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Published: 6/6/2003

Commissioners tell staff to stay home

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - An answering machine will field calls to the Seneca County commissioners' office today and on subsequent Fridays.

The commissioners announced plans yesterday to close their office on Fridays beginning today as a way to account for a 5 percent general fund budget reduction for their office as well as all others across the county.

The new cuts to the 2003 budget were announced to department heads this week, Commissioner Tom Distel said. Fellow county officials must let commissioners know by June 16 how they plan to trim their budgets.

One of the largest hits already known is to the Seneca County Museum, which will remain closed through the end of the year, Mr. Distel said.

The commissioner said the cuts, once slated to be as high as 17 percent, are necessary even though commissioners announced last month they plan to enact an emergency 0.5 percent sales tax. The tax would take effect Aug. 1 and run through Dec. 31, then be replaced by a continuing tax of the same amount, under a second resolution approved by the commissioners.

The commissioners have scheduled public hearings on the proposed taxes at 4 p.m. Monday and 6 p.m. June 16 at the Seneca County Department of Job and Family Services. After the hearings, the issues will go to the state tax commissioner for review.

The emergency sales tax was eyed as an option after voters on May 6 defeated a five-year, 0.5 percent sales tax.

In the five-month period this year, Mr. Distel said the proposed emergency tax will bring in $900,000, an amount the county won't begin receiving until November. Even with the money raised, the county still will have a $400,000 shortfall, which will nearly be accounted for with the 5 percent general fund reductions.

Sheriff Tom Steyer, who once feared he would have to lay off 32 to 62 employees and reduce jail population under the original 17 percent budget shortfall, said cuts still would be apparent even at the lower percentage.

The sheriff said yesterday that it means his office would have to trim $156,000. However, he has pared the amount to be cut to about $127,000 by making adjustments.

At this point, Sheriff Steyer said the cuts indicate the equivalent of 9 to 10 people could be laid off for the rest of the year. But he said he's working with the union to decide whether those employees could work 30-hour work weeks instead, so they could keep their benefits and their jobs.

“I don't think [the commissioners] realize how many people we're laying off here,” Sheriff Steyer said of the commissioners' announcement.

The sheriff said no final decisions have yet been made about how the budget reductions will affect his office.



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