Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Lucas County confronts falling revenue

The appliances are top-quality; the biggest selling paint is stingray blue-gray.

And the half-inch standard drywall?

“We can't keep in stock,” said Rickie Daniels, assistant manager for the Home Depot store in Perrysburg.

It's no secret to Mr. Daniels why Wood County is seeing an upswing in sales tax dollars this year: Customers at his Fremont Pike store “buy high-end stuff and they buy in bulk.”

But Wood County's windfall may be Lucas County's loss.

Lucas County officials recently received a sales tax revenue check that puts the county on course to finish the year with the lowest sales tax revenues - $66 million - since 1999, when the county collected just $431,268 less than that.

That means Lucas County would end the year about $2.8 million less than they'd hoped for.

Those sales tax projections were to make up nearly half of the $137.2 million budget commissioners passed in January. To make matters worse, investment earnings so far have sagged too.

The county's investment officer, Michael Murnen, estimates the projected $9.8 million in investment earnings this year will drop to $7 million, leaving an additional $2.8 million gap in the budget.

With the slumping economy, many government notes were “called in” early. Essentially, Uncle Sam cashed out the notes that were paying 4 to 6 percent, and issuing new notes that paid out about 2 percent; many CDs are paying just 1 percent.

“There's nothing we can do about low interest rates, unfortunately. They're market-driven,” said Mr. Murnen, who has been the county's investment officer for more than a decade. “As soon as the economy picks up, so should our numbers.”

“There's no way around it,” John Zeitler, county budget chief, said. “It's just not good news.”

The numbers reflect April sales because of a two-month lag time in collecting and dispersing the dollars.

And they mean that county's deficit has once again swelled to $1.6 million after shrinking last month to $1.1 million after an expected $450,000 surge in revenue for March.

Lucas County elected officials will meet again to discuss possible cuts, said Ed Ciecka, county administrator.

Mr. Ciecka acknowledged that numbers fluctuate monthly, but said a trend of dwindling income cannot be ignored. “We're becoming more worried about it daily,” he said.

Not so in Wood County, where they've recently opened a handful of home improvement stores, said Jill Engle, the county's treasurer.

In its most recent sales tax check from the state, the county received $1,136,649 compared to $1,032,941 during the same month last year.

“With all the home construction, Wood County residents have to go to those places, and they're no longer having to leave Wood County to find them,” Ms. Engle said.

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