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The Suburbanite
  • County officials review 2012 budget, look forward to 2013

  • Just over a year after voters approved the half-percent sales tax, budget officials say the county saw a $7.7 million surplus at the end of 2012 and commissioners could have slightly more revenue to allocate to county departments than they’ve had since 2007.

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  • Not long ago, Stark County elected officials warned of the devastation that would come to county government and the community if voters didn’t approve a new sales tax.
    The county prosecutor’s office would lack the attorneys to send criminals to jail, and the Stark County jail wouldn’t have enough employees to guard them anyway and would have to release them.
    Now, just over a year after voters approved the half-percent sales tax, budget officials say the county saw a $7.7 million surplus at the end of 2012 and commissioners have slightly more revenue to allocate to county departments than they’ve had since 2007.
    Had county officials exaggerated?
    Auditor Alan Harold doesn’t think so. He told commissioners Tuesday that even with $22.5 million that’s expected to be generated by the sales tax this year, the county’s 2013 estimated revenues of $61.8 million are comparable to the $59.9 million in revenue the county had in 2009.
    “Four years have passed and we’re not that far ahead of where we were,” he said.
    He added that if commissioners had sought a quarter-percent sales tax, which would have generated only $11 million, they would have been unable to fully restore county services even though other revenues exceeded estimates last year.
    Harold and Treasurer Alexander Zumbar provided the budget figures Tuesday during their monthly update on county finances. The discussion focused on the county’s main operating funds, known as the general fund and the sales-tax-supported criminal justice fund, that support offices such as of the sheriff, prosecutor, coroner, courts, auditor, recorder and treasurer.
    YEAR IN REVIEW
    Budget figures presented Tuesday show the $7.7 million leftover at the end of 2012 came from a combination of: County officials collectively spent $2 million less than what commissioners had given them at the beginning of the year, and various revenues streams collectively generated $5.6 million more than expected.
    Harold said some of those higher-than-anticipated collections include:
    • $1.4 million in higher sales-tax receipts, due to the improving economy.
    • $1.3 million in higher conveyance and recorder fees, which are tied to the increase in real-estate transactions and the rebounding housing industry.
    • $558,000 in one-time payments that had been expected but couldn’t be added to the budget until they were received, such as the $253,000 check from one of the insurance companies that had issued a bond for former Stark County Treasurer Gary Zeigler.
    • $490,000 from the county’s share of Ohio casino profits, which weren’t factored into the budget because county officials said they did not know when or how much money to expect.
    • $252,420 in higher interest income that was collected when some of the county’s investments with high-interest rates matured last year.
    FOR 2013
    Harold urged commissioners to set aside a portion of the $7.7 million leftover from 2012 for infrastructure and capital needs, and to also keep some money in a reserve so it could provide a cushion for possible unforeseen losses in revenue.
    Page 2 of 2 - Commissioners are holding a series of budget hearings with departments heads over the next two weeks to determine their financial needs and then will decide how to allocate the funds. They must finalize a budget by March 31.