Fiscal emergency declared for St. Clair Twp.

Township operating in deficit

St. Clair Township officials have been concerned for several years about the township’s financial struggles, which is why the township’s trustees asked the state to conduct an audit of township finances from December 2012 to December 2013, St. Clair Twp. Fiscal Officer Douglas Wheelright said.

“We knew we had problems,” Wheelright said. “We knew at that time we needed guidance.”

Wheelright, who was elected to the position in April of 2012, said the township’s former fiscal officer failed to pay some bills, including electric payments and payments owed to the Internal Revenue Service. That — combined with a slow economy and dwindling tax collections — forced the township into a deficit. When Wheelright took office, he said the township had to reconstruct expenses, bills and payments from 2011 to understand what was paid or unpaid.

“When I came in, things were not good,” Wheelright said. “We did have a problem with lack of performance of the existing fiscal officer … There were numerous bills that were not paid; there were tax issues.”

Wheelright was unable to immediately provide how much in bills or taxes went unpaid in prior years.

Currently, 22 local governments in Ohio are under a fiscal emergency, a spokesman with the state auditor’s office said.

The township, which boasts a population of nearly 7,000 residents, has an annual budget of $1.4 million, Wheelright said. St. Clair had a deficit of roughly $190,000 as of Dec. 31, according to the state audit.

Township officials had “no choice but to ask for an emergency,” St. Clair Trustee Tony Valerio said.

He said the emergency would not result in any immediate reduction of staff or township services. Four full-time staffers are employed by the township and all of those on the township payroll are being paid, Wheelright said.

The township has begun working to close some of its deficit this year, he added.

Last fall, St. Clair voters approved two new tax levies — which costs the owner of a $100,000 property nearly $130 annually — to help finance paid staff for the local life squad and new equipment and maintenance costs for the fire department. The levies also enabled the township to eliminate a $20,000 deficit from the township life squad fund this year, Wheelright said.

But the township will need the state’s help to get out the financial troubles with the remainder of budget deficit; that’s why Wheelright is glad that the state conducted a financial audit. Since the township is in a fiscal emergency, its finances will come under the scrutiny of a financial planning and supervision commission, made up of state and local office representatives, which will develop a financial plan for the township.

A representative from the Butler County Auditor’s Office will sit on that commission and help develop a plan for the township, Auditor Roger Reynolds said Thursday.

“The main focus is discipline and ensuring they’re not spending more than they’re taking in,” Reynolds said. “I don’t think it’s at a point where we can’t get (the township) under control.”

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said Tuesday that his office would also be looking into the township’s financial situation and how the township came into a fiscal emergency.

“Whatever happened here should be a learning experience, if not a wake up call, for other townships,” Gmoser said.

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