richland county commissioners

Richland County commissioners Tony Vero, Marilyn John and Darrell Banks seen here during a meeting in October 2019. (Richland Source file photo)

MANSFIELD -- While saying mid-year budget requests often exceed anticipated revenues, Richland County Commissioner Marilyn John on Tuesday offered words of caution to other elected officials and department heads.

Now is not the time to plan on additional staffing or salary increases in 2021, John said, during a mid-year budget public hearing during which commissioners announced budgeted expenses exceeded revenues by almost $5 million.

"A couple of departments have submitted (budgets) with additional staff for next year. I would suggest any staff increases or hiring be put off until the second half of 2021 until we have a better grasp of what the budget looks like," John said. "The same with salary increases."

Commissioners said revenue estimates for 2021 are $32.5 million and estimated expenditures, based upon budgets submitted to commissioners, are $37.5 million, including $700,000 for an additional pay period in 2021.

"As it stands, this is very typical," John said. "It's not alarming. Appropriation requests often exceed revenue estimates (at this point in the budget cycle)."

In 2019 at a similar point, estimated expenses for 2020 exceeded anticipated revenues by $4.4 million. The difference was $6.1 million at the same point in 2018.

The final 2020 general fund expenditure budget approved by commissioners was $34.5 million, including adding  $1.5 million to a reinvestment fund for next year, a pool from which the county makes capital expenditures.

That budget was approved a few months before the coroanvirus pandemic swept across the globe, resulting in a statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses by Gov. Mike DeWine, the financial impacts of which are still being assessed.

The county's general fund relies heavily on sales taxes and commissioners earlier in June projected the county will be about $1 million short of its revenue projections over the next three months.

"We have been monitoring revenue closely. The state has been helpful in getting us revenue numbers as quick as possible," John said. "We stay in close contact with Auditor (Pat) Dropsey and we will continue to do so," John said.

"We should have a much better idea of where we are (this year) and what next year will look like when we start budget hearings in October," John said.

Ohio's state government is feeling the crunch, recently having to borrow $1.3 billion from the federal government to fund its unemployment benefit efforts due to COVID-19.

"I am sure we will be feeling it at the local level since we are an extension of state government," John said.

Richland County began 2020 with a $4.8 million budget carryover and also has a $1.3 million rainy day fund. Commissioners have asked other elected officials to watch expenses, but have not enacted in specific budget cuts related to a loss in revenue.

Commissioners, who plan to meet with county elected officials and department heads on July 21, are still not sure exactly how an anticipated $2 million in COVID-19 relief money, approved the federal government and passed through the state legislature, can be used.

Commissioner Tony Vero has said he believes the funds could be used to cover salaries in the sheriff's department, though John said Dropsey is not certain that it can be spent that way.

"We have to prepare for the worst-case scenario if we don't have better information," John said, urging elected officials and department heads to hold the line on spending, including travel and training.

Regardless, Vero said, commissioners will again approve a balanced budget for 2021.

"We're going to have a balanced budget," he said. "We created that policy, we have done a good job of adhering to it and we will do it again."

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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?"