Butler County officials start honing $108.4 million general fund budget

Butler County Commissioners (from left) T.C. Rogers, Cindy Carpenter and Donald Dixon during annual budget hearings.
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Butler County Commissioners (from left) T.C. Rogers, Cindy Carpenter and Donald Dixon during annual budget hearings.

The Butler County commissioners will hold the first round of budget hearings today with other elected officials and departments who submitted $108.4 million in requests, as they craft a spending plan for next year.

The county is estimating it will collect nearly $116 million in general fund revenues next year and the various office holders, departments and independent boards that are supported by that fund submitted expense budgets totaling $108.4 million. The amounts are a bit higher than the tax budget figures set in early summer.

Given the impacts of the pandemic have not been fully felt, the commissioners asked everyone to hold expenses to 2019 actual spending — prior to the crisis that prompted deep cuts — no one complied. Expenses in 2019 amounted to $100.4 million and $91.2 million last year.

County Administrator Judi Boyko said they understand there will be exceptions, especially since 7 out of 10 union contracts will be renegotiated next year.

“Although the commissioners endeavored for the offices and departments to stay within 2019 actuals, we understood that there were external circumstances that may not allow that to be realistically achieved,” Boyko said.

The sheriff’s budget is always the biggest general fund expense by far because he has 40-plus employees, for next year spending is estimated at $44.2 million, a 10% increase over 2019 actuals and $13 million more than he spent after significant budget cuts last year. The sheriff will be renegotiating all six union contracts next year.

“The commissioners asked for very painful concessions,” Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer told the Journal-News. “We answered that call and during that time did not have the luxury of just stopping what we do and working from home. I had no one working remotely, we all had to come to work every day. We got through it and now we’re asking that the commissioners consider the contractual increases and what’s needed to operate our operation appropriately.”

There are several new additions to the spending plan for next year, a $15 million capital reserve fund Boyko has added to the plan to cover physical plant adjustments that might be required after the comprehensive space utilization study is complete.

ExploreSetting the budget: Butler County planned revenues for 2022 exceed expenses by $6.5 million

There is a $10 million loan to the University Pointe TIF to cover the cost of the $12 million Liberty Way interchange fix. Boyko said the tax increment financing fund account has enough to cover existing debt but needs a boost for this project.

“If the county’s $12 million contribution to the Liberty interchange modification project was encumbered at one time, it would take the reserve in the TIF fund below what is a healthy balance,” Boyko said. “In the event of not borrowing, the commissioners can consider a general fund loan to the TIF.”

The commissioners erased all its general fund debt last year and committed to invest the now unrestricted $10 million in countywide economic development efforts. The first recipient was the city of Hamilton with a $2.5 million pledge to help with the massive Spooky Nook sports and convention complex under construction downtown. That line item is in the budget for next year because the project completion was delayed by a partial building collapse. The commissioners always demand their money be “the last in” on non-county projects.

The commissioners will also build on their rainy fund which is projected to reach $18 million next year. The ending cash balance is projected to be just shy of $80 million. Commissioner Don Dixon said said just because finances appear to be rosy doesn’t mean everyone is going to get what they requested.

He said he needs to hear justifications for the requests and then they will see “how it all lines up and where it falls in the budget and what can be and what can’t be funded.”

“I’m sure there’s going to be some disappointments, some happy, some sad,” Dixon said. “When neither side is real happy you’re probably getting close to what’s fair and what should work.”

A decade ago the county faced a $7 million budget gap, reserves that had dropped below $9 million in 2009 — which impacts the ability to borrow money — and seriously considered a 0.25 percent sales tax increase.

With talk of another possible recession at the federal level, Commissioner T.C. Rogers said they are always cognizant of what is going on around them while budgeting for the future.

“You can’t base things on the heightened level of the economy with what they’re doing in Washington,” Rogers said. “We’re fortunate enough to have our reserves, but that’s why we have to be cautious about how much we’re going to need.”

The commissioners also have nearly $75 million in federal rescue plan funds and some county agencies have requested a share. Those requests will be discussed during the hearings but are not part of the 2022 operating budget.

On deck today for budget hearings with the commissioners are the sheriff, prosecutor, public defender, 12th District, juvenile and probate courts, law library, auditor, engineer and Developmental Disabilities board.