How much money do they have?

Published 10:55 am Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Which certification will remain valid?

Is it legal? That’s the question now facing the county as members of the budget commission dispute whether a vote to increase the amount of money the county has to spend has, in fact, changed it.

At a special-called budget commission meeting a vote conducted by county prosecutor Brigham Anderson, following the refusal by chief deputy auditor Chris Kline to call roll on it, received two affirmative votes — from Anderson and county treasurer Stephen Burcham — to increase the amount the county commissioners can budget to $11.2 million.

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The other member of commission, county suditor Jason Stephens, refused to participate in the vote.

“We are in a dangerous area, gentlemen,” Anderson said after Kline not only refused to call roll but said he would not prepare the documents for a new certification.

With the contention of the auditor’s office that the vote is not binding, the certification that will be sent to the commissioners for its special meeting today remains at $10.7 million. That meeting was called so the commissioners can pass a 2015 general fund budget. Without a budget in place, county employees won’t be paid on Jan. 2.

“There is a motion and a second and I think it should have a vote,” Anderson said.

“I’m not calling for a vote,” Kline said.

“I’m talking to Mr. Stephens,” Anderson replied.

By law, Stephens is the secretary of the budget commission; he delegates those duties to the deputy auditor. Stephens is also the fiscal officer of the county.

Kline cited ORC 5705.36 which states that “upon determination by the fiscal officer that the revenue to be collected will be greater than the amount included in an official certification and the legislative authority intends to appropriate and expend the excess revenue, the fiscal officer shall certify the amount of the excess to the commission, and if the commission determines that the fiscal officer’s certification is reasonable, the commission shall certify an amended official certificate.”

He also cited an appeals court decision that states “the auditor has the responsibility of certifying additional city revenues to the county budget commission for the purpose of obtaining an amended certificate.”

Last week, commission president Les Boggs requested the certification of revenue for 2015 be increased by $500,000. In October the budget commission, made up of the county auditor, county treasurer and county prosecutor, certified the lower figure for the operating part of the general fund.

That is one of three parts of the general fund; the other two are the 1 percent sales tax that funds exclusively the emergency services and the fund for the auditor, recorder, engineer and treasurer.

Boggs and commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. want the extra money to help fund the move of the county jail to a state-owned facility at Franklin Furnace in Scioto County.

Before the commission can decide how it wants to spend revenue for next year, the budget commission must certify that amount. The October certification is the one Stephens stands by, citing the need to be conservative to be able to pay bills in 2015 and 2016.

The current certification, however, includes a $1 million carryover in the operating fund, a half-million in the half percent sales tax and almost $300,000 in the recorder-auditor-treasurer fund. With those figures, plus the amount of revenue that has come in since 2012, Burcham and Anderson contend the commissioners’ request can be met.

“What do we do next year? We can’t pay our bills now,” Kline asked. “What do we do when we have half of that (carryover in 2016)?”

Before Anderson made his motion to add the half million dollars, sheriff Jeff Lawless spoke about the prospect of moving the jail.

“(Additional revenue) may get us started but we can’t sustain paying for that jail year after year,” Lawless said. “There has to be a funding mechanism. I would hope the money is coming forth. I am also realistic we can’t make the rest of the county suffer to get a jail going.Besides large start-up costs and need for additional staff, insurance rates for the new jail are expected to be higher than at the current facility, Lawless said.

“The cost of that jail is not going down,” he said. “It has me worried. Every year I have to go back to commissioners for money. I am afraid we get down to that new one, it will be even more hugely expensive. Is there going to be money in December?”

Before Anderson called the roll for his motion to add the funds, Stephens said, “We have all of us certain roles to play. The fiscal officer has a certain responsibility that is specified in the Ohio Revised Code. This money we are trying to determine that is available to be spent is the people’s money. I have a duty to determine the revenue. I put forth a certification that I believe is the best.”

After the meeting Anderson said with a $1.8 million carryover, increasing the certification by $500,000 will not harm the county’s finances.

“Even though Jason didn’t like what we did, we had a discussion, a motion and a second and it carried,” Anderson said. “He is overstepping his bounds. A valid action of the budget commission has been taken and I believe the budget should be appropriated as the commissioners see fit. We have not strapped the county in any way. The commissioners can spend it any way they want.”