Strong Butler County revenues could jumpstart big county projects: What could happen

Revenues continue to trend strong for Butler County with sales tax receipts up 6% from a year ago and 7% over last month, and residents could see the benefit in major projects.

The county’s sales tax collection for February was $4.15 million, compared to $3.9 million in February 2020 and $3.88 million in January, despite the coronavirus pandemic that wreaked havoc with the economy last year. The collection for this month reflects purchases made in November because there is a three-month lag.

At the outset of the pandemic, officials projected a 30% sales tax freefall. But January revenues were $7.2 million, compared to $6.6 million a year ago. Expenses dropped from$7.4 million in January 2020 to $6.7 million last month.

“It’s good news, I think the economy is a lot stronger than what people thought it was going to be, especially me,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “I don’t know that anybody really understands why the numbers have remained as high a they have, but for whatever reason we’re grateful for it, I’m still cautiously optimistic.”

Sales tax is the largest contributor to the general fund bottom line at about 45%. The county collected $44.6 million last year compared to $40.8 million in 2019. Other revenue sources include property taxes, boarding of prisoners, recorder fees and other collections.

General fund revenues were nearly $114 million in 2020, and the county spent $91.2 million. The revenues were artificially inflated because the county received $18.7 million in federal coronavirus relief funding. The budget for this year is $107.7 million.

The commissioners are saying they want to tackle a long list capital improvements, some that have been deferred for several years. County Administrator Judi Boyko told the Journal-News she has received a list of suggested projects totaling more than $8 million.

“Clearly revenue sources remaining stabile affords the opportunity to budget more for capital improvements,” she said. “Candidly the county needs to begin investing again in capital improvements, because there is only so long that one can defer preventative maintenance, improvements and upgrades of building systems and IT systems, before challenges surface.”

The commissioners budgeted $4 million for this year’s capital improvements, and Boyko said she recently submitted a list of her recommendations to the commissioners. Individual projects are normally approved on a case-by-case basis.

The commissioners have committed to spending about $4.5 million over three years to make critical repairs to the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hamilton. That has yet to be formally approved.

Boyko said she isn’t ready to reveal her recommendations yet but generally IT related expenses, structural improvements, parking lots and other property improvements are among the items on her list.

“We’re at a critical point where we have put off making the capital component purchases, where if you go too much longer it’s going to cost you substantially more,” Commissioner T.C. Rogers said. “There are things we have patched and it’s just not prudent to patch them anymore.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said the Government Services Center, the jail, the Children Services offices and other buildings need attention.

“I’m pleased that we have these extra funds to invest in repairs and updates of our existing buildings,” Carpenter said. “We have a half a billion dollars in assets, so I think it’s important we continue to maintain those.”

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