County officials said generally that the 2018 budget featured no major cuts nor any major funding increases.
CANTON The Stark County budget has had a tumultuous history with uncertain sources of revenues and significant cuts that resulted in layoffs, releases of jail inmates and major reductions in county services in 2011, 2003 and 1994.
In contrast to those budget crises, county commissioners on Wednesday approved a $68.2 million general fund/criminal justice sales tax fund 2018 operational budget, with a 3.6 percent increase. It may be the least controversial and most drama-free budget in recent memory.
It is the second year in a row that commissioners approved next year's budget by December, eliminating the need to make provisional appropriations for agencies until they made official appropriations between January and March. The board switched to the earlier time frame so agency heads would know how much money they would get before the year started.
"I think it's a very fair budget and we're going to continue to be fiscally responsible," said Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula, one of the commissioners behind the 2003 budget cuts. The key difference is "we project two or three years out and we live within our means. ... this budget is tough, but 2019 and 2020 are going to get even tougher so what we do today is going to have a profound impact on the future," he said.
After the vote, Stark County Commissioner Janet Weir Creighton said, "no one ever gets everything they asked for, and I think we're fair and if (anyone thinks) we haven't been it's incumbent on that officeholder or department head to schedule a meeting to talk to us."
Stark County Administrator Brant Luther said no county official objected to the amount for their agency after Chris Nichols, the county's director of management and budget, released preliminary appropriation figures in a presentation Friday.
Luther and Nichols said the budget, for the most part, has no major cuts or major funding increases for any agency or department.
"It's not a bloodbath and it's not a Miracle-Gro on each end of the spectrum," Luther said.
Nichols said the only major cut is a 6 percent ($58,977) drop at the Stark County Coroner's office because Dr. Anthony Bertin opted to keep his urology practice. By state law, a coroner who keeps his private practice is paid $69,739 a year. His predecessor, Dr. P.S. Murthy, did not so he earned a full-time salary of about $127,563 a year.
The budget hearings in November did not have the tension of 2016 where commissioners sharply questioned budget requests by Murthy and Stark County Recorder Rick Campbell.
"This has probably been the quietest followup to an appropriation rollout that I've heard," said Luther.
Luther said agency heads kept their budget requests reasonable, but Nichols said the commissioners ultimately agreed to amounts that totaled $3 million less than the total requests, which would have funded new county positions.
But next year's budget may be a respite leading to possible belt tightening in 2019 due to the cost of 2 percent annual raises and rising health insurance premiums. The county also loses $1.47 million in one-time aid from the state to help offset the loss of sales tax.
Luther said about 2019, "it's scary. ... I'm not going to understate it. Nineteen is not going to be pretty."
"Revenues will probably be flat to up a little bit," said Nichols, who added that every year that revenue has always been higher than he's estimated. "I hope my revenue estimates continue to be conservative."
Among the highlights of the approved budget:
• The cost of contractual raises for unionized sheriff's staff will be $341,000 next year; the cost of 2 percent pay raises for county employees not in the sheriff's office will be $410,911.
• A 7.5 percent increase in health insurance premiums for employees will cost the county $467,250 for those paid from the county's general fund and sales tax.
• Rising sales tax revenue as a result of a growing economy and rising fee revenue from home sales helped boost general fund/sales tax revenue to $70 million from $66.9 million last year. The general fund collects revenue from property taxes, state local government funding, fees and interest earned.
• The county's contribution to the Multi-County Juvenile Attention System will increase at least $107,000 a year to $4.42 million because the number of Stark County juveniles held by the system as a five-year average has increased under the dues formula.
• Nichols had to make a late adjustment to the appropriation for the Stark County Treasurer's office and add $5,500 because Treasurer Alex Zumbar's new term began in September, entitling him to a salary increase by state law.
• Luther and Nichols said they recommended commissioners only grant a funding increase to the Stark County Prosecutor's office salary sufficient to cover half a full-time position rather than one additional full-time position for a secretary to serve crime victims and a part-time IT technician. Ferrero got a funding boost of 3.9 percent or $152,259 versus the $243,446 requested.
• Agency appropriations were generally 2- to 3-percent higher with some exceptions. The Stark County Board of Elections got 10.2 percent more (up $233,609) because of the higher costs of administering elections with a gubernatorial vote in 2018. The Stark County Auditor's general fund appropriation rose 5.9 percent (about $61,054 more) to help fund the promotion of a payroll specialist, the hiring of that person's replacement and to boost the salary of an accounting manager said to be earning less than his peers.
Reach Repository writer Robert Wang at (330) 580-8327 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @rwangREP