Butler County commissioners resume budget hearings

Butler County commissioners will dig into 15 more budgets today as they attempt trim the $97.3 million general fund budgets submitted by office holders and department heads.

The largest of this batch is for the water and sewer department at $25.6 million, which represents an increase of $1,497.

“It’s all enterprise money, our entire budget and revenues,” Executive Director Bob Leventry said. “Some of our revenues are grant funds from the Public Works Commission, but nothing from the general fund.”

Leventry’s budget was $3 million more two years ago, before the commissioners were able to negotiate a new water deal with the city of Hamilton. In April 2014 The new contract that began in 2015 calls for a county rate decrease from $2.78 per thousand gallons to $1.66, the same rate the county pays to Cincinnati for some of its customers.

County commissioners have recommended everyone dole out performance pay from a 2-percent pool of money. Leventry said his union workers will get a 2 percent “general wage rate increase,” and 0.5 percent is planned for merit pay. That is according to the union contract, and it will cost about $90,500.

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This year Butler County took a hit because there is a 27th pay period. Treasurer Nancy Nix said there will be a $16,564 savings next year for her 15 full-time staff and one part-timer.

During tax budget talks, Finance Director Tawana Keels expressed concern about a new federal work rule dubbed the “white collar” rule passed by the U.S. Department of Labor. The measure raises the threshold of exempt employees from $23,660 to $47,500.

Last year the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities predicted it would take an estimated $250,000 hit on about 75 employees who would be moved to hourly wages and are eligible for overtime.

Not many people so far have said the rule will impact their budgets, except Clerk of Courts Mary Swain.

“We have two salaried employees who will be affected by the new FLSA Overtime Rules,” Swain wrote in her budget narrative. “However, those employees will rarely work overtime, therefore having little impact on our budget.”

In his budget Scott Rasmus, executive director of the Mental Health & Addiction Recovery Services Board, noted they realized a $250,000 savings by merging with the mental health and addiction services board last year. However, that total won’t be a constant going forward because they have positions to fill.

“Currently, to best address our residents’ alcohol and other drug addictions needs and opiate epidemic, the ADAS director position was created… and will be filled this month,” he wrote. to the commissioners. “An outstanding candidate was identified. Therefore the realized savings moving forward from the boards’ merger will be about $150,000.”

There appears to be only one office or department that plans on challenging the commissioners, if commissioners try to make cuts.

The biggest increase for the veterans board in the 2017 budget is a $100,000 line item for advertising, up 54 percent over the $65,000 budgeted for this year. The vet board asked for $75,000 last year, but after the budget hearings in October, the county finance director asked if Executive Director Caroline Bier could reduce that.

“They’ll say ‘can you reduce your budget’ and they’ll give us a dollar figure,” Bier said. “They want us to reduce it as much as we could, obviously. The one thing I did reduce was the advertising because we didn’t use it that year, so it was hard to justify that we would need it in 2016.”

The commission, which is responsible for helping about 26,000 veterans, is funded by a percentage of the general fund millage the legislature carved out to help veterans. The veterans board millage brings in about $3.4 million annually, but historically the board has budgeted $2 million or less. The remainder of that money reverts to the county’s general fund.

Bier told her board that, under the law, the county can’t force them to cut their budgets. Veterans commissioner Chuck Weber said he will push back if the county tries to force their hand and cut advertising.

“I think we do not need to be deterred in our objective this year,” Weber said. He later told the Journal-News, “We are within the levy, we’re not trying to go off the Richter scale, we’re trying to give every veteran the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to go after their benefits and, if they don’t know it’s out, there then they don’t have much of a chance to make that decision.”

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