Butler County collects highest sales tax in at least 14 years: What that means

Sales taxes and other revenues have remained robust in Butler County and across the state in the past few months, but officials say that doesn’t meana spending spree is coming.

The county collected nearly $5 million in sales tax this month, the highest monthly collection since at least 2007, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation. Year-to-date sales tax collections are up $1.5 million, or 8.3%, over last year, and total general fund revenues are 14% higher than a year ago.

Sales tax revenues at the state level are up 14.3% from a year ago, according to the monthly analysis by Kimberly Murnieks, director of the Ohio Office of Budget and Management.

“The consensus among forecasters is for strong growth in the second quarter of calendar year 2021. Although the labor market has not fully recovered, infusions of aid from the federal government have left the average household with more disposable income than before the pandemic,” Murnieks wrote. “Individuals are spending more on services and are expected to continue to do so. By late May and early June, most economists were expecting second quarter growth above 8.0 percent, with increases continuing during the remainder of the calendar year.”

The county is in the midst of developing the annual tax budget, which is sort of a first draft for what officials think they will need to spend next year and projected revenues. Sales tax is the largest revenue contributor to the general fund but other collections have also been strong despite or in some cases because of the pandemic.

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The real estate market is red hot right now and property transfer fees are up 55%, or $1.1 million, and recorder fees jumped 56.4% year-to-date, or $348,104.

The commissioners asked the other county officials to hold spending to actual expenses incurred in 2019, for the 2022 tax budget, despite having $83.9 million in unencumbered cash in the general fund as of May. It represents a 48.2% increase compared to last year.

“When communities are in the enviable position of being financially solvent it does create challenges to be fiscally strict,” County Administrator Judi Boyko said. “The board of commissioners are committed to funding operations that enhance services to the county constituency in the most effective, efficient and economical way.”

Sheriff Richard Jones has the largest general fund budget by far and according to the commissioners’ directive should have submitted a $39 million general fund tax budget. Due to upcoming union contract negotiations and an effort to recoup cuts that were made last year, the sheriff’s budget request represents a 9.2% increase over this year or $43.7 million.

Chief Anthony Dwyer told the Journal-News they made the “painful” cuts the commissioners requested last year and next year, “we’re asking that the commissioners consider the contractual increases and what’s needed to operate our operation appropriately.”

Other offices have also submitted requests outside of the commissioners’ directive, like the Juvenile Court, which is asking for $517,460 more than was expended during 2019. Court Administrator Rob Clevenger noted in his submission they had “significant” clerk vacancies in 2019 and they are losing a grant for the Family Treatment Drug Court in October, so those expenses will move to the general fund.

The commissioners have said they understand there will need to be exceptions made to the guidelines. With gas prices skyrocketing, the volatile housing market, uncertain pandemic recovery and other outside influences they say it is hard to set a spending plan at this early juncture.

“I believe we’re at tipping point,” Commissioner T.C. Rogers said. “Not only with homes, it’s with gas prices going up, people are going to make different decisions about what they buy. So we just can’t give these answers now.”

By law the tax budget must be approved in the summer but the commissioners hold budget hearings with everyone in the fall and pass the final budget in December.