Butler County finances much better than expected to finish 2020: What to know

The financial disaster Butler County officials predicted didn’t come to fruition last year as residents spent more than expected and federal funding helped the bottom line.

General fund revenues for 2020 totaled almost $114 million, which was $22.6 million more than total expenses of $91.2 million. However, the county also received $18.7 million in federal coronavirus funding, and $9.5 million was deposited in the general fund. The county carried over $78.8 million.

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, officials were predicting a $20 million deficit in general fund revenues after the economy shut down. The commissioners asked all departments and office holders to slice 4.14% from the adopted $109 million general fund budget. Butler County Finance director Angel Burton reported total expenses for last year were $18.2 million or 20% below the original general fund budget.

Butler County Administrator Judi Boyko said governments routinely budget for the worst-case scenarios so it is normal for final expenses to be less than the actual money collected.

“It’s rare when a budget is generally fully expended,” Boyko said. “So it is common for expenses to come in under budget and I think that’s a thing to rejoice, that government is spending less that what had been anticipated or planned for.”

In 2019, revenues were budgeted at $116.5 million, and the county collected $104.9 million and spent $90 million. The largest revenue drop between 2019 and 2020 was $1 million in casino fees. Sales taxes were expected to fall 30% but actual receipts came in $579,325 above the adopted budget of $44 million.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said given the positive financial footing, she envisions the commissioners investing in economic development countywide.

“Just stabilizing the economy and building from there,” she said. “There’s no road map for any of this.”

The county’s January sales tax collection of $3.88 million came in last week, it is slightly above the amount received a year ago and just below the $4 million collected in December.

Miami University Economics Professor Bill Even said national retail sales have “essentially” recovered from the big dip earlier in the year. With the latest $600 stimulus boost from the federal government and more possibly on the way, he said sales tax revenues could stay strong in the near term, but long term there is still too much uncertainty with all aspects of the pandemic.

“It’s still dicey, I wouldn’t be going out spending a lot more money because I’m confident the revenues will continue rising,” Even said. “Personally or for the government.”

The commissioners had asked other officials to shave an additional 3.3% off budget requests for this year. As finances stayed strong throughout the year other office holders like the sheriff and others said they needed their budgets restored.

“When you see that amount of money it’s always easy to say give us some of that,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “Sometimes it’s harder to say no if it’s laying there, than if you don’t have it. But in the situation we’re in nobody knows.”

He said with things rapidly changing in Washington D.C. in terms of handling the pandemic the county needs to quarantine some money for the unknown.

“We’ve got money in there that’s not ordinary income money, we’re kind of sitting on it anticipating having to use that as a one-time expense for this health crisis we’re in, some way, some shape, some form,” Dixon said.

Right now the commissioners have $6 million earmarked for a testing/vaccine program. They have received five proposals from outside vendors but Boyko said understanding things have rapidly evolved since they sought bids and supplies of the vaccine are scarce.

“To determine now a contract on how it would be rolled and laid out and when the value would happen is still being discussed,” Boyko said. “There’s no way I’d recommend to the commissioners that we enter into a contract when we really don’t know what the scope and terms would be. Certainly not going to contract just to have a contract.”

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