MOUNT VERNON — If the county’s recent budget woes have been an uncomfortable frying pan for government officials, on Monday, they got a taste of the fire to come. Eleven representatives from departments funded by the county’s general fund met with the Board of Commissioners for the monthly budget update.
Instead of reviewing the current budget situation, the commissioners opted to follow up on recent budget commission meetings to give departments as much forewarning as possible of the crunch to come. Whereas the current 2009 budget was recently “deappropriated” by almost 9 percent, causing furloughs and the cutting of non-vital activities in many departments, that belt-tightening might appear comfortable when the 2010 budget becomes effective.
The commissioners handed out spreadsheets with each department’s total reduced 2009 budget figures and blank spaces to fill in potential 2010 totals, adding up to a total for 2010 that is already filled in. The 2010 budget total is 11 percent lower than the cut-back budget for this year. At the start of 2009, the county’s general fund stood at an appropriation of $15,816,000 for the year; this was cut back to $14,090,000. The 2010 budget further cuts the fund to $12,600,000.
Sheriff David Barber said he would propose again, for the benefit of everyone in attendance, what he proposed in his last meeting with the commissioners.
“When, if at all, are you considering putting a one-quarter percent sales tax in effect, and if not, why not?” Barber said.
The commissioners have the authority, in an emergency situation, to raise the local sales tax up to a maximum of 7 percent. The sales tax rate for Knox remains at 6.5 percent.
“The public wants to see us tightening our belts,” Commissioner Teresa Bemiller said.
“How much do they want to see us tighten our belts?” Barber said. “Do they want to see layoffs? Do they want to see deputies not respond when they call the sheriff’s office? Do we want to get like Morrow County?”
Barber was referring to Morrow County’s recent budget troubles, which have forced deep cutbacks into its sheriff’s department.
“We’re a long way from Morrow County’s [situation],” Commissioner Allen Stockberger replied.
He said they believed there were less drastic ways to cut back than going to a skeleton crew.
“We’ve done those,” Barber said.
Commissioner Robert Wise asked why Barber cut the DARE program without applying for funding from the state of Ohio to try and preserve at least part of the program.
Barber replied that the officers formerly involved in the DARE program had to be reassigned duties elsewhere to cover other cutbacks and furlough days. He reiterated support for a sales tax to deflect the coming privations.
“I am not inclined to impose a sales tax on the people of this county,” Stockberger said.
He said that at most, he would agree to put it on a ballot to let residents vote about it, but he said it is too late to get such a motion put on November’s ballot. Even if it were voted upon and approved by the May election, he said, much of next year would be past before any benefit would be gleaned from such a tax.
Wise asked if any of the other officials wanted to go on record as supporting an increase in the sales tax. No one spoke.
Judge James Ronk asked how Knox compared with other counties. Auditor Jonette Curry cited figures which stated that 57 of Ohio’s 88 counties have higher sales taxes than Knox.
Stockberger advised departments to start working out how to lower their budgets. He said the commissioners had already calculated that if all departments took the maximum number of furlough days, that would save up to $250,000. Because 2010 has one less pay period than 2009, an additional $250,000 will be saved, Stockberger said. That would account for $500,000 of the cut, but another $990,000 will still have to be eliminated. Stockberger said the Board of Commissioners did not want to micro-manage where those cuts should come, and asked the departments to make suggestions.
The county officials will meet again the last Monday in September to discuss budget ideas.