Commissioners intend to adopt full-year plan
By Peter H. Milliken
The ongoing effects of the economic recession will be felt in the budgets the Mahoning County commissioners are expected to adopt either today or Wednesday.
After the commissioners discussed budget-related personnel matters in a 90-minute executive session at a Wednesday morning staff meeting, George J. Tablack, county administrator and budget director, said he still had work to do to prepare the spending plan.
Therefore, Anthony T. Traficanti, chairman of the commissioners, said he did not know if the commissioners would adopt the general-fund budget today or Wednesday. Both meetings are set for at 10 a.m. in the county-courthouse basement.
Traficanti said commissioners do plan to adopt a full-year 2011 budget this month, rather than just a temporary first-month or first- quarter budget.
“The best way to budget is just to let everybody know what they’re going to get — give them their full-year appropriation — and then let the departments react appropriately,” Traficanti said.
A year ago, the county commissioners adopted a $5 million January-only general-fund budget, following up April 1, 2010, with a $51,728,000 permanent full-year spending plan.
That’s because it was uncertain a year ago whether the federal court would continue to require full operation of all county-jail facilities after May 17 and whether concessionary labor agreements could be achieved to save money in the sheriff’s department, Tablack noted.
Tablack said those questions have been resolved.
Federal supervision under a consent decree that settled an inmate lawsuit over jail crowding, together with the requirement of full jail operation, expired May 17; and new concessionary labor agreements with deputies were ratified late this year.
The sheriff’s department spends more money than any other general-fund department, Tablack said. The sheriff spent $17,348,732 in 2009. His budget for this year is $15.5 million.
The agenda prepared for today’s commissioners’ meeting contains approval of the appropriations for county departments outside the general fund, but not the general-fund budget.
Although the commissioners haven’t adopted next year’s spending plan, it is known that the county budget commission, which consists of the county auditor, treasurer and prosecutor, has projected next year’s general-fund revenues at $51,412,860, compared with $53,094,744 this year.
To put this in perspective, general-fund revenues were $57.5 million in 2009 and $66.2 million in 2008.
Between Jan. 1 and Monday, county general-fund spending for this year totaled $53,135,442, compared with $61,108,862 for the same period last year.
The general fund is the county’s main operating fund, which pays for central-government functions such as the jail, courts and prosecutor’s office.
The commissioners’ deadline to adopt a full-year budget for 2011 is April 1.
Although sales-tax revenues are rebounding after 17 months of recession-induced decline, when compared to the same month in the prior year, the county’s general fund faces challenges in other areas, Tablack said.
Those problems include the absence of what was recently $4 million in annual income from federal prisoners housed in the county jail, together with a potential $5 million loss in state funding going into 2012, Tablack said.
Low interest rates are reducing the county’s income from investments, Tablack said.
One advantage the county will have next year is $5 million in expected carry-over from this year in the general fund, compared with a mere $867,766 carried over from 2009 to this year, Tablack said.
The $5 million carry-over is based on the county’s borrowing $4 million for one year in the bond market for its self-funded employee health-care plan Nov. 30, with reductions in cost to be achieved in 2011 due to this year’s layoffs of county employees, Tablack explained. “The reductions in cost are going to retire that debt,” he said.
“We’re positioned well for 2011, but we’re trying to plan conservatively for a worst-case scenario in 2012,” he added.