When new Butler County Administrator Judi Boyko moves into her office on the sixth floor of the Government Services Center next month, there will be a number of pressing issues on her desk.
The county administrator is ultimately responsible for the $423 million county budget, a spending plan that includes the $102 million taxpayer-backed general fund, multiple levies like Children Services and mental health and enterprise funds like Water and Sewer.
The commissioners hired Boyko, a former West Chester Twp. administrator and current Hamilton County assistant administrator, on Monday. The Journal-News then explored the scope the top county job that Boyko is taking and the biggest issues she will face early in her tenure.
The general fund is the main source for financing government operations, and the county administrator — with commissioner approval — is directly responsible for that fund. Boyko this year will be tasked with finding as much as $7 million for new voting machines and restoring the annual $2 million transfer to the rainy day fund.
The new voting machines were not budgeted because the Board of Elections hasn’t made its recommendation to the commissioners yet. The county intends to purchase the equipment in time for the November election, and the state will pay $3.2 million toward the new system. Taxpayers would be on the hook for just under $5.19 million if the county picks an electronic voting system, and just under $3.1 million for a paper voting system.
When the commissioners passed the $102 million budget for this year, they mandated the annual $2 million rainy day fund allocation — that was erased to reach a structurally balanced budget — be reinstated by year’s end.
“You’ve got 12 months to find $2 million and put it back in that account,” Commissioner Don Dixon said.
The rainy day fund holds $10 million, and the county has about $50 million in reserves, which are among the reasons the county achieved the top Aaa Moody’s bond rating last year, something the county doesn’t want to jeopardize. Going into debt is also not likely an option, given the plan to be completely general fund debt-free by the end of 2020.
The plan is in place, but Dixon said the county needs to keep it on track and outline a new direction countywide economic development will take once funds are available.
He expects that once the general fund debt balance rolls to zero, the county’s annual investment of funds in economic development projects in local jurisdictions countywide will be in the $1 to $5 million range. The cities — Hamilton is already approved for $2.5 million Spooky Nook infrastructure investment — and townships and other jurisdictions can apply for funds. The number of high-paying jobs a development will generate is a priority.
“We have to build a model and decide how we’re going to roll it out and how much we’re going to put in it each year,” Dixon said. “But it’ll be a sizable number.”
The biggest hit to the general fund last year was a 20.3 percent increase for health insurance. The commissioners shopped the coverage and settled on Medical Mutual, but after further digging by the county administrator, they switched to United Health Care.
Commissioner T.C. Rogers said the United Health Care only has a year-long contract, and Boyko will need to be a shrewd shopper for the coverage that is costing about $23.5 million this year.
“There are definitely areas of improved services which are more cost effective than we have now,” Rogers said.
The administrator also deals with the finances of the independent boards. Retired County Administrator Charlie Young, for example, was instrumental in staving off another voted levy for addiction services.
The Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services board warned the commissioners in 2017 they would probably need to ask voters to approve a new levy to fund the war on the opiate epidemic. When the mental health and addiction services board merged a few years ago, County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser’s office determined mental health levy dollars could not be spent on addiction services.
MHARS board Executive Director Scott Rasmus said Young facilitated talks with the prosecutor that resulted in an opinion reversal, allowing levy dollars to be spent on addiction services, erasing the need for a new levy.
“Charlie in that position was instrumental in looking into the possibility…,” Rasmus said. “He was definitely very much a catalyst in bridging the gap between attorney Gmoser and the commissioners.”
Likewise, when the county was hit with a $19.2 million bill to replace the obsolete Motorola emergency responder radio system, Young was the chief negotiator with the equipment giant, leading to the price dropping by half and some other concessions involving the local police and fire agencies that all use the radios.
Boyko will be tasked with reaching out to the cities, townships and other local jurisdictions to find more ways to collaborate and maximize tax dollars, according to Dixon.
“We need to come together with the rest of the county governmental entities and see exactly what kind of resources we can share,” Dixon said. “That could be a number of things, it could be equipment, it can be computer programs, it could be personnel, part of that would be advancing the dispatching, that’s a huge resource. Some of them are still trying to do it by themselves. Maybe we can make it easy enough and more cost effective.”
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she also wants Boyko to look internally at the commissioner’s own departments to see if more efficiencies are possible and expand services. For instance, she said she would like to see Job and Family Services do more outreach to the under-served populations, in particular the homeless population.
“I think there could be efficiencies for the programs that are not standard,” Carpenter said. “We need to look at the under-served who we met at the resource fair that we did for the tent city residents, who do not have the capcatity to get the documents necessary to receive Medicaid or food stamps, we need to figure that out.”
Acting Administrator David Fehr, who has been serving since Young retired in December, said the administrator must also monitor the county’s properties. The county has 146 properties it either owns or leases worth $372 million. Only about 30 of the assets are main facilities, many others are at the fairgrounds and are things such as communications towers.
After layoffs during the Great Recession, there are areas that have vast expanses of vacant space. Fehr said the county and administrator must find a way to reduce the wasted space and number of locations.
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“There’s leases out there and do we want to continue to lease where we’re at,” Fehr said. “We’ve decreased our employee count so some buildings might not be utilized completely. At some point I feel like there has to a comprehensive look all of that infrastructure and make some decisions.”
The county administrator is responsible for the commissioners’ 600 employees, but also has an impact on all 2,182 county workers. Rogers said while Boyko manages the day-to-day of the many facets of county government, it frees the commissioners to reach for ways to make the county better as a whole.
“Everybody puts emphasis on furthering development, I think we should spend just as much of an effort on developing out workforce,” Rogers said. “Because if we can have the best workforce then development and corporations will come.”