How coronavirus changed Butler County’s $98M spending proposal for 2021

The Butler County commissioners got a snapshot of the general fund spending plan for next year, one that isn’t nearly as bleak as once projected but still constitutes a 10.4% reduction in spending.

County Administrator Judi Boyko gave the commissioners an overview of the 2021 budget last week, and the full plan will be presented this week. She said the county is looking at about $98 million in expenses against $101 million in anticipated revenues. The structurally balanced general fund budget that was initially adopted for this year was $109.4 million.

When the coronavirus pandemic descended and the economy was shut down for two months, the commissioners asked all office holders and departments that rely on the general fund to slice 4.14% from approved budgets for this year and an additional 3.3% for 2021.

Boyko has been keeping a month-by-month tally of how general fund revenues have held up during the pandemic. The commissioners projected a $20 million general fund revenue tumble early in the pandemic, but through November revenues are off by only $1 million compared to last year. Expenditures are down $2.7 million.

Boyko told the commissioners some office holders have asked if cuts made this year can be restored and whether they can increase budgets for next year, because revenues haven’t tanked as expected.

“This pandemic, we don’t know its full extent and impact right now, going into 2021 I believe the board has directed that you would like to remain cautious in those expenditures,” Boyko said. “So we have told the departments and offices at this point we are not restoring budget for 2020 nor are we going to be increasing budgets for 2021.”

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She said she reiterated to them all that the commissioners have said they will look at individual budgets on a case-by-case basis, and if the economy stabilizes may restore funding.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones and the Juvenile Court in particular asked the commissioners to reconsider the hard line on expenses. Jones has the largest general fund budget by far at around $40 million and he had to slice $1.5 million to comply with the commissioners’ directive.

“We’re back, actually more so arresting people, domestic violence is up, crime hasn’t went down during this COVID, they didn’t stop stealing and robbing and killing. So we submitted our budget, worked with the commissioners’ office. We lost $1.5 million this year, we were not prepared for that,” Jones said during his budget hearing in October.

“Thank God through attrition and less inmates we muddled through it and got through it, but we’re beyond that now. We need cars and we need the employees that we lost, we need them back.”

The Juvenile Court will have to close a pod at the Juvenile Detention Center if cuts remain intact. Commissioner Cindy Carpenter told the Journal-News she favors restoring some funding, especially for those two offices.

“I do not believe that we will restore at 100% but I am advocating that some of the reductions be restored to help alleviate the burden of fighting COVID-19 within our incarcerated population,” Carpenter said.

When the commissioners asked others to cut their budgets they committed to draining the $12 million budget stabilization fund, which hasn’t been necessary. A stabilization fund deposit is not currently in the budget for next year.

Revenues are looking stable for next year especially since the commissioners erased all of it’s general fund debt this year and one of the bigger expenses, health insurance is only expected to increase 2.2%, not the anticipated 8% hike. So employee raises are included in the budget.

“We obviously have paid off the general fund debt so there is off the top a $9.5 million decrease in your expenses,” Boyko said. “We have instituted at the board’s direction a 2% pay-for-performance wage treatment for the commissioners’ departments and many of the offices already projected a treatment for their employees.”

Boyko told the commissioners she also expects to carry over about $61 million into next year.

“It seems like a lot of money but when you talk about the operations of the seventh largest county in the state of Ohio, that $61 million really only takes you though a little over seven months of your operations,” Boyko said. “So when one thinks about it, it’s not unreasonably expansive.”

The commissioners are scheduled to approve the budget on Dec. 21.