Butler County sales taxes still strong despite pandemic: Why that’s happening

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Things to know about Butler County, including history and facts.

Butler County’s revenue collections have been much higher than originally projected after the coronavirus pandemic began, but the 2021 budget directives that went out Friday still call for a 3.3% reduction.

The county’s sales tax distribution for August was $3.78 million, which represents spending in May because distributions lag three months. Early on in the pandemic, when the economy stalled due to stay-at-home orders, the commissioners and County Administrator Judi Boyko predicted a potential $20 million shortfall in the county’s general fund, largely due to an estimated 30% drop in sales tax.

Including the August distribution, the county has collected $28.8 million this year compared to $29.5 million for the same period last year, a 2.34% drop. Officials credit the one-time federal stimulus money and extra $600 per week unemployment stipend that has expired for the nearly normal spending habits.

“This is one time that we’re glad that we’re really wrong,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “But the unknown question is between now and first of the year. So we’ll continue to watch that and we’ll be adjusting the budget.”

The 2021 budget directive County Finance Director Angel Burton sent out to all office holders, departments and independent boards still instructs them to cut 3.3% on top of the 4.14% they were asked to shave off this year’s spending.

The commissioners have agreed to drain the $12 million budget stabilization fund and $3 million in reserves if it becomes necessary. The other cuts were needed to make up the difference this year.

ExploreButler County property tax collections avoid drop during pandemic: Why that matters

Sales tax makes up about 45 percent of the general fund revenues. Not every department relies on that main funding source, as some have their own levies or collect fees.

The general fund budget this year, prior to cutbacks, was $109 million, and the county needs to pare that down to $94 million for 2021, according to information sent to departments about budget cuts.

Prior to the pandemic, the commissioners intended to invest the estimated $10 million not needed for debt payments — the county’s general fund debt will be paid off this year — in capital improvements and to support economic development countywide. The city of Hamilton is the first recipient, with a $2.5 million contribution for infrastructure work needed at the massive Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill sports and convention complex. Dixon said that contribution will still be made.

Boyko also predicted a 10 percent drop in property tax collections, the second-highest general fund contributor.

Butler County Treasurer Nancy Nix said the second-half property tax collections generated 96.2% of the amount billed compared to 96.1% for the second half last year.

Nix tempered the positive collection news.

“Many of these payments were already escrowed with mortgage companies, and at least this billing cycle, the mortgage companies have been covering any shortfalls from their mortgage holders,” Nix said. “We attribute a big part of this high collection percentage as a result of federal government programs designed to lessen the impact to taxpayers. While we’re happy with this collection, we still feel there could be problems down the road.”

The commissioners are holding the line on the need to make cuts because there is so much uncertainty with the pandemic. After the tax budgets were submitted last month Boyko reported “nearly all” of the offices have made the necessary cuts for this year. She said only about 25 percent 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.

“I personally don’t want to send the signal hey we were wrong and everything is going to be alright,” Commissioner T.C. Rogers said about going into the October budget hearings.

Dixon said there is still uncertainty about finances for the rest of this year and in 2021, but he underlined that the county won’t let services suffer if possible.

“Butler County is still in good shape and our office holders are all able to get done what they need to get done,” Dixon said. “Sure there’s a few things they’d like to do and cutting the budget has restrained a little bit, but we’ll get back there. Hopefully we’ll be wrong with our predictions and the economy.”

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