Dayton's Ombudsman Under Budget Threat
This coming year the City of Dayton is projecting a cash shortflow – and the city manager’s office wants to cut off funds to the Ombudsman.
In 1971, leaders of the Dayton Board of Education, the Dayton City Commission, and the Montgomery County Commission joined together to create an independent oversight agency — The Dayton-Montgomery County Ombudsman’s Office. The Ombudsman is kind of like a helper of last resort for people who are struggling to get what they need from the government. And over the years, the Ombudsman has fielded a lot of calls from local residents — on everything from unfilled potholes to missing food stamps. But this coming year the City of Dayton is projecting a cash shortflow — and the city manager’s office wants to cut off its funds to the Ombudsman.
WYSO’s Jason Saul called up Diane Welborn, the Dayton-Montgomery County Ombudsman, to learn some more about her office, and what the proposed budget cuts will mean.
Diane Welborn: One of the things that's interesting about our ombudsman office here is that when we were established, we were put forward to help residents with complaints about not only local government problems, but also state and federal government problems. Government is just very complex and it touches our lives in so many ways. Some of them are on almost a daily basis, but some only now and again. And when you have problems with those, then some of those problems can be quite severe for citizens. When the benefits for food assistance, like SNAP assistance, when something goes wrong with that, you know, it's the family that goes hungry or has to get out to the food bank. When the Social Security benefit is in some way misdirected or it doesn't come or something goes wrong with that, then there's rent and mortgage and other daily expenses that don't get paid.
Jason Saul: So what do you do? You open a case and you help them navigate that maze?
Diane Welborn: Exactly. Once we figure out where we think the problem lies, then we will approach the government agency and seek for a resolution. And we're fairly successful in getting those resolutions because government agencies want to get things right. You know, they want to be providing good service to citizens.
Jason Saul: And now I understand that your model is under threat. The Dayton city manager says she now wants to withhold funding for the ombudsman's office.
Diane Welborn: Yes, unfortunately.
Jason Saul: How did you hear about this? Were you surprised?
Diane Welborn: Yes, of course. Yes, I was surprised. The city manager sent an email to me and to the Montgomery County Commission to say that they were no longer going to be able to continue their funding. And that was, of course, a surprise to me and a disappointment. The rationale that is being provided is that the pandemic has brought such large shifts in society that they need to no longer make that contribution. That's her recommendation to the city commission.
Jason Saul: How much money do you get from the City of Dayton every year?
Diane Welborn: $50,000.
Jason Saul: And if you don't get that $50,000, what do you have to do? What are you going to have to stop doing?
Diane Welborn: Well, if we don't get the $50,000 people that live in our area will be harmed, they will be hurt. Without that money, we will just not be able to provide the level of service that we can provide currently. It's quite a challenge to think that through.
Jason Saul: The city manager's plan is to have a city department take over some of the work you've been doing. Can you talk to me a little bit more about why it's so important to have an independent advocate for people?
Diane Welborn: When citizens and residents come to an office for complaint resolution, they need to be confident and reassured that this entity is going to give them a fair and unbiased look at their complaint. I've had lots of residents say to me, well, you know, who pays their paycheck? Even if we do not find in favor of the resident, at least the resident knows that it has been objectively and impartially looked at.
Dayton’s city budget planning will continue through the fall.