admitted not knowing at this point whether all these issues contained in the governor’s budget will remain there or become legislative items of their own but said forums like Saturday’s are important to provide citizens a chance to share their concerns so he can “take them back to Columbus.”

Eloise Traina said, “We in Family Recovery would like to see it supported,” regarding the proposed Medicaid expansion.

Barborak said the concern with the expansion is cost but said the argument will be that it will actually result in a savings by covering those uninsured people who currently go to the emergency room for non-emergency ailments, which he pointed out is very costly.

“The expansion will cover them so they don’t have to run to the ER,” he explained.

Saying he “tends to support” the expansion, Barborak emphasized, “I will approach every bill and piece of legislation with an open mind. Before voting, we have to weigh the good and weigh the bad,” and said he anticipates the Medicaid expansion issue will end up being separated from the budget as a stand-alone issue.

Cindy Coppersmith of Columbiana expressed reservations about the expansion proposal, noting that voters in 2011 said they “didn’t want to be part of this,” and questioning whether money will actually be provided by the federal government for the expansion as planned.

Barborak said Ohio may decide not to opt into it, noting, “It’s not a done deal” and “We have to take the U.S. government at its word when it says it’s going to give us.”

He cautioned that the issue of elimination of uncompensated emergency room care is “going to happen, regardless.”

Roger Sikorszky, director of the Counseling Center in Lisbon, said research shows the expansion would create 27,000 new jobs and mean an additional 450,000 people covered by health benefits, meaning “Ohio will benefit greatly” with counties then able to convert the savings to providing other services.

“It makes good sense to be in favor of the Medicaid expansion,” Sikorszky said.

Mary Lee Vandevander of Lisbon brought up the issue of increased truck traffic through the village from what she called the fracking business, asking whether the gas and oil companies can be made to pay a fee to help maintain roadways.

Barborak said these companies pay the same taxes as she does when they fill up their trucks with fuel, which then goes to road maintenance. He also said most companies have road maintenance agreements with the communities they pass through.

Commissioner Tim Weigle said that, while Chesapeake Energy is only one of about seven such companies using county roads, that company alone has put $20 million into county infrastructure that has come back to 16 townships through such road agreements.

Barborak told Vandevander he will discuss with the Ohio Department of Transportation her concerns about village streets.

Also discussed at length was the proposed severance tax on gas and oil royalties, with Barborak asking those in attendance their thoughts.

Former county commissioner John Payne said that, traditionally, state funding goes to “the Big Three,” meaning Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, but that if the severance tax goes into effect, “We should be given due consideration.”

Barborak seemed to agree, noting that this area sits in a unique spot in relation to location of the Marcellus Shale and that it can be a great opportunity after the “crushing economic blow” the area suffered from the loss of steel mills and potteries.

He said, however, that he has heard some opposition to such a tax, especially from farmers who looked at the gas/oil boom as a financial opportunity, just to learn that additional taxes will be levied.

School funding issues also were discussed, with Barborak saying school districts have seen a “tremendous strain” due to budget cuts in recent years and saying although funding is up $1.2 billion this year, there is still a “huge gap from where we were prior to the last budget.”

Susan Wenderoth and Danielle Dillon of the county ESC discussed the effects of cuts on the services the agency provides local school districts, with Wenderoth saying, “I don’t see how schools can cut any more.”

Broaching a sometimes unpopular notion, Vandevander said the county should be looking at consolidation as a way to cut expenses, and Barborak – whose wife is a school teacher – pointed to a poll taken a couple years ago that indicated about 50 percent of the county would be interested in considering consolidation.

Vandevander also asked Barborak to “be strong” in regard to funding for the Second Harvest program, which provides food for underprivileged residents, saying, “There is such a need.”

Barborak said he had just met with the group the previous day, saying, “They do a fantastic job. I support them 100 percent.”

This prompted Richard Ramskugler of Columbiana to ask, “If we have food stamps, why do we need Second Harvest?”

Barborak responded, “We have a lot of hungry people in our community, even with those programs.”

Ramskugler complained that people sell their food stamp cards, and Barborak agreed, “Something needs done with fraud. There are bad actors in all areas, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have tremendous need. We have an obligation to make sure people aren’t going hungry in our community.”

Other issues touched on during the town hall meeting include the need for more regulations on internet cafes and a $1.5 billion turnpike proposal.

Barborak invited residents to contact him, saying, “I want to make sure you have a voice. I will hear you out and give you an honest assessment of where I’m at (on issues.”