Cut in state match could cost county

Published 10:11 am Thursday, December 10, 2009

An almost 20 percent reduction in the state match for the Soil and Water Conservation District could mean Lawrence County coming up with the $45,000 difference.

That’s what county commissioners heard Wednesday morning when district board members appeared at one of the ongoing hearings at the courthouse to determine the 2010 budget.

In 2009 the state’s contribution to the district was 73 percent, down from the long-time 92 percent match.

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Now that match is expected to come in at only 53 percent next year, Peggy Reynolds, manager of administration for the district, told the commissioners.

“This is exactly how the state sticks it to the county,” Commissioner Jason Stephens said.

However, it is possible the state could up the match back to at least the 2009 level, if not the full 92 percent match, if legislation is passed at the first of the year, Reynolds said.

“If there is a reinstatement in January, we can lower our budget,” she said. “We will cut anything that we can. We will try to do anything on our side.”

Right now, the district’s budget is $260,100 or $6,000 less than this year’s.

That cutback comes after the district removed from the salaries category raises that were budgeted but never allocated.

Among the services the district provides is determining flood plains, for which it does not charge.

However, right now, not all banks will accept the district’s certification for use in deciding a loan.

Stephens said those banks will bring in consultants outside the state who may charge fees that can reach $300.

He suggested the district’s board talk with banks to get them to accept the district’s determination from one of its certified staff, then charge a fee less than the out-of-state consultants.

“It could save Lawrence County people some money and help our budget,” Stephens said.

Other officeholders who met with the commissioners on Thursday reported that they needed no major increases in funds for next year.

County Recorder Sharon Gosett-Hager requested about $15,000 less than in 2009 because of cost-cutting measures she has instituted over the past two years. Gosett-Hager has submitted a $305,000 budget or about a 5 percent reduction.

“I felt I have been a steward of the county money,” Hager told the commissioner. “I have been very cautious. For the last two years I have helped the county’s general fund. I have paid a lot of my bills out of my special fund.”

Out of the $28 fee to record a document $10 goes to the county’s general fund; $4 to the recorder’s special fund and $14 to the Ohio Housing Trust that is transferred periodically to the state to fund assistance for the homeless.

However, with office bills cutting into the special fund, Gosett-Hager expressed concern over meeting the last three payments on the loan for her office’s computer system.

She will owe payments of $20,164 each in February and August of 2010 and the same amount in February of 2011.

She said she believes she has the money to meet all three payments, but wanted to alert the commission that she might need to have a transfer from the general fund to the equipment fund to cover those bills.

She wanted to make the commissioners aware of the possibility of a transfer.

“You have always worked well with me,” she said. “I think it is a team effort.”

Clerk of Courts Mike Patterson anticipates about a $30,000 increase in his budget to approximately $344,000 for 2010.

That is to cover inflationary increases in supply costs and a union-mandated two percent raise for employees who handle the legal side of the clerk’s office.

The title side of the office is self-supporting from fees and requires no allocation from the commission.

Recently, Patterson instituted the collection of past due court costs, going back to fees that were due from 1991 through to the present.

His office has sent out three notices to those in arrears. If payment is ignored, the account has been turned over to Capital Recovery, a Columbus-based collection agency.

So far about $12,000 has been recovered and turned over to the commission’s general fund with $120,000 outstanding that could go into county’s coffers, if collected.

Cost-cutting measures at the auditor’s office where three employees who left were not replaced have enabled that office to keep its budget at about the same level as last year at around $700,000 — that despite a 30 to 40 percent reduction in conveyance fees that cut revenues by about $150,000.

“The auditor’s office is good at saying ‘No,’” Stephens said. “We are never in the red. We are not spending money that is not there like Scioto County.”

The Veterans Service Office should receive about $350,000 from the county for next year. Its budget is mandated by the state at one-half mil of the county’s property tax revenue.

The commissioners are considering to create a separate account for the veterans’ office to allow them more autonomy.

However, no decision was made at this time.