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Published: Monday, 10/18/2004

Less money from state pinching local budget

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An anticipated $14 million shortfall in the Toledo muninipal budget has created anxiety for city officials.

The situation could be worsened with the prospect of $18 million in local government money being withheld by state officials who are wrestling to balance the Ohio budget.

Like all political subdivisions, including parks and libraries, Toledo receives portions of its budget from the state as local government funds. To the jurisdictions in Lucas County alone, the state sends more than $50 million a year.

But with the state trying to tackle a $3.8 billion budget deficit and with the end approaching to the temporary, 1-cent sales tax on July 1, 2005, local leaders are worried that the state will pare local government shares at their expense.

Any decrease of revenue would aggravate a situation that already is a problem, according to Thomas Crothers, Toledo's director of finance.

The Lucas County commissioners are meeting tomorrow to discuss the importance of working together to send the message to Columbus that local government cannot weather the burden of more tax cuts, said Commissioner Harry Barlos, president of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.

The association is hoping to schedule meetings in each of the state's 88 counties. An association representative spoke to Wood County leaders last month.

Mr. Barlos said local government funds come from money sent to the state from each county in the form of sales tax and income tax.

In return, the state returns a portion, about 4.6 percent, of that money, he added. The money that could be affected are the local government funds, the local government revenue assistance funds, and library and local government support funds.

Lucas County has already begun analyzing how it will absorb a projected nearly $8 million shortfall it anticipates in the 2005 budget. If local revenue funds are cut as well, the county will see that potential deficit grow to more than $16 million.

That fear has left local communities and the counties trying to change the minds of state legislators.

"If we do not succeed, there will be some serious damage done to all 88 counties in Ohio," Mr. Barlos said. "How do you replace $50 million that is taken from the county?"

For the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, failure to convince state legislators would mean losing about $18.4 million of its $35 million budget, said spokesman Chris Kozak. And in Washington Township, in the county's northeast section, the general fund budget of $258,000 would be shrunk by $59,000, said Trustee Camille Hammer.

"We've discussed it, and we thought that maybe the trustees would not be paid through the general fund," Ms. Hammer said, adding that the nearly $12,000 salaries for the three trustees would instead come from the budgets of various departments.

"I think everybody is on pins and needles. We're hoping to get any kind of information so we can project how we're going to operate."

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's Sky Bank meeting room, 325 N. Michigan Ave.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-724-6076.



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