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Published: Friday, 1/17/2003

Allen County set to adopt tight budget

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

LIMA, Ohio - Allen County commissioners are expected to adopt a 2003 general fund budget today of more than $23 million after asking department heads to cut nearly 6 percent from their spending requests.

“We're suffering the same thing everyone is,” county Administrator Fred Eldridge said.

The commissioners held an informational meeting yesterday for department heads “to give them the courtesy of allowing them to know what the numbers will be before reading about them in the newspaper,” Mr. Eldridge said.

The new budget is a slight increase over last year's because of pay increases that the county and employee unions previously agreed to and projected increases in utility and health insurance costs. Still, the commissioners have to include $2.2 million of the $4.2 million carryover from 2002 to make the 2003 general fund balance.

Commissioners in mid-2002 asked department heads to cut their budgets by 5.75 percent so the county could make ends meet. That was the same amount department heads were asked to cut from their funding requests for this year. Some met the request. Others didn't, and the commissioners “struggled to come up with a budget that is fair to everyone and that still met the needs,” Mr. Eldridge said. “It's tight.”

When asked about possible layoffs, he said, “I'm not in a position to speculate on that.”

He said some departments may operate fewer hours; others may have job sharing.

“Sometimes you have to get creative,” he said.

Anne Geiger, clerk of courts, said she would do everything she could not to lose staff members to layoffs. Her office is down three employees already because of positions that aren't being filled. But more civil cases, especially mortgage foreclosures, are being filed, “which causes more work for everybody.

“We've been dealing with this for almost a year,” Ms. Geiger said. “It's not easy.”

Sheriff Daniel W. Beck said the net loss to his 2003 budget compared with 2002 will be nearly $342,000, and “we were really tight last year.”

He said the county pays too much interest on its land holdings even as budget cuts are being made. “I think it's a matter of the commissioners' setting priorities that include selling off land and getting basic services back,” he said.

He said his office, which is in charge of law enforcement and the jail, is short of employees through attrition and can't afford to replace them.

“It's going to take us longer to get to a call because we won't have as many people on the road,” Sheriff Beck said. “Safety and security is the No. 1 priority of this agency, and we're going to work hard at that.”



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