MANSFIELD — It’s budget time for Richland County commissioners as a 2024 spending plan is mapped out based on estimated revenues largely derived from sales tax collection.
That process includes meeting with department heads who report to the three-member board of commissioners and also other elected officials, all of whom present proposed budgets.
Some of those sessions, especially with smaller operations, are fairly matter-of-fact. Others, such as the general division of the county Common Pleas Court or the sheriff’s office take more digging into the numbers.
It’s an annual financial dance that plays out on the main floor of the county administration building with the county’s statutory budgetary authority, a group of current commissioners who have vowed to always formulate a balanced budget.
Namely, commissioners Darrell Banks, Tony Vero and Cliff Mears have said they will not spend more than the county takes in each year, regardless of the county’s healthy carryover and “rainy day” funds in the millions.
County Auditor Pat Dropsey has estimated 2024 general fund revenues at $42.3 million. Commissioners believe that number will go up, but current budget requests are around $49 million.
That means decisions will have to be made by the end of the year.
Regardless, costs continue to rise. The Richland County general fund budget in 2023 was $41,954,599, which was up from $39,360,426 in 2022.
All three commissioners have expressed concerns about softening sales tax revenues, hampered by continuing inflation.
“I think sales taxes will decline in 2024, which would be the first time that’s happened since I took office,” said Vero, first elected in 2016.
“It’s the (investment) interest income that is going to save us next year. That should be around $4 million,” Vero said.
“(County Treasurer) Bart (Hamilton) doesn’t think that’ an all-time high, but it’s up there,” the commissioner said.
During budget sessions, questions from commissioners can sometimes be as simple as a line item increase.
RCSO Capt. Chris Blunk, who runs the county’s jail, told commissioners he would like to nearly double his food service costs to just over $1 million in 2024. Blunk said he would like to stop having inmates work in the kitchen and use workers employed by the food service contractor.
He said the move would improve security and safety in the jail.
Overall, Sheriff Steve Sheldon’s budget request is for $21.8 million, which includes law enforcement, jail operations and 911 operations. That’s a 13.9 percent increase over 2023.
In other instances, commissioners raise questions about proposed salary increases, as they did with a proposed 7 percent pay hike for some Common Pleas Court general division employees.
Judge Brent Robinson told commissioners the increase was based on a wage study the court had done on its own.
Vero suggested a 3- or 4-percent increase until the court can be included in the county’s ongoing wage scale analysis.
Once all budget meetings are done, and Dropsey provides a finalized revenue projection, commissioners will make final decisions for 2024.