Butler County commissioners issue ultimatum on budget: Make these cuts

The Butler County commissioners gave other office holders and departments that rely on the general fund an ultimatum regarding requested budget cuts on Monday.

The commissioners planned to drain the $12 million budget stabilization fund and use $3 million from a reserve fund that started the year with a $56 million balance to help close the revenue gap caused by the coronavirus slowdown. They still needed others to cut 4.14 percent from the total approved budgets for this year and shave an additional 3.3 percent off the reduced figure for next year.

When the tax budgets were submitted for 2021 last month, County Administrator Judi Boyko said “nearly all” of the offices have made the necessary cuts for this year. She said only about 25 percent have included reductions “close to” the commissioners’ request for 2021, another 25 percent increased their budgets and the rest have taken cuts to some degree over the two-year period.

Commissioner Don Dixon voiced frustration Monday at the noncompliance and said layoffs might be necessary.

“The budget stabilization is gone and more, there will be no more, there’s just not going to be anymore. We can’t keep our bond rating and everything else,” Dixon said. “What that means to me is get ready for some layoffs.”

The office holders and departments that are supported by the general fund submitted $94.8 million in expenses for next year with $91.2 million in anticipated revenues, a $3.6 million difference.

When asked by the Journal-News about the likelihood of layoffs Dixon said he’ll know more in the next few months but what he does know is people need to take the budget reduction seriously. He said people are approaching their spending as if everything is fine, which is a “Disneyland” mentality.

“Our job is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said. “We’re not screaming the sky is falling and we’re going to have to close our doors but we’re not going to deal with it from a crisis perspective. We’ve got a plan we worked hard to get us where we are we’ve got the where with all to do what we need to do, now just need to do it.”

Early on Boyko estimated a $20 million general fund deficit for this year. Sales tax receipts have been higher than she first projected but are still off by about 25% according to Dixon. Sales tax accounts for about 45% of the county general fund revenues.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers surmised the other offices and departments have been encouraged by the brighter sales tax picture.

“Maybe someone out there, one of our office holders are saying it looks like we’re going to be better, maybe we don’t have to touch that budget for next year,” Rogers said. “Yes you are. If it does come out better which we’ll know by the end of the year, we can adjust that gain based upon what we receive. But we have some tremendous variables coming up... Make those cuts now or we’re going to.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter agreed with her fellow commissioners that they need to be vigilant where money matters are concerned.

“We’re going to have to communicate with our office holders when it comes to budget time,” she said. “I’m going to ask them how they are going to be innovative because as we look forward we will likely have more struggles and it’s going to be important to think about how we can operate more efficiently and creatively.”

The sheriff has the biggest general fund budget by far at $39.58 million. He needed to cut around $1.5 million out of this year’s spending plan and another $1.2 million for 2021. The tax budget request represents a 4.3 percent increase over the reduced spending plan for this year but only a 0.38 percent year-to-year.

Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said he has been in regular contact with Boyko, discussing what must be done.

“It’s a moving target,” Dwyer said about the fluid financial picture right now. “It’s something we discuss regularly so we can plan for he future. As of right now, prior to the tax budget we had a conversation and ran numbers and scenarios there’s a lot of factors that impact our budget with boarding of prisoners and revenues that aren’t common.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

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