The Blade/Andy Morrison
Lucas County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a $565 million budget for 2012, a $29 million drop from the previous year, which calls for eliminating positions lost through attrition, but no layoffs.
Several county departments, such as the auditor’s and the engineer’s offices, will see budget cuts of 10 percent, said County Administrator Peter Ujvagi.
Mr. Ujvagi described the budget as “austere” and said the county has been hit by declining state and federal assistance and lower investment income, which fell from $11.9 million in 2008 to just slightly more than $3 million projected for 2012. Sales tax revenue is recovering, he said, but not enough to make up the difference in other areas.
The county will tap $1.6 million in its general fund reserve to help make up some shortfalls.
Much of the county’s $123 million general fund budget pays for safety and law enforcement services such as the sheriff’s office, prosecutor, and courts. The general fund also covers offices such as the commissioners, board of elections, county engineer, auditor, and recorder.
Notably untouched by the cuts next year will be the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, which will see a 3.3 percent increase in its budget. The budget passed Tuesday includes all the sheriff’s funding, but the commissioners stated they will appropriate it on a quarterly basis throughout the year in order to closely monitor it.
In 2010, more than 50 positions in that office were eliminated due to budget shortfalls.
Commissioner Carol Contrada thanked various county agencies and offices, which have “actively and creatively” sought grants, other sources of funding, and efficiencies through working together, she said. Some county departments were able to cushion the blow from budget cuts in this way.
The county’s nongeneral fund budget of $265 million covers agencies such as Job and Family Services, Child Support Enforcement, and Workforce Development, which have seen increasing demand because of the economic downturn. Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said these agencies will have $15 million less in state and federal funding to work with than they did in 2008, a decline she called “alarming.”
Commissioner Pete Gerken said he was angry and frustrated with revenue cuts from the state. State legislators, he said, “balanced their budget. They balanced it right down to us.”
Local government funds, he said, were “virtually stolen from us.”
He also was critical of banking and economic policies that he said have hurt the county. “The banks got taken care of on a national scale … but we are not getting the kind of interest income that sound investment used to get,” he said.
Mr. Gerken also commended the county’s work force. Union members agreed to no wage increases for 2009 though 2012, reduction of sick leave cash-out upon retirement, and other concessions. Nonunion members also have not seen wage increases since 2009, the same benefit reductions as union members, and significant work force cuts.
While the budget does not call for layoffs, there will be positions lost through attrition, Ms. Contrada said. The number of general fund employees has declined from 1,383 in 2008 to 1,113 today.
Despite the bleak budget outlook, all three commissioners said they were heartened by the interdepartmental cooperation and creative problem-solving various offices showed.
County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz agreed, and said he believes citizens will not see a reduction in services in his office, despite a more than 5 percent reduction in his 2012 budget. “The silver lining is it has caused us to find ways to work together,” he said.
Similarly, Deb Ortiz-Flores, executive director of Lucas County Job and Family Services, which is undergoing a merger with the county’s Child Support Enforcement Agency, said the merged agency is looking at ways to work with the courts, reduce costs, and leverage more federal dollars.
Judge James Jensen, of Lucas County Common Pleas Court, and related court representatives came to the meeting Tuesday morning to thank the commissioners for giving them a 3 percent budget increase, in light of the increased demands on the court because of sentencing reform.
Contact Kate Giammarise at: email@example.com or 419-724-6091.