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Published: Sunday, 12/16/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Lucas County commissioners expected to OK $567M budget

General fund spending cut by more than $3M from 2012

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County commissioners are expected to approve an estimated $567 million 2013 budget at their weekly meeting Tuesday; the budget reduces general fund spending by more than $3 million compared with 2012, although it does not involve any layoffs, officials said.

“We cannot deficit-spend,” said Commissioner Carol Contrada. “We still do what we have to do without borrowing against the future.”

The decline in the general fund is driven by a more than $2.3 million projected dip in property tax revenue as a result of the revaluation that took place this year. Across the county, the total value of all of Lucas County’s approximately 200,000 parcels is down about 12 percent compared with the 2009 values; the new values go into effect on January tax bills.

The county’s investment income has declined compared with last year’s, as has money from the state’s local government fund.

On the bright side, however, sales tax revenue is projected to increase by more than $1 million, as the region’s economy continues to slowly improve.

“[This budget] is reflective of the times,” said Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak. “It reflects the ups and downs of the economy. ... It maintains high-quality services as we right-size county government.”

The vast majority — 77 percent — of the county’s approximately $121 million general fund pays for criminal justice functions, such as the sheriff’s office, prosecutor, and courts.

When the commissioners passed their 2012 budget, they put the sheriff’s office on a quarterly appropriations schedule to help monitor the office’s expenses. The office is projected to spend more than $28 million this year, about $3.2 million over the $24.8 million for which the office was budgeted.

“The sheriff continues to be the elephant in the room,” said Commissioner Pete Gerken. The 2013 budget appropriates $26.3 million for that office.

The sheriff’s office has increased the reimbursement rate charged for federal prisoners using the county jail and is continuing to work with the commissioners to look at other ways to stay within its budget, said Mrs. Contrada.

Additionally, the budget of the sheriff’s office has declined more than 16 percent since 2008.

Sheriff James Telb did not return calls. He leaves office at the end of this year.

Kevin Helminski, director of finance and operations for the sheriff’s office, said a study conducted by the county this year suggested potentially money-saving changes, such as separating inmates in different ways so fewer corrections officers are needed to manage them.

“We have to feed our inmates,” he said. “We have to wash their clothes. We already do that in the most efficient way we can. So it comes down to personnel.”

The office is in contract negotiations with two of its three bargaining units, he said. He commended the commissioners for spending time studying the issue.

“They understand it. They've seen it [the jail]. They’ve spent time here,” he said.

The general fund also covers offices such as the commissioners, board of elections, county engineer, auditor, and recorder.

Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz said the reduction in his office’s budget is manageable as a result of cuts he made last year. His office has a budget of about $750,000 and a staff of 26, compared with a $1.4 million budget and staff of 34 full-time employees when he took office in 2005.

“I know it’s a cliche, but these have been tough economic times,” he said.

Many departments will see a budget that is essentially flat compared with last year’s, such as the Lucas County Common Pleas Court and its $10.1 million proposed budget.

“I’m anticipating no changes,” said Don Colby, court administrator for the court’s general division.

Judge Gene Zmuda said court officials are continuing to look for potential savings, such as having three of the court’s four divisions and the clerk moving to a new, more streamlined case management system.

The budget that commissioners are to vote on Tuesday will include approximately $2 million to $2.2 million in use of reserve funds.

Apart from the general fund, county agencies that receive levy funding, such as Children Services and the Mental Health & Recovery Services Board, are estimated to have an approximately $171 million slice of the 2013 budget. Those agencies have independent boards that set their budgets.

Other nongeneral fund agencies of county government make up an estimated $281 million of the 2013 budget. These include departments such as the Workforce Development Agency, Job and Family Services, and Lucas County Child Support Enforcement that have sources of funding outside local property and sales taxes.

“Generally, I think there’s an upbeat outlook, even though we’re asking people for some cuts,” Mr. Gerken said.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com, 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.



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