county building

Richland County Administration Building (Richland Source file photo)

MANSFIELD -- Richland County commissioners on Tuesday said they project a drop of up to $2.5 million in 2020 general fund revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The projections are based on new March sales tax data, as well as information from the state Office of Budget and Management, Commissioner Marilyn John said.

"My gut tells me we will be down about 6 percent in (general fund) revenue for the year," Commissioner Tony Vero said.

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Richland County began 2020 with a $4.8 million budget carryover and also has a $1.3 million rainy day fund.

The county has a $34.5 million general fund budget in 2020, including adding $1.5 million to its reinvestment fund for next year, a pool from which the county makes capital expenditures.

John said no financial decisions had been made yet based upon the projections.

"I believe we will consider the budget stabilization fund, as well as reducing expenditures," John said.

Vero said, "I can say I am not in favor of dipping into the rainy day fund if (we see) revenues decline only by 5 percent.

"It's my goal that we operate a balanced budget annually, which includes administering a budget in better-than-expected and worse-than-expected years," Vero said.

The projections came during the county's quarterly investment advisory board, which includes Vero, Commissioner Darrell Banks and county Treasurer Bart Hamilton.

Hamilton said the county's investments for the first quarter actually exceeded the same period in 2019.

Hamilton said he paid $511,697.62 into the general fund in interest income through March 31, an increase of $65,977.70 from the $445,719.92 a year ago in the first three months.

He said total interest earned for all funds was $522,401.39, an increase of $62,371.51. Hamilton said the county's rate of return on investments is 1.95 percent with an average maturity date of 869 days.

In terms of interest income, Hamilton said what comes next is the issue as the pandemic continues.

"We're in a really weird year," the treasurer said. "There are things we know and things we don't know. One thing we do know is interest rates are going to go down."

Hamilton said the STAR Ohio investments through the state were earning at a 2.54 percent rate of interest at this point in 2019. He said it was 1.68 on March 4 "when things really began to go haywire," he said.

He said the interest rate was down to 1.1 percent as of March 31 and was 0.79 percent as of Tuesday.

"It will continue to fall. Where is the bottom? Your guess is as good as mine," said Hamilton, adding he was pushing investments out farther, working to find longer-term investments that will bring a better return.

"Businesses are starting to re-open, which is a good thing," Hamilton said. "The question is are (customers) going to come and how much activity will there be? We know the economy will recover, but when? I am guardedly optimistic."

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"