Passing budget not likely

Published 10:20 am Thursday, December 11, 2014

Commissioners waiting for answer to request

Unless there is a last-minute change of mind, the 2015 budget won’t be passed at today’s county commission meeting.

Without a budget in place, there will be no county payroll on Jan. 2. The commission has only two regularly scheduled meetings left — today and Dec. 18.

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Before they vote, two of the three commissioners want an answer on whether they will get the extra $500,000 they requested from the budget commission. They want those funds to finance partially the county jail move to the former Ohio River Valley Correctional Facility in Scioto County.

But that answer has been postponed until a budget commission meeting on Monday, a meeting that had been scheduled for Wednesday, but was canceled the day before.

“We requested our information,” commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. said. “We will wait until Tuesday.”

The budget commission, made up of the county auditor, county treasurer and county prosecutor, must certify all revenues coming into the county. In October that commission certified $10.7 million for the general fund budget.

A week ago, however, commission president Les Boggs made a formal request that the budget commission change that certification to $11.2 million.

“In order to make our community safer we requested that additional $500,000 on a formal request,” Boggs said. “So I am personally waiting to hear back yes or no. Whenever I hear a yes or no on a formal request then I will be voting on a budget for 2015.”

Two of the three members of the budget commission favor making the change, while County Auditor Jason Stephens opposes a higher certification.

Even though the meeting was canceled, those three got together to discuss why they didn’t get together and their views on increasing certification. Since no formal agenda was presented, no formal decision was made.

For Stephens, the agenda for the meeting had been to certify special funds, such as those for the dog pound and 911. The commission can’t spend any money in those funds until the budget commission guarantees they are or will be there. That can’t happen until the commissioners pass a general fund budget, since money there may be used to augment the special funds.

“I was under the impression the commissioners were having a meeting Tuesday (to pass the budget),” Stephens said.

When he learned they had not, he canceled the budget commission meeting.

County prosecutor Brigham Anderson said that decision was made without consulting him as a member of the commission.

“We did certify $10.7 million to the commissioners,” Anderson said. “They have publicly requested we look at a higher certification, based on revenue sources going back to 2012. That was to be a topic of discussion.”

“We certified what we did in October,” Stephens said. “I feel pretty strongly that is a good certification.”

Besides a higher certification, Boggs and Hayes are looking at the certification of a $250,000 check that resulted from the sale of a federally funded Ironton high rise for senior citizens. Both the county and city received a quarter-million dollars from the sale. The city has spent its check but the county has asked the state auditor to determine if the county can use the money and in what manner. The state has yet to respond.

County Treasurer Stephen Burcham asked Stephens the status of that check.

“I think it is federal money and will go back to the feds,” said Stephens, who was a county commissioner for 10 years. “I don’t feel confident certifying those funds. You get to a point two years from now with a federal audit (that says) ‘We need that money tomorrow.’ That creates a crisis that is not necessary.”

“I know what it is like to make a budget. I remember when we were scrambling one month for $100,000 to meet payroll for the sheriff’s office. I don’t want to get back to scrambling from a cash flow standpoint. I’d much rather be conservative and not scramble to find cash to make payroll.”

Anderson said without a meeting, however, there cannot be an official debate on fiscal philosophies and a decision made.

Burcham suggested to meet cash flow problems a revenue anticipation note could be issued with money coming from the Neighborhood Investment Program that would have to be paid back within a year.

“There are a number of counties who go out in January and borrow against their real estate collection,” he said.

Stephens said those could be strategies to consider.

“It is a decision easier to make when your back is not against the wall,” he said.

The budget commission will meet officially at 1 p.m. on Monday.