The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 30, 2012

Commissioners hold line in 2013 budget

By CARL E. FEATHER - cfeather@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

JEFFERSON —   County commissioners followed their own advice in developing a 2013 budget for their office and areas under their control: They held the line spending.

County Administrator Janet Discher, who prepared the budget for the commissioners, presented the document to the board on Thursday, during one of many work sessions held with county officials. The work sessions provide a forum for the elected officials and department heads to review their budget requests and justify any increases. Members of the citizens budget committee sit in on the sessions and participate in discussions.

Discher said the board’s budget holds the number of employees to five, plus the elected officials. It assumes a pay increase of 2.5 percent in 2013 for the two union employees. The other three employees are typically given the same percentage increase; commissioners’ salaries are set by the state legislature and have been unchanged for at least five years.

Discher said the board will need $432,564 for salaries and wages next year. The total budget request for the commissioners’ office is $572,339.

Commissioner Joseph Moroski pointed out that, in the past, the commissioners’ budget was inflated by items that really had little to do with their office, such as overall county obligations and supplies for the entire courthouse. This year, those budgets were broken out to provide a more accurate picture. 

Gasoline, for example, is used by all most all elected officials but had been part of the commissioners’ budget. Discher said she is budgeting $400,000 for fuel in 2013. The board is on track to spend $384,100 for gasoline this year. The allocation covers every county department that fills up its vehicles at the county pump. Access cards allow Discher to track gasoline usage by department, and non-general fund users are billed for their fuel use.

Commissioners originally allocated $344,100 for gasoline this year, but a combination of rising prices and increased use required an additional appropriation, along with a request that all elected officials put the brakes on gasoline use. The sheriff’s department is the largest general fund user of fuel and does not reimburse the line item from its allocations.

The board also picks up the utility bills for all of the buildings, an estimated $550,000 in 2013. Commissioners hope that new windows in the courthouse and prosecutor’s civil division office will help save on heating and air conditioning costs.

Discher said that the board’s maintenance  and operation’s budget request for salaries and wages is $11,000 less than the 2012 budget, yet provides for an additional employee.

She said the complex has been running with just three custodial/maintenance workers, one of whom will retire today. That will leave the campus with a workforce that is half of what the board had several years ago. Discher said that hiring two new employees at a lower rate of pay will allow her to double the employment level while saving the county a small amount of cash.

A portion of the commissioners’ budget is set aside for economic development efforts. Last year, the county allocated $95,000 to the Northeast Ohio Regional Airport. Airport authority members earlier this month met with the board and requested more money to cover expenses through the end of the year. Discher said she held the 2013 allocation to $95,000 because she has not heard the board’s preference on the matter.

Additionally, the budget provides $15,000 for three trustee memberships in Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County and $25,000 for the county’s membership in the Eastgate Council of Governments.

The board also is allocating $102,883 to its risk management program, which has one employee. Commissioners say the program pays for itself because of the savings in insurance and workers compensation premiums. The board anticipates spending $470,000 on group and liability insurance premiums, plus deductibles, in 2013. The spending does not include employee health insurance premiums.

Discher pointed out that a significant slice of the general fund pie is consumed by mandated expenditures. Nearly $1 million of the $20.3 million anticipated for next year will go for public defenders and legal aid services, mandated by law. Discher said those costs are rising annually as more and more people declare themselves indigent and seek free legal representation when they run into trouble with the law