2013 Budget: “This is not where we want to be”
By Randa Wagner -
So it began at last Wednesday’s final budget hearing with the Morrow County commissioners.
Commissioner Tom Whiston made it clear that whittling away almost $1.5 million from county offices’ requests to meet the amount certified by the Budget Committe was painful.
Commissioner Tom Harden agreed.
“We have to balance this budget – we can’t have it be in the red,” Harden said. “Somewhere along the line, we received requests this year for $8,471,929.48 and the budget commission certified $6,991,928.19 – that’s quite a difference. We just didn’t have the money to fulfill all the requests. We can only spend what’s given to us by the budget commission.”
Harden said the commission, consisting of Treasurer Dan Green, Auditor Mary Holtrey and Prosecutor Charles Howland, are conservative about their numbers.
“That’s good for the county and good for us because if they certify a big amount and we give you that amount and it doesn’t come in, we’d have to take money back away from you,” Harden explained to elected officials in attendance.
The amount certified for the budget does not, however, account for some lingering debts the county has.
“We currently have, outstanding from the 2012 budget, about $430,000 in placement costs (with Job and Family Services) that we need to pay,” Whiston said. “That’s money that’s due and owing.”
He said the commissioners met with Don Wake and his staff to discuss that very issue and are looking at different avenues – whether it be state or federal – to get some additional funds.
“Job and Family Services gets approx. $150,000 a year from the state to pay these costs, with which a portion of that has to go to pay the match for the court and administrative costs,” Whiston said. “We have about $50,000 a year to help cover what is approaching $500,000 a year.”
Whiston also noted the county has mandated funding items.
“We received a filing last Friday from the common pleas judges an order for mandated requested funding ($105,000),” he noted. “We’ve done that in the budget. We’re not going to go to court to fight an issue where somebody requested money that has the ability to mandate it, and waste the county’s money just to find out we have to do it (anyway).”
Harden pointed out the county still owes $11,000 in medical bills for Shane Roush to the Morrow County Hospital as well.
“The problem with that is we’ve been basically spending money that is now caught up to the point of that we’ve spent what was extra – and we still haven’t paid what we need to pay,” Whiston said.
Whiston said the new courtroom is occupied now, but it brings an additional $150,000 of debt annually for about 25 years.
He added the commissioners will be prioritizing monies hereon, going to essential services first, such as the sheriff’s office. The Morrow County’s Sheriff’s office is in the lowest four tiers of pay in the State of Ohio.
“The jail has been cut close to 40%,” Sheriff Steve Brenneman said. “We do have the immigration money coming in, but it’s not coming in like it did. Our salaries are completely paid out of that immigration fund. Last month’s pay-in would not cover a month’s worth of salaries. That could become a very big issue this year.”
Brenneman said 50 ICE inmates are needed per day to cover costs, and many times recently they have been short.
Whiston believes local government is where the federal government needs to put their focus and priority.
“Giving $17 million F-16s to Egypt — who is cozying up to Iran – I can’t justify that,” he said. “Give me a million dollars and we can have you all happy and content, from a standpoint you’re funded where you need to be.”
One suggestion to help alleviate the situation is a plan to take advantage of any reimbursement or matching funds the state has available.
“From a standpoint of priority, if you have budgetary funds that you’ve received matches (for) or will allow you to get additional funds, we’re going to give that priority,” Whiston said. “We’re going to maximize every opportunity we can to get funds.
Roads and safety forces are the top two issues he is focusing on with townships, and he plans to pursue additional grant monies.
“Last year we lost three months of reimbursements at Job and Family Services because they were not done on time – then you don’t get paid,” said Commissioner Dick Miller. “When we had another clerks of courts here (years ago), the girls in the commissioners office started doing that billing because the clerk wasn’t doing it properly and timely, and we weren’t getting reimbursed. We still have that activity that we’re doing in this office that should be done by another office, and we should be having help from the courts to make sure that every time they can be reimbursed for something, that they do the paperwork properly.”
Mary Holtrey reiterated that point.
“There’s a lot of times that things will come back from the state stating they were filed too late and then we don’t get reimbursed on them at all,” she said.
Whiston noted though the county is not in a good situation, ‘we could be in a worse situation.’
“Anyone who thinks they need additional monies — fine, but it has to be taken from another office,” he said. “Cutting staff or increasing insurance premiums is another option.”
“We’re not required to give employees insurance,” Harden said.
“We don’t want to get to that point,” Whiston added. “Clearly if we do not find a funding stream to get the money we owe, we’re going to have to.”
Whiston said he appreciates what the budget commission has done with the certification – which is up from what was initially certified last year.
“We’re transparent,” he said of the commssioners. “If you want to know where things are at, I’d be glad to go over it with any one of you. We’re not out of the woods yet as far as what we need to get, because more bills will come in.”