STEUBENVILLE - Jefferson County department heads will be forced to cut about 13 percent of the general fund budget next year as the impact of state funding cuts hits home.
County commissioners and county Auditor Patrick Marshall met Thursday in the courthouse with the department heads and elected officials to outline what to expect when preparing budgets for 2012.
The state eliminated the tangible personal property tax on business, implemented utility deregulation and decreased local government sharing money, all resulting in a loss of $739,421 in revenue for 2012. The loss is expected to be a cut of $547,778 in 2012.
GETTING THE NEWS — Jefferson County department heads and elected officials learned Thursday of a 13 percent cut in the county’s budget for next year. County commissioners and the auditor’s office outlined the pending cuts during a meeting in the probate courtroom. Listening to the news were, from left, William Ward, juvenile detention director; Mary Nash, probate court chief deputy clerk; Juvenile-Probate Judge Bill Kerr; and Joe Colabella, juvenile-probate court administrator. - Mark Law
The cut in state funding could result in the layoff of employees and a reduction in some services, especially since 84 percent of the general fund pays for personnel costs, according to the county auditor's office.
County Commissioner David Maple said department heads have been successful in the past several years keeping spending flat and actually turning money back in at the end of the year.
The county saw the writing on the wall with the loss of personal property tax and utility deregulation revenue in the past several years and made adjustments, but the cut in the local government funds by the state was a surprise.
"All the hardship we have gone through in the past couple years is not over," Maple said.
The general fund budget this year totals $12.3 million. Vicki Winski, deputy auditor, said the county will have to cut between $1 million and $1.4 million next year from the budget, depending on any carryover dollars.
Marshall said there has been no increase in revenue to county coffers. In fact, real estate tax dollars are nearly identical in 2011 as in 2001, he said.
"This will be one our most difficult budgets," said county Commissioner Tom Gentile.
He said an across-the-board cut won't be appropriate because it would drastically hurt smaller departments with only a handful of employees.
"I think the sparks will fly and the finger pointing will start. Hopefully that won't be too bad. We have to be more cooperative. It won't be pretty," Gentile said.
Maple said the ultimate goal of county government during the pending budget crunch will be to provide the same level of services to county residents.
"We may have to rank services by importance," he said.
"Maybe the speed of county government may have to suffer," Gentile said. "But I'm confident about the competency and professionalism of people working in county government.
County Commissioner Thomas Graham said the county's self-funded hospitalization program will cost departments the same next year but warned departments won't get a break in several months of cost contributions as in previous years. The health insurance program has built up a $5 million surplus, which allowed the county to waive monthly contribution costs by departments for employees late in the year.
Maple said county residents should be proud of the work county department heads and elected officials have shown through the recent tough economic times. He said other Ohio counties are facing even larger cutbacks because adjustments weren't made in the past several years.
Graham said the key to averting the upcoming budget woes is economic development.
County officials said the pending oil and gas boom in the county may have a positive impact on county revenue but officials are unsure to what extent the impact will be.
The commissioners will meet with department heads and elected officials in late October or early November to conduct budget hearings.