COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A veteran Ohio politician is calling for a special state fund to help rural counties boost employment, fight opioid abuse and cover basic expenses. Any of the state’s 88 counties, large or small, would be eligible to draw from the equalization fund proposed Wednesday by Republican Gene Krebs. The former state representative is a farmer and public policy expert from Preble County who’s running for state Senate.

Krebs said Ohio originally created county governments to implement the state’s policies and laws, but without ample retail businesses subject to sales tax have little way to raise funds they need in the wake of local government fund cuts.

Krebs cited a Center for Community Solutions study that found Ohio’s small rural towns are disproportionately poor and undereducated and pay high relative costs for crime and disability.

“This is also a matter of fairness,” Krebs said. “Is it really fair to have people living in rural areas of Ohio who simply lack the tax capacity to provide the services that the state requires them to perform?”

His proposed $110 million “equalization” fund could be tapped only to: combat the opioid/heroin epidemic; develop economic programs that increase sales-tax revenue; or to cover general county expenses. It would be assessed regularly and expire after 10 years.

Ned Hill, a professor at Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs, called the proposal “a damn good idea.” He said rural counties need help to stimulate their local economies and to adequately treat the drug addiction problem.

“Our problem with the opoid epidemic – and it will be compounded by the legalization of marijuana – is getting people to pass a drug test,” Hill said. “County government is right there and rural county governments just don’t have the money.”

Krebs’ proposal comes at the beginning of a year during which Ohioans will chose a new governor and new lawmakers and John Begala, former executive director of the Center for Community Solutions applauded Krebs for bringing these issues to the forefront.

“It will be impossible for the next Governor, the next general assembly to not to be dealing with something like this, however things turn out.”