Healthy Butler County revenues mean back-to-normal budgets: How much they’re earning

Butler County revenue data show a healthy situation for the county, and officials are beginning to craft preliminary 2022 spending plans with a request to mirror 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

Sales tax collections this month were $3.7 million, compared to $3.4 million last year and $3.2 million the year before. Total general fund revenues collected through April are $46 .5 million compared to $39.4 million last year, an 18.1% increase.

County Administrator Judi Boyko said officials have sent 2022 tax budget guidelines to the other office holders, department heads and independent boards. Unlike last year, the commissioners aren’t asking for drastic budget cuts.

“We would like the offices, the departments to contain their 2022 budgets to their 2019 actual expenses,” Boyko said. “That was the last year prior to COVID where we had complete, traditional operations of county government and felt that would be a good base to start.”

The county is required to pass a tax budget in the summer but the true spending plan won’t be solidified until December. By then they will have a full year of revenue collections and expenditures for this year, so they can make better projections. The commissioners will also have held budget hearings with other officials to help craft the budget.

In 2019 the actual general fund expenditures totaled $90 million supported by $105 million in revenues. Boyko said she and the commissioners are cognizant these amounts will change, especially since 7 of 10 unions will be renegotiating their contracts next year.

Sheriff Richard Jones has the largest chunk of the general fund with a budget of around $40 million. Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said several of their union contracts expire next year.

“It would be difficult to try and meet those instructions...,” Dwyer said. “I think it’s pretty obvious going into 2022 a large portion of our staff is contractually driven by their salaries and I think the commissioners’ office knows that it would be something we would not be able to meet.”

The majority of operating expenses are paid from the general fund, this year commissioners passed a structurally balanced budget that projects $116.8 million in revenues versus $107.7 million in expenses, The numbers were artificially inflated by carryover from $18.7 million the county received in coronavirus relief funding last year. The budget included $8.8 million for COVID-19 mitigation.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he believes they are being reasonable.

“2019 was a good year so I think that’s a good basis to continue,” Rogers said. “Just because we’re getting some additional monies from unconventional sources that’s not what you base your budget on.”

On top of regular revenues the county is slated to get nearly $75 million from the American Rescue Plan, half this year and the rest in 2022. Those funds are restricted and as far as the operating budget is concerned, really the only eligible expense would be to pay for sheriff’s and other salaries deemed as substantially dedicated to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

When COVID-19 effectively shuttered the economy last year at this time, the commissioners asked everyone to slice 4.14% from their 2020 budgets and plan on an additional 3.3% reduction for this year. As strong revenues continued to flow in, the commissioners said they would consider reinstating some of the cuts as the year progressed. But with no clear view of the future, were reluctant to erase the cost cutting altogether.

Commissioner Don Dixon said they continue to be cautious because “we’re out of the weeds but not out of the woods” where the pandemic and its fallout are concerned.

“There’s so much money floating around in government right now and it does not make any sense as far as dollars and cents and what government is supposed to do and not do. I don’t think anybody has close to an idea in Washington what the real world looks like...,” Dixon said.

“I‘m not saying the sky is going to fall but I’m going to say that we’re going to be experiencing in the next 24 months some pretty substantial increases in inflation and interest rates, and I think you’re going to see revenues coming down all the way around.”

Boyko said it will take time to craft a plan that makes the best and highest use of the federal funds for the long-term. Some politicians, Rogers and Dixon included, have said they’d like to return the incredible amounts of money, but that won’t do their residents any good.

“The commissioners want to ensure they being very wise and strategic in the application of that federal funding,” Boyko said. “In order to invest in areas that will allow the county to develop sustainable operations, sustainable programs that will set the foundation for the county for the next 50 years.”

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