Butler County approves structurally-balanced budget

The Butler County commissioners have approved a $95.9 million general fund budget. The general fund — which is taxpayer supported — finances things like salaries and benefits as well as capital improvements and buildings. STAFF FILE/2015
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The Butler County commissioners have approved a $95.9 million general fund budget. The general fund — which is taxpayer supported — finances things like salaries and benefits as well as capital improvements and buildings. STAFF FILE/2015

The Butler County commissioners approved a $95.9 million general fund budget Thursday, a spending plan that is structurally balanced and includes safeguards against future economic downturns.

The general fund — which is taxpayer supported — finances everything from salaries and benefits to capital improvements and buildings. The non-general fund totals $294 million and is supported by other tax levies, including those for children services and development disabilities and enterprise funds such as water and sewer fees.

Getting to a structurally balanced budget was a bit tougher this year after a federal mandate erased $3.1 million from the county's sales tax. Finance Director Tawana Keels said at least for next year the true impact has been mitigated.

The $3.1 million hole in the budget is due to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services ruling Ohio has unlawfully collected sales taxes on Medicaid matching monies on transit systems. That sales tax disappears in July.

Keels said the county can now count on receiving about three-quarter’s of the Medicaid tax next year, or $2.4 million, so they were able to structurally balance the budget.

“That increased revenue, $1.2 million in budget reductions and then the Medicaid closed the gap…,” she said. “This is the first year where we had a situation where revenue was being reduced. We haven’t had that since I’ve been here so that made the budget cycle more challenging.”

The county was anticipating a jump of $2.3 million — or 5.4 percent — in sales taxes next year, but Keels trimmed that back to about $41.5 million overall.

The commissioners also on Thursday agreed to send $2 million to the budget stabilization fund which currently stands at $4 million. Commissioner T.C. Rogers said they are in good shape.

“We’re on track and we got pretty much most (office holders and independent boards) to cooperate with where we’re going,” Rogers said.

Included in the budget is also a new edition of pay-for-performance that will allow the county the flexibility to reward their employees but also pull back if finances turn sour. All of the commissioners non-union employees will get a two percent increase on their base pay and up to two percent paid out quarterly in lump sums.

“What is critical is we do not allow our base wages to increase faster than our revenues increase,” Administrator Charlie Young. “And our revenues have been increasing at about two percent.”

Commissioner Don Dixon remembers several years ago when the county was on a slippery financial slope and laid off about 500 people, froze wages and made other cuts to weather the recession.

“It was an adjustment that needed to happen but it was painful it had to happen so quickly,” he said. “But now we’re on target, we’re on plan and I just can’t tell you what a difference it makes having all the office holders pulling together.”