Butler County commissioners could relax budget cut mandates: Here’s why

The Butler County 2021 budgeting process is continuing, and after justice system hearings on Monday, the commissioners said the full 7.4% budget reduction they ordered might not be necessary.

The commissioners met with the Juvenile Court among others on Monday for budget hearings, as they try to craft a spending plan in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Ron Craft told the commissioners during his hearing if they complied with the entire 7.4% cumulative budget cut request, they would need to shutter one of three male pods at the detention center, a savings of $100,000 by not filling two vacant youth leader positions.

He said during the worst of the pandemic the detention center population was around 20, and Monday it had jumped up 33. There is a requirement that there be one youth leader per eight offenders, double the number of offenders per person at night.

ExploreButler County justice system budgets to be scrutinized in hearings this week

“While we budgeted that in our budget as a reduction item, I just don’t feel that it would be in the interest of the children of Butler County, if the county commissioners are ordered closing this pod," Craft said. "And by the way, it’s already starting to fill up again…. If things keep getting busier and the COVID problem we hope goes away, I can assure you that within a short period time we’ll have 50 or 55 kids.”

The commissioners have asked all offices, departments and independent boards that rely on the general fund to cut 7.4% over two years due to a projected deep drop in revenues from the coronavirus pandemic.

As a whole, the general fund expenses presented for the commissioners' consideration are down about $12.3 million, or about 11.2%, between the adopted 2020 budget and spending requests for next year. The commissioners projected a $20 million general fund revenue tumble early in the pandemic, but through the first nine months of the year, actual revenue collections from all sources are down 7.6%, or $5.1 million.

The commissioners won’t make final decisions on the budget until all the hearings are complete and they can crunch the numbers, but Commissioner Don Dixon told the judge the detention pod is probably safe.

“I think all of us are in favor of leaving the juvenile pod open but with the caveat that revenues have been stronger than what we thought, but like you said judge we don’t know where it’s going,” Dixon said. “So maybe sometime next year we might need to say hey we really did hit the bottom. I think it’s the reason we really have to play it day-by-day.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter wondered if it would make sense to hire more staff to cut down on the $166,000 in overtime costs.

Superintendent of Corrections Jason Gundrum said that is not really an option right now.

“We are struggling to find people to work in that environment,” Gundrum said. “COVID has complicated that a lot. There are a lot of people that are hesitant to work in medical settings, there are a lot of other people now that are very hesitant in correctional environments.”

The commissioners have one more round of budget hearings Monday.


CONTINUING COVERAGE

The Journal-News is committed to following budget decisions and concerns in Butler County, especially during the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. We have reporters following the meetings and talking with officials for the latest about how the budget decisions will affect residents.

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