Butler County tax budget submissions called ‘unacceptable’

Credit: Greg Lynch

Credit: Greg Lynch

The Butler County commissioners say tax budget expense requests for 2021 are “unacceptable” because they exceed projected revenues by $3.6 million.

The office holders and departments that are supported by the general fund submitted $94.8 million in expenses for next year with $91.2 million in anticipated revenues. After the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic began pressuring the county’s budget, the commissioners asked everyone to trim 4.14 percent from their 2020 budgets and wanted an additional 3.33 percent cut for next year.

“The numbers that staff gave us and we worked on, what we projected for ‘21 is the least amount everybody is going to have to give back,” said Commissioner Don Dixon. “It can’t be 20 percent of it, it can’t be 10 percent out of it, it can’t be 5 percent of that projected number, it’s got to be that number.”

The tax budget sets initial revenue forecasts and proposed spending for the following year. The non-general fund total, for departments and boards that rely on independent levies, and state and federal funds, is $288 million in expenses supported by $439 million in revenues and carryover.

The commissioners hold budget hearings with all other office holders, their own department heads and independent boards in October before the final spending plan is approved in December.

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

County Administrator Judi Boyko told the commissioners on Monday “nearly all” of the offices have made the necessary cuts for this year. She said only about 25 percent have included reductions “close to” the commissioners’ request for 2021, another 25 percent increased their budgets and the rest have taken cuts to some degree over the two-year period.

The largest decrease was 18.18 percent for the Board of Elections because there won’t be a presidential election next year. The Butler County Sheriff’s Office has the biggest general fund budget by far at $39.58 million, versus $39.4 million in expenses approved for this year. The sheriff trimmed the required $1.5 million from his approved 2020 budget and was supposed to cut another $1.2 million for 2021. The tax budget request represents a 4.3 percent increase over the reduced spending plan for this year but only a 0.38 percent year-to-year.

In her tax budget submission Finance Director Vickie Barger noted she included a 17 percent increase for health insurance and “the bargaining labor agreements have annual increases ranging from 3% to 4%; step increases ranging from 2% to 9.5%; holiday and vacation payouts per member as well as longevity.” She also said staffing cuts would be made through attrition.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers told the Journal-News it’s too late to change the tax budget by the deadline this week but the numbers presented for the tax budget will look different in the fall.

“We’re not going to change that tax budget but we’re also giving notice we’re not going to accept that for the ‘21` budget,” Rogers said. “We expect the office holders to come in line with what we said before. What they turned in now was not acceptable.”

The commissioners will drain the $12 million budget stabilization fund and agreed to use $1.5 million from a reserve fund and the offices cut a total of $3.9 million this year.

The economy has reopened to some extent but there are universal concerns a second wave of shutdown orders could be necessary as COVID-19 cases have continued to rise.

“The coronavirus impact as we know it is unprecedented and it’s rapidly evolving,” said Finance Director Angel Burton. “The economic and budgetary consequences, really I feel like a broken record, it is unprecedented, we really do not have an comparable history to draw upon.”

Early sales tax collections, the largest portion of general fund revenue at around 45 percent, were better than originally projected. For March, when the pandemic first took hold, sales taxes totalled $3.2 million, a 20 percent drop from last year but above the revised $1.7 million projection.

The commissioners still plan to erase all general fund debt this year, which means there will be an extra $10 million at their disposal. The county intended, when times were good a few scant months ago, to spread the wealth by investing in economic development endeavors countywide.

“There were people around the county champing at the bit for us to give them money,” Rogers said. “So apparently there’s no money to give.”

Hamilton’s massive Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill sports complex and convention center was to be the first recipient of the extra money in 2021 with the commissioners’ $2.5 million contribution for infrastructure. Dixon told the Journal-News that “we’ll stay with that commitment.”

Dixon said the county has worked hard to get to its financial footing and they won’t do anything to jeopardize that position.

“I’m not screaming the sky is falling, I’m just saying now we have to manage it,” Dixon said. “We did the hard part four or five years ago and we changed our whole salary structure, pay for performance and all the other things we put in place. We’ve done the hard part, now we have to stand up and manage it and that means do what you’ve got to do to make the expenditures match the revenues.”

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