The current instability in the economy is expected to result in another tight year for the Richland County general fund budget.
County commissioners held a public hearing Thursday on a proposed mid-year planning budget for 2023 that calls for projected revenue to increase just 1.6%.
The preliminary spending plan includes a 2023 revenue estimate at just about $40 million and spending requests from county department heads and elected officials of nearly $44 million. The figures compare to mid-year spending requests in 2021 of around $41 million for 2022 and $39.3 million in appropriations at the beginning of 2022.
Chairman Tony Vero said while overall revenue is up, he does not anticipate any increase in sales tax revenue, no help from the state with local government funds and minor differences in state and federal reimbursements.
“Expenses are 10% more than what we approved for 2022 and that’s less, but with the economy the way it is, barring a change in the economy, I think we’re going to have some tough decisions to make,” Vero said.
Juvenile Court budget: ‘We’re not going to discuss it at this time’
According to Ver, none of the departments or the ordinary officials have any requests out of the except for a 3% salary line item increase for Richland County Juvenile Court includes its highest paid staff members.
“It does not appear at his time that Juvenile Court has changed their prior methodology in determining wages, but that remains for budget season and we’re not going to discuss it at this time,” he said.
s were involved in a contentious discussion last month with Juvenile Court Judge Steve McKinley and Court Administrator Brian Bumpus over a request for a supplemental $45,794 appropriation for parity pay raises for the balance of the year for deputy clerks and youth specialists in the detention area.
Commissioners were concerned with larger raises given at the beginning of the year to top administrators making $80,000 to $90,000 per year and the way the increases were determined in comparison with similar employees at other juvenile courts in Ohio. Court officials responded saying the increases allowed them to retain experienced staff and pointed out Ohio law allows judges to set reasonable budgets at their discretion.
Regarding the proposed capital expenditures for 2023, commissioners said they just involve typical maintenance items such as parking lot maintenance and building tuck pointing.
Also discussed a request from Wastewater Treatment Commissioner Amanda Miller for an emergency allotment of 35 overtime hours for her department for work done to keep pumping stations and other facilities operating during the recent power outputs.
Looking into state aid for storm damage expenses
Vero said he is looking into state aid to local governments for storm-related expenses but has not heard about help for individual residents who have uninsured losses, other than a “neighbor to neighbor” $500 grant from American Electric Power for people whose income is below 300% of the federal poverty income guideline. He said the local Emergency Management Agency and county engineer are still working on official damage reports to the state EMA.
Commissioners were asked if they were satisfied with how the local power companies worked to restore electricity following the storm related outages.
Commissioner Cliff Mears said the utilities did the best they could and he has no reason to think otherwise. Darrell Banks pointed out the outages were widespread not only in Richland County but in counties as well.
“Would I have liked it done quicker? Obviously we would but, under the circumstances, I think they did the best they could,” Banks said.
Vero noted that the restoration efforts were hurt by high temperature days that put stress on the system and caused problems in other parts of the grid.
Globe lights could return to the courthouse
Commissioners also discussed a suggestion to restore globe lights that hung from the portico of the Richland County Courthouse when it was built. Vero said the idea came from a resident he did not identify who is interested in history and who told him that, to his knowledge, the building is the only courthouse or county office building in Ohio that was built in that time period.
“He said he feels that because of the improvements being done that we as a community should embrace the history of the building and that he thought that the globe lights that used to adore the building were something very unique and a ‘cool feature,'” Vero explained.
He said retired maintenance director Chuck Minich believed the globes were taken down because they were plastic and cheap and the weather was “taking its toll.” Current Maintenance Director Josh Hicks found replacement fixtures that would cost around $11,000.
In response to seeing an old picture of the courthouse, Mears said while the look is not “aesthetically pleasing” to him, he also favors architectural consistency.
“I live in an older house myself and have spent extra money to make it architecturally consistent,” he said.
The board agreed to continue the discussion after they determine the cost of electricity and look into the possibility and cost of programmable lights that could change color for events or occasions.
In other business, commissioners:
- Allocated $500,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds to the Richland County Land Bank as the county’s share of the cost of the demolition of the dilapidated Westinghouse building and adjoining concrete parcels on E. Fifth St. in Mansfield.
- Accepted the final change order on the project to remove the jail structure from the lower levels of the courthouse. The move will save the county $25,000.