Liberty Twp. preparing for pandemic impact in 2021 budget: What to know

Liberty Twp. trustees say it is tough drafting a budget for next year given uncertainty due to the coronavirus, but they are taking a very conservative approach toward both spending and revenue projections.

The trustees passed a $26.9 million tax budget for next year, which represents a 7% drop from this year. Revenue projections also fell from $29.3 million this year to $26 million next year. The budget shows a total fund balance of $29 million to start next year and just over $28 million by year’s end.

Finance Director Michelle Greis said the tax budget is just the first piece into drafting the financial picture for next year.

“We did not make cuts related to COVID, we pulled back a little bit in terms of any big projects we may have been planning, we’re looking at those during the budget process,” Greis told the Journal-News. “This tax budget is like step negative one if you will. This is based on where I run my five-year forecast. We made some adjustments to revenue because of the virus but we have not vetted these numbers. We have not really dug in, we do that at the last half of the year.”

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The township doesn’t have any big building projects for next year, which also affects the year-over-year change. The new Administration Center opened recently, and the new Fire Station 112 is under construction on Princeton Road at Cincinnati Dayton Road and should be finished next spring.

Trustee Christine Matacic who sits on the governor’s local government “strike force” for the coronavirus said she has been feeding information back to staff from what she learns at the state. She said early predictions are gasoline tax revenues could be 25 to 50% lower next year because people having been traveling far less and state local government funds could drop as much as 25%, due to the state’s budgetary woes caused by the virus.

She said she hopes it isn’t as “drastic” as the early predictions.

“We’re going to work within what we have,” Matacic said. “We’re going to try our best to figure out from a crystal ball or whatever, what we’re going to have in the end, so we here in Liberty Twp. can keep moving forward with our safety and services we provide and our infrastructure we provide and taking care of our future needs.”

The township received $719,769 in federal coronavirus relief funding but at this point that money can only be used to pay for expenditures related to the pandemic and unspent funds disappear in December. U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, has introduced legislation to expand the use of the money to restore revenues lost due to the effects of the pandemic and extend the deadline to next summer.

He told the Journal-News this week “The good news is broadly there is a sense of agreement on the flexibility for some of the money we’ve already sent to the states.”

The township has incurred less than $20,000 in COVID-19 expenses. The county and cities will suffer more financially because they rely on sales and income taxes respectively, among other revenue sources. Townships subsist mainly on property taxes. However, Liberty also has a Joint Economic Development District that collects income taxes in a designated area, mainly surrounding Liberty Center. The quarterly JEDD report shows the JEDD collected $2.6 million last year. It collected the most ever in the first quarter of this year at $699,946 but proceeds dropped $120,301 in the second quarter.

Trustee Steve Schramm said even if Davidson is successful in expanding the use of relief funds, he is not certain he wants to take advantage of it.

“The conservative in me is saying hey send it back, because I’m only going to pay for it somewhere down the road, it comes out of tax revenue to create all this windfall money,” Schramm said. “I may be one of the naysayers in this world that’s saying I’m not so sure I want to apply it to all that. If they allow it we’d be fools not to, but I’m not pushing hard for that to happen.”

The trustees will approve actual spending and revenue plans in December.

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