Top stories of 2020: Butler County government faced resignations but erased debt, cut taxes



This year was a challenge in many ways for Butler County but despite dealing with unprecedented issues tied to the coronavirus pandemic, officials still accomplished much, including some milestones.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest stories in Butler County government this year:

County commissioners erase all general fund debt

The general fund debt ledger rolled to zero this year as the commissioners were able to keep their 2020 plan intact.

The debt-free plan was adopted by the commissioners in 2015. Prior to that commitment, the debt, which stood at $91.3 million in 2009, was scheduled for payments out to 2033. When the commissioners devised the 2020 plan they intended to use the $10 million that no longer has to be used for debt payments to offer financial assistance to other jurisdictions countywide for economic development endeavors.

Hamilton’s enormous Spooky Nook sports and convention complex was the first investment promised. The commissioners are honoring the $2.5 million commitment they made in 2018 but the rest of the money has not yet been allocated for next year.

ExploreButler County officials begin crafting 2021 spending plan with uncertain future

“We’re going to be cautious until there is some element of certainty after the first of the year,” Commissioner T.C. Rogers said. “To be able to speculate on anything now is just like going to Vegas.”

The county does have non-general fund debt that will continue to be paid through special assessments, tax increment financing and other sources.

Developmental Disabilities board cuts taxes

Cutting taxes is not something governments usually do, in fact Butler County officials can remember it happening only one other time before the Developmental Disabilities recently voted to roll back $3.6 million.

With cash reserves at 149% of its annual budget, the board voted to make the tax cut and give taxpayers an average $17.50 back on $100,000 of valuation. Superintendent Lisa Guliano said services will not suffer as a result of the tax break.

ExploreButler County board lowering taxes by $3.6M: How they did it

“Our agency has grown substantially in the number of people with developmental disabilities for whom we coordinate and provide services,” she said. “Those services are our utmost priority. At the same time, we recognize the importance of keeping a balanced budget while striving to be good stewards of tax dollars.”

Butler County auditor fights state to keep property reassessments reasonable

When the state told Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds he must increase property values 20% he balked at the idea and refused to budge on an average 14.5% hike.

Reynolds is fighting the state tax commissioner’s office over a mandated 20% value hike in the county. When Reynolds submitted his reappraisal numbers to the tax commissioner’s office, he proposed an aggregate 13% property value increase. Reynolds has revised the figure to 14.5%.

ExploreButler County auditor fighting state over 20% property value hike: What you need to know

“Based on just those 2019 sales, state bureaucrats are ordering a 20 percent aggregate increase in residential/agricultural properties for the 2020 tax year in Butler County,” Reynolds said. “That’s ridiculous.”

He is still waiting for the state to respond to his latest offering.

Sheriff sending dispatch fee bills to other governments

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office said recently it plans to begin charging all departments that use its emergency dispatch center, not just the few that pay now.

Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said the department plans to charge Fairfield, Oxford and Ross townships, the villages of New Miami and Seven Mile and MetroParks for police dispatching next year. The cities of Hamilton and Oxford began paying for the service several years ago. Liberty Twp. has a contract with the sheriff and the fees are built into that agreement.

ExploreButler County sheriff to charge communities for dispatching police calls, and some aren’t happy

Some of the governments have balked at the bill and Ross Twp. trustees and New Miami plan to take the matter up with the county commissioners this week.

Resignations came as a surprise

The county lost several top officials this year, starting with former Finance Director Tawana Keels, who abruptly resigned in late January.

Keels took the helm of the county’s finance department in 2013 and when she tendered her resignation she said she had secured another opportunity but wouldn’t say where. Largely due to the pandemic it took the county three months to hire Finance Director Angel Burton.

ExploreButler County officials react to sudden resignation of finance director

Former Care Facility Administrator Chamika Poole also quit this year and the county has not been able to replace her yet. Other key positions like the director of nursing and several staff jobs remain vacant.

Caroline Bier, former executive director of the Butler County Vet Board, left the county’s employ in June, those commissioners quickly promoted Mike Farmer from within.

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