MOUNT VERNON — Several county department heads met with commissioners in a grueling day of budget conferences Thursday. The county is under a deadline to reduce budgets of general fund recipients a total of 9 percent by Monday, and those in the meetings were ones who had not yet agreed upon cuts that can be made.
•Prosecuting Attorney: Prosecutor John Thatcher said that the only way his department could find more than 2.25 percent to trim would be to make use of Furtherance Of Justice funds preferably used to support the costs of expert testimony, legal training and support. Thatcher said adult felonies in Knox County were up 85 percent, while he still had the same number of employees to deal with those cases. Commissioner Allen Stockberger said that Delinquent Tax Account Collections provides the prosecutor’s office with some potential funding to get them through the year. The commissioners agreed that using some DTAC funds to provide part of the salaries of employees who worked on collections cases, along with FOJ funds to help support other employees, would get the prosecutor’s office to the desired 9 percent cut.
Thatcher asked what would happen with next year’s budget. The commissioners said that budget hearings would have to be held, as the county’s newly projected figures for 2010 are shaping up to be $3 million less than 2009’s appropriations.
•Court of Common Pleas: Judge Otho Eyster said that his court’s docket has doubled in the last 10 years without an increase in staff. The commissioners, knowing that the judge has the power to issue a court order forcing them to acquire money for his operations, were direct, asking Eyster if they should go ahead and make cuts and await a forthcoming court order. Commissioner Robert Wise suggested making cuts and asking for the court to bear with them as long as possible. Eyster agreed.
•Municipal Court: Judge Paul Spurgeon advised the commissioners to check and see if the county was applying to the state for a reimbursement of a portion of the salaries of acting judges who fill in as needed. The commissioners said that they would check with the auditor on this issue. Any potential funds from that will be needed, as without touching salaries, commissioners were only able to come up with a 5.1 percent cut for Spurgeon’s department.
•Sheriff’s Office/Knox County Jail: The most demanding meeting of the day was for the office with the largest budget. Sheriff David Barber said that what was paramount for him was the safety of his staff and limiting the county’s exposure to liability issues. But after cutting every possible non-salary expense item in both the sheriff’s office and jail budgets, the numbers were still $213,000 short of the desired 9 percent reduction. Stockberger said that the commissioners would wave the extra $13,000 as a good-faith gesture if the sheriff’s office could find $200,000 in personnel savings. Asking employees to take furlough days was discussed, though Deputy David Shaffer said he couldn’t see the police union accepting the number of furlough days it would take to make up the shortfall, which would be approximately 15 days per deputy.
Stockberger said that the money had to be found by Monday.
“It’s not there to give back,” Barber said.
“It’s not here to give out,” Stockberger said. He added that if furloughs weren’t acceptable, it might come down to layoffs.
Barber said that though he meant no disrespect to other county departments, his department served a very different function from them and that he was asking for some consideration. He said that he would talk with the Fraternal Order of Police, but made no promises to the commissioners at the end of the two-and-a-half hour meeting.
•Office of the Public Defender: Bruce Malek came prepared with spreadsheets demonstrating the impact of different cuts. One scenario proposed scaling back expenses, but it only reached part of the desired reduction. Another immediately halted all expense accounts, getting closer to the desired cut, but leaving his office unable to operate later in the year. The commissioners finally proposed a combination of halting some expenses, reducing but maintaining vital accounts, and giving his staff some furlough days. With this approach, Malek agreed that they would be able to hit the 9 percent reduction target.
•Clerk of Courts Office: Mary Jo Hawkins contacted the commissioners and informed them that she had been able to reach the 9 percent target on her own, thus canceling her meeting. Hawkins will provide her figures to the commissioners today.
•Veterans Services Office: Assistant Prosecutor Charles McConville advised the commissioners that recent legal cases were regarding veterans’ services as entitlements, therefore he advised not forcing them to cut. In canceling the meeting, the commissioners did ask the VSO for any help they could give by making voluntary budget cuts by Monday.
•Board of Elections: The commissioners ran out of time at the end of the day to meet with the BOE, whose chairman, Bill Moody, and director, Kim Horn, submitted a letter saying that in light of their 20 percent budget reduction in 2009, they would not be able to submit the requested cutback, as they were already making due with a budget that necessitated making no new equipment purchases, paying no overtime, having board members filling in for employee comp time, and selling off voting machine storage racks. Assistant Prosecutor McConville advised that according to the Ohio Revised Code, the county cannot force the BOE to make the desired cut.