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Published: Friday, 12/15/2006

Fulton Co. in cut mode as expenses escalate

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WAUSEON - Deep budget cuts for soil and water conservation, university extension, and the Fulton County Historical Museum are being considered by the county commissioners for next year, partly because of higher jail, children services, and health insurance costs.

County Administrator Vond Hall recommended yesterday that commissioners budget:

•$75,000 less for the Fulton Soil and Water Conservation District, with an allocation of $100,000, down from $175,000 this year.

•$60,000 less for the county's Ohio State University Extension, with an allocation of $209,000, down from $269,000 this year.

•$10,000 less for the county historical society, with an allocation of $20,000, down from $30,000 this year.

"I feel bad about all three of them," Commissioner Paul Barnaby said, adding that he had not thought of any other way to balance the budget.

The county is spending far more to lock up jail inmates, care for an increasing number of troubled foster children, and provide health insurance for county employees.

Consider what the county is spending with the regional jail.

Fulton County has 50 beds at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, Stryker, for which it pays almost $66 per bed per day. A few years ago, the county typically used about half its beds and rented the rest to other counties or to Toledo.

But recently, the county has been using all its own beds, plus some. Mr. Hall has budgeted more than $1.2 million for the county's use of the corrections center in 2007. That's more than double the $560,000 the county spent for beds there in 2000.

Meanwhile, revenues to the county have not kept up.

"I don't have any choice," Mr. Barnaby said. "We're forced to balance the budget, and I'm not going to go to a judge and tell him not to send people to jail who have to be sent."

He's still looking at possibilities, he said.

Commissioners aren't expected to vote on next year's budget until the last week of this month.

They're likely to get some ideas from employees, board members, and supporters of at least two of the organizations for which Mr. Hall suggested cuts.

"We're working feverishly to see what we can do," said Barbara Berry, director of the historical museum.

The historical society's budget committee is to meet on Tuesday and the historical society directors are to meet on Thursday to formulate their plea.

The $30,000 the society got from the commissioners this year accounted for two-thirds of its $45,000 budget.

"We're going to be in a world of hurt, I know that," said Carl Buehrer, the society's vice president.

Representatives of the conservation district are to meet with Mr. Hall today, and the budget situation is to be discussed by the district's board on Dec. 26.

The proposed cut to the conservation district comes on top of significant cuts in recent years. The district received $227,000 from the commissioners in 2003 and 2004 - $127,000 more than Mr. Hall proposed for next year.

In 2005, county funding for conservation was reduced to $172,000, then increased to $175,000 this year.

At the county extension office, Director Greg LaBarge said last night that he did not expect formal meetings among his group's leaders until January. The county has typically provided about half the extension office's total budget. Though its other funding from federal, state, and grant sources is up slightly for next year, it's not enough to compensate for a $60,000 cut.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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