Layoffs, other measures helping Butler County departments meet needed budget cuts

Some Butler County departments have laid off workers to comply with orders from the county commissioners to cut 4.14 percent of their current budgets and also trim early spending plans for 2021 due to pandemic-prompted revenue losses.

Three weeks ago, facing a potential $20 million general fund revenue shortfall, the commissioners asked all other office holders, department heads and independent boards to trim expenses so the $109.4 million general fund will balance this year.

The commissioners agreed to empty the $12 million budget stabilization fund and use $1.5 million from a reserve fund that started the year with a $56 million balance to help close the revenue gap. They still needed the others to cut 4.14 percent from the total approved budgets for this year and shave an additional 3.3 percent off the reduced figure for next year.

RELATED: Butler County tapping rainy day fund, cutting 4.14 percent with revenues falling

The Butler County Sheriffs Office has the largest budget countywide at about $40 million, so it will cut $1.6 million this year. Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said officials anticipated the cuts and took steps even before the commissioners asked.

The commissioners approved 11 new sheriff’s staffers at the start of the year when the budget looked more favorable. Things have changed.

“In a bigger budget there’s a lot of line items surprisingly you can trim off to save money,” Dwyer said. “A large percentage of our budget is salary-based and benefits. What goals were starting 2020 have change significantly we’re not hiring anybody and we’re not replacing anybody right now, that will save us money over the year and we did cut overtime expenses.”

Dwyer said they have found other ways to cut and have had ongoing discussions with the unions as they begin crafting the tax budget for next year which is due to the commissioners next month.

County Auditor Roger Reynolds laid off what he termed three “non-essential” people last month. When Reynolds took office in 2008 there were 78 full-and-part-time people on his payroll, he is now down to 33. He has deployed a number of technological advances that have allowed his office to operate more efficiently and with fewer bodies.

“We’re still able to do the functions,” he said. “It has required folks to be much more advanced in their technology skills. That’s been a big part of it and making sure we have folks on board who know when they show up, they are going to put in a hard day because there’s a lot of work to be done now that there’s a lot fewer people here.”

County Treasurer Nancy Nix laid off one full-time employee and a part-timer three weeks ago. When she took office in 2007, she had 26 people, and that number is now 13.

Nix expects property tax delinquencies to “skyrocket” with 16.8 percent of Ohioans unemployed in April.

“We are going to go forward with collections as normal but we will understand we have to be working with taxpayers. When we have such high delinquencies and ultimately foreclosures, that’s when we get really really busy here,” Nix said. “Because you’re working with taxpayers individually to get caught up and to keep current. The taxes stay with the property and we don’t want to see people thrown out of their homes.”

Nix is also responsible for the county investment portfolio, which has also seen a revenue shortfall. The county earned $7 million on its investments last year, and Nix projected revenues at $5.5 million for this year. When the pandemic hit, she lowered the estimate to $4.5 million, and she is projecting a drop to $3.5 million next year.

Sales tax makes up about 45 percent of the general fund revenues, and county Administrator Judi Boyko is estimating a 30 percent drop this year (from a budgeted $44 million), likely a 10 percent reduction in property taxes due to delinquencies and a 20 percent decrease in property transfer taxes.

Several other offices are realizing savings by not filling vacancies or not hiring budgeted new employees. County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser was budgeted to hire an additional attorney in the civil division, that slot will remain open and he will not be replacing a staffer who is retiring next month.

“We cut back on the things that office holders would like to be able to afford,” Gmoser said. “Not that I want to spend money like a drunken sailor, but bottom line is we are pretty tight with a buck here and I understand the commissioners’ and their needs.”

Common Pleas Court Administrator Wayne Gilkison said the courts cut $258,601, and $117,700 of that savings came from not filling a position in the adult probation department and not hiring paid legal interns this summer. The Area Courts were able to shave spending through less expensive health insurance choices made by employees. The Juvenile Court is still trying to finalize its plans, according to Court Administrator Rob Clevenger.

Some elected officials took the savings decree one step further. Clerk of Courts Mary Swain’s budget cut of $148,000 comes from closing the Middletown title office, but she is also transferring $500,000 in title fees to the general fund. Butler County Recorder Danny Crank is not filling a budgeted new hire and will transfer $48,000 in technology fees to the general fund.

The commissioners cannot force some agencies to make cuts, like the Butler County Veterans Service Commission, which has its own board. The board approved a 3.65 percent reduction in this year’s budget last week.

“My feeling is we should be good patrons to the taxpayers as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the veterans,” Vet Board commissioner Bruce Jones said. “If we can afford to give some kind of a cut, my feelings are we should do that as long as we’re not interfering with the needs of the veterans.”

The members noted they may be able to make further reductions this year and next after they have a clearer picture of the veterans’ needs.

County Commissioner Don Dixon acknowledged some departments and offices might need special consideration.

“They (the various offices) are all different, they all have different circumstances, we made it clear if they have any problems or special needs they need to run it through administration and we’d consider it,” Dixon said. “We know all budgets are not created equal, we’ll work it out.”

Boyko gave the commissioners’ departments until this week to turn in cuts. Several like Job and Family Services and Water and Sewer, are not supported by general fund dollars.

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