Butler County budget talks: 5 things to know

Every October, Butler County commissioners meet with all office holders, department heads and independent boards to discuss spending plans for the coming year.

The general fund was set at $96 million for the tax budget but is subject to change.

The first budget hearing is Monday and some of the bigger budgets are first up. The commissioners will pass the final budget in December.

RELATED: Butler County losing $3.1 million in sales tax

Here are 5 things to know about the upcoming budget talks:

1. State, federal actions to impact Butler County 2018 budget

If Butler County’s budget hearings had a theme, it would be that outside influences, namely the state and federal governments, are having a negative impact on the 2018 bottom line.

Butler County Administrator Charlie Young said actions by the state legislature are impacting sales tax receipts, jail populations, court services and more. The loss of Medicaid managed care sales tax is a $3.1 million hit and housing and or monitoring low level felony offers could cost as much as $4 million.

“We’re seeing some very, very ominous clouds gathering,” he said. “We’re not seeing the economy in general being threatened, which could be devastating to our revenue stream, as it was in the past with the Great Recession… We’re going to struggle, we have to be just as vigilant over the next few years as we have over the past few years to manage our costs.”

2. Large Butler County Sheriff’s budget marked with unknowns

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office always has the biggest general fund budget — $35.2 million for 2018 — and this year there are some big unknowns, because of a new state law.

The legislature in its biennial budget bill mandated that judges no longer send non-violent — sex offenders don’t qualify either — felony five offenders to prison. Instead they must be either housed in the county jail or put into community treatment.

When the law was passed in June there were an estimated 197 prison inmates who under this new legislation, would have been sentenced to the Butler County Jail, as opposed to prison. Those people, along with about 250 potential probation violators, and any new eligible felony five offenders could cost the county $2.7 million to $3.8 million.

The exact cost of boarding extra inmates isn’t known yet but the county will be getting about $557,257 from the state to offset the increase. Despite the expected increase Butler County Sheriff’s Chief Tony Dwyer said they are still expecting to bring in an additional $500,000 in revenues from prisoners they house for other entities like the federal government.

RELATED: State law sends low level prison inmates home for treatment

“We should be able to maintain that,” Dwyer said. “For years now the jail has brought in a significant amount of revenue every year and they keep going up. I don’t think the new law should handicap that, we’re just going to have to find new ways to manage it.”

3. State move will also impact Butler County courts

The state’s move is also impacting the Butler County Common Pleas Court budget — also on the commissioner’s meeting docket for next week — because they will need to supervise the offenders who would have been in prison and off the probation department’s radar.

Butler County Court Administrator Wayne Gilkison said in their budget they have increased the hours the court is open from 35 to 37.5 hours a week, rather than add probation staff to handle the influx. Which will bump the budget up about $262,670. To offset the extra cost to the general fund Gilkison said the judges adopted the commissioners’ pay-for-performance plan, an additional $61,303.

Previously the court gave performance raises up to three percent on base pay. Next year employees will get up to two percent added to their base pay and up to two percent in lump sum payments.

“We’re just trying to work together,” Gilkison said. “We know the change in hours has an impact and as a result we’re going to go along with what the commissioners are imposing on their own employees.”

4. Filling a $3 million gap due to sales tax loss

Something that doesn’t have a time slot on the meeting schedule next week — but will no doubt be a theme throughout the hearings — is the loss of $3.1 million in sales tax. The commissioners knew this was coming, after the federal government nixed the Medicare managed care tax in Ohio, but were assured the state would find a way to make counties whole.

Butler County Finance Director Tawana Keels said the legislature allotted the county $2.1 million last year, and equal payments will be received in November and early next year.

“Transitional aid will be used for one-time purchases in the county in 2018, which could include infrastructure improvements, capital projects, replacement voting equipment and communications upgrades,” she said. “While the transitional aid is helpful, it does not fill the $3 million gap in general fund operations in 2018 and beyond.

The state found a permanent fix for its own loss, but the legislature has yet to officially put a solution in place for counties and transit authority who used to be able to collect the tax. The Ohio Association of County Commissioners, some senators and the governor’s office brokered a deal recently that would give counties and transit systems $50 million in January and another potential $30 million if the state budget is in good shape next August.

Young said even if the legislature acts on the new deal, it isn’t long term.

“Despite having an economy that’s strong we’re seeing some actions from the Statehouse that are eliminating that benefit of the growth for us,” Young said. “The sales tax and MCO, not only is it $3.1 million a year, that was a number that had grown fairly substantially year to year related to the Medicaid expansion. We’ll get a small payment in ‘18, about a third of what we’d normally expect and then that’ll be it. That’s a couple years worth of growth just ripped right off the top.”

MORE: County approves $10 million safety equipment replacement

5. Emergency radio upgrade an unanticipated cost

There is also a very large expense that wasn’t anticipated in the 2018 budget until recently, the $10 million Motorola emergency response radio upgrade. The communications equipment giant has stopped making the radios all police and firemen carry and won’t service them past 2018.

The sheriff has committed $1 million a year for the next five for the equipment replacement.

The original price tag was $19.2 million to replace the 10-year-old infrastructure and replace about 3,100 radios. The county made a deal with Motorola that will cover the infrastructure upgrade and replacement of 1,000 radios. The cost will cover the county’s needs and some of the jurisdictions that have indicated they intend to replace their radios. Other cities and townships have said they will likely replace on an as needed basis.

About the Author