If there's one sure bet for the new year, it's that Lucas County government is in for more pain.
County officials said Tuesday they are hard at work on the 2011 budget, and they're expecting it to be the most austere yet. The main focus: cutting 10.5 percent in general fund spending from each county department's budget. That's on top of 11 percent to 13 percent cuts made by departments this year, which were in addition to cuts made in 2008.
"It is hard. Very hard decisions are being made," County Administrator Peter Ujvagi said Tuesay. "But the No. 1 priority is to continue to provide the best level of service" to citizens.
Although sales-tax revenue to the county this year is up from 2009 levels, Mr. Ujvagi said it is still below projections made at the beginning of the year - and far behind 2007 and 2008 levels. Officials had hoped the economy would improve at a faster rate in 2010 and planned this year's budget accordingly, but those high expectations didn't materialize, the administrator explained.
The county also wants to replenish its reserve funds in 2011. They have declined by $5.8 million since the beginning of the year. As of last week, county reserves stood at $7.5 million, compared with a high of $29 million in 2007. County officials, including Commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak, have said the reserves help the county maintain a good bond rating and are necessary to ensure bills get paid on time.
But Commissioner Ben Konop has criticized the reserve as being too high. He pointed to almost $200 million in surplus money sitting in a variety of other county funds.
The planned cuts could mean more layoffs and furlough days for county workers, although Mr. Ujvagi said those details have not been finalized and will depend on individual departments.
Elected officials also can look for funding sources other than the general fund, such as grants, he said.
The administrator did not rule out cuts to services.
"I can't answer that at the moment. I'm hopeful there won't be," he said.
Lucas County prosecutor Julia Bates called the upcoming cuts "unbelievably terrible." She said her office is already struggling with the loss through attrition of 10 employees - seven lawyers, two secretaries, and a paralegal - since 2008. She said her department cut 10.5 percent from its budget this year and 8 percent in 2008.
"It's very difficult. The work doesn't change, the clients don't change, the cases don't change. We just have to do more with less," Ms. Bates said. "It would be very difficult to lose one more person out of here."
The prosecutor said she plans to maintain staffing levels next year without layoffs, and will instead draw on nongeneral fund dollars and money forfeited from criminals.
Lucas County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter also lamented the planned cuts.
He said his office recently laid off three people, despite a huge uptick in cases, including judgment liens and foreclosures, because of the recession. Mr. Quilter worked three days without pay this year. However, the clerk of courts did not anticipate further layoffs in 2011.
"I'm praying [the economy] gets better next year. We have done nothing but cutting," Mr. Quilter said. "We're struggling."
Officials said they plan to finalize and approve the county budget before the end of the year.
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