Butler County might ease budget cuts caused by coronavirus

Several Butler County officials have trimmed a total of $369,426 from their budgets in anticipation of a $20 million general fund deficit due to the coronavirus pandemic. The commissioners asked the office holders to trim 4.14 percent of their approved 2020 budgets.

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Several Butler County officials have trimmed a total of $369,426 from their budgets in anticipation of a $20 million general fund deficit due to the coronavirus pandemic. The commissioners asked the office holders to trim 4.14 percent of their approved 2020 budgets.

For the second straight month, sales tax revenues have been healthier than expected in Butler County, so officials are looking into possibly revising 2020 budget cuts that were precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Butler County Administrator Judi Boyko toldthe county commissioners Monday that sales taxes for March, when the pandemic first took hold, totalled $3.2 million, a 20 percent drop from last year but above the revised $1.7 million projection.

Boyko told the commissioners they learned sales tax distributions lag three months behind rather than two months so the true impact of the pandemic is still to come.

“June receipts is actually March collections so July should be more impactful because it distributes April sales when most of the economy was shuttered,” Boyko said.

She has continued to stress that while sales taxes are the biggest portion of general fund revenues, about 45 percent, the county also counts on multiple other revenue streams. She said the impact of the economic free fall that occurred when Gov. Mike DeWine issued stay-at-home orders and closed all but essential businesses, isn’t known yet. Some revenues come in quarterly and others like property taxes come in two annual installments.

RELATED: Butler County officials starting to officially cut budgets due to coronavirus slowdown

“Although I’m pleased to report sales tax collections have exceeded our projections, six months still remain with some uncertainty in the economy,” she said, adding she and new Finance Director Angel Burton are working a plan “so that if your revenues exceed what we’ve forecasted for this year, which anticipated the cuts and reductions for the offices, we are working on prioritizing restoration of those reductions.”

Early estimates were the county could lose $20 million from various revenue sources. The commissioners drained the $12 million budget stabilization fund and agreed to use $1.5 million from a reserve fund. They still needed the others to cut 4.14 percent from the total approved budgets for this year or a total of around $4.5 million.

Boyko recommended restoring some of the budget stabilization fund first. Commissioner T.C. Rogers told the Journal-News he voiced his preference for putting the money back into reserves because they must have reserves equal to or more than 50 percent of the general fund and taking that cut was cutting too close.

The commissioners approved a $109 million general fund budget for this year and reserves total about $56 million.

“The budget stabilization fund was to stabilize the budget,” Rogers said. “So if we didn’t have to touch the reserves I said leave them there. We have the budget stabilization fund to stabilize the budget in case of a crisis. We had a crisis.”

With Ohio and other states nationwide slowly reopening and recent protests in the wake of the George Floyd killing by Minneapolis police, the number of coronavirus cases have seen an uptick in some areas. Commissioner Don Dixon said it is probably premature to talk about relaxing budget constraints.

“The thing you want to keep in mind before you put the cart before the horse is this thing may not be over,” Dixon said. “It’s good that our numbers are moving in the right direction but it’s way, way too early to start talking about putting the money back. We still need to continue and see where we end up by the end of the year because it could come back.”

The commissioners still plan to completely erase all general fund debt at year’s end.

Boyko said about $1 million worth of cuts have been submitted by various office holders and departments. But she has talked to everyone and no one is balking at the budget reductions. Several offices have submitted formal budget cuts but others like the sheriff is trimming costs off his $40 million budget by freezing hiring and leaving vacant positions open in addition to other cuts.

Burton said she continues to monitor the situation as more revenue figures materialize to see if the $20 million shortfall is still possible.

“I haven’t formally updated our projections, but I suspect we will end the year around 25 percent under what was projected for sales tax, which is a slight improvement from the originally projected 30 percent decrease, yet still significant,” Burton said. “It’s prudent for my office to take a cautious, conservative approach to the revenue projections, especially as we finalize the county’s 2021 tax budget, because we just don’t know the scope of the COVID-19 impact on our economy, or for how long it’s going to last.”

The commissioners do not intend to ease the cuts they asked other office holders and departments to make.

County Treasurer Nancy Nix laid off one full-time position and a part-timer, trimming $47,276 out of her $1.1 million approved budget for this year. She has said she can’t cut anymore without hampering operations but she has no quarrel with the commissioners not reducing the 4.14 percent budget cuts.

“It’s an ebb and flow, we feel like we can at least get through the next year as we are, but that could change,” Nix said. “I’m really not looking at other departments I look at my office and what I need to run. I feel I can trust the commissioners and Judi that if we have a real situation they will be there for me and they trust me that I wouldn’t cry wolf unless it was true.”

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