Stark County commissioners Wednesday unveiled a 2013 budget that is heavy on criminal-justice spending, yet holds back money for long-neglected infrastructure improvements and unexpected future needs.
Recognizing that voters gave them an eight-year window to prove they are good stewards of the public’s funds, Stark County commissioners Wednesday unveiled a 2013 budget that is heavy on criminal-justice spending, yet holds back money for long-neglected infrastructure improvements and unexpected future needs.
Commissioner Thomas Bernabei led the presentation of the commissioners’ proposed $62 million spending plan to more than 50 county elected officials, employees and department heads who represented the 20-plus offices and agencies that rely on the county’s taxpayer-supported general fund and the sales tax-supported criminal justice fund.
This is the first year that the budget has included a full year’s worth of collections — an estimated $22.5 million — from the eight-year, half-percent sales tax that voters approved for criminal justice services in November 2011. Last year, the county collected six months’ worth in sales-tax receipts.
Commissioners are expected to formally adopt the 2013 budget March 20. County offices have been operating on a temporary budget that expires March 31.
Of the $62 million available for commissioners to distribute, the board plans to allocate $55 million toward operational expenses — an amount that is less than what the county spent on operations in 2010. The rest of the money will used to tackle technology needs and large infrastructure projects, such as new roofs for the county jail and the recently acquired Frank T. Bow Federal Building.
Some of the money also will be set aside for unexpected emergencies as well as expected liabilities, including the estimated $490,000 in future payouts for retiring county employees.
“This budget, therefore, balances both promises made to the voters in the 2011 sales tax campaign: To restore criminal justice services and to prudently manage government,” said Bernabei, a Democrat who serves as president of the three-member board that includes Republican Commissioners Janet Weir Creighton and Richard Regula.
The budget recommendation includes money to:
• Restore the Stark County Sheriff’s Office to its 2010 level of funding, before 41 employees were laid off and 40 percent of the county jail was closed.
• Hire nearly 75 new or replacement employees, including 45 employees in the sheriff’s office and the 14 employees in the Stark County Prosecutor’s Office who were laid off due to budget cuts.
• Address $1 million worth of infrastructure needs, including $350,000 to fix drainage problems. Commissioners will hold a work session Tuesday to review and prioritize the county’s list of drainage projects.
• Restore funding that was eliminated last year to the agencies that provide “quality of life” services, such as the Stark County Development Board, the Ohio State Extension Service, Stark County Fair Board and the Stark County Soil and Water Conservation District.
• Add an office at $100,000 for the recently appointed 5th District Court of Appeals judge from Licking County. Stark County pays roughly a quarter of the appeals court’s expenses, which are shared with the other 14 counties in its jurisdiction.
Page 2 of 2 - • Account for an additional pay period that occurs every 11 years and will cost the county an additional $1 million this year.
• Provide a 2 percent raise for employees, many of whom have not received a wage increase since 2008 and who now contribute more toward their health insurance. Each office independently will determine which employees receive the raise, Bernabei noted. He added that commissioners were cognizant of the elected officials’ concerns that their employees deserved higher raises.
“At the same time, we recognize both the wish and demand of taxpayers who pay our salaries that we spend their money in a conservative and responsible manner,” he said.
The recommended allocations do not include departments that operate on fees, including the county dog warden or sanitary sewer department, or agencies that rely on federal or state money, such as the Stark County Department of Job and Family Services.
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