The Butler County commissioners were presented with a $93 million general fund budget Thursday, one that is structurally balanced and readjusts some budgetary moves that were made to weather the Great Recession.
The proposed taxpayer-backed budget is $5 million over the adopted budget of $87.7 million passed for this year. The largest chunk of the difference is due to $1.8 million for the 27th pay period next year. Finance Director Tawana Keels told the commissioners the last time this happened was in 2004 so it should be another 10 years before the county has to worry about that happenstance again. The presidential election and a 12 percent health insurance hike also added to increase, among other things.
Keels stressed the difference between a balanced budget and a structurally balanced budget.
“A structurally balanced budget is one that supports stability in achieving and maintaining structural balance where reoccurring revenues are equal to reoccurring expenditures,” she said. “So we do not use one-time revenue sources and we do not use our fund balance to operate the county.”
The current budget is also higher than planned, by $6.2 million, but revenues also exceeded the adopted budget by $3.6 million. County Administrator Charlie Young said the budget numbers can be a bit deceiving.
“These numbers are budget numbers,” he said. “The expectation is that our revenues this year will exceed our actual expenditures in this year by just under $6 million.”
Part of the “overage” was due to $2.3 million in encumbered expenses that rolled over from the 2014 budget and the commissioner’s decision to pay off an additional $2 million worth of debt in October.
During her “budget hearing,” Keels presented the commissioners with a plan, which they subsequently approved, to have the entire debt paid off by 2020. The debt that stood at $91.3 million in 2009, will be $43 million by year’s end and zero by 2020 under a debt reduction acceleration plan. The accelerated debt payment is pencilled in at $3.8 million for 2016.
“The big item, over half, was the accelerated debt payment you approved in October for the sales tax bonds, so that’s about half of that,” she said. “It also includes things like wages, maintenance, increased utility bills, additional appropriation for the Board of Elections after reimbursements, consultants for HR, the Acella project and development and 12th District Court computers.”
Several offices and departments settled contracts this year, like the sheriff whose wages and benefits amounted to an additional $630,500. Young said the county next year is also going to be bringing some employees’ salaries back into the general fund that were diverted to other special funds like Delinquent Tax and Assessment Collection (DTAC), to avoid the county plummeting off a fiscal cliff.
Treasurer Nancy Nix budgeted an additional $88,302 in general fund money for people who were formerly paid out of DTAC funds — which were on the rise during the downturn.
“The Great Recession caused a need to shift resources around and in doing that it changed where they were paying from, he said. “Now as we’re coming out of that, we’re getting back to more normal operations. So as a result there were some things being paid out of special funds that would no longer be appropriate, so they are shifting those expenses back to the general fund as they should.”
The total proposed budget, including those that have their own revenue streams from levies, state and federal funds and user fees — like water and sewer — is $371 million, an $11.5 million increase. Keels said the large increase is due to some items like a $1 million airport grant that will be reimbursed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“We have to budget it and then we are reimbursed for example from the FAA,” Keels said. “So not a point to be alarmed.”
Commissioner T.C. Rogers praised the other office holders and department heads for holding the line as much as possible on spending.
“When you hear that the economy is better and there is more revenue there might be a tendency to want more stuff,” he said. “But we are trying to be prudent so we can provide all the services necessary for our residents but still retire our debt to make us more flexible and open to even more opportunities in the future. So that’s the plan.”
Although the county has made a pretty rapid financial recovery — Young has estimated they will likely end up this year with $27 million cash on hand — it was only $10 million in 2012 — Commissioner Don Dixon, who is always overly cautious when talk turns to taxpayer money,
“This funds the personnel to the number and level that we needed to right-size, but now we need to stay on track,” he said adding after next year they need to get back on the course of “reduction, reduction, reduction and doing more with less.”