MANSFIELD, Ohio--Richland County's sales tax rate will increase by .25 percent for 12 months beginning July 1.
"When we worked on the budget, we came to the conclusion that we were not going to have enough money to make it through the year without implementing an emergency sales tax," said Commissioner Gary Utt during the commissioners' regular meeting Tuesday morning.
Commissioner Marilyn John said this decision was made with great angst. "None of us wanted to do this; however, again, there was a $6 million difference between the requests and the certification," she said.
The total amount of requests submitted by Richland County departments for 2015 were $33,379,661.35 with a revenue certification from the Budget Commission of $27,300,318.45 and a difference of $6,079,342.90.
Commissioners approved $27,291,612.86 in general fund appropriations, $5,115,822 in Richland County Jail fund appropriations and $752,043.70 in Richland County Community Alternative Center fund appropriations.
John said they tried hard to meet all of the requests that were received, but she noted, "The amount of requests coming in was substantially more than the amount that was certified."
"We cut a considerable amount of money out of the budget and still found ourselves short," said Commissioner Tim Wert. "We're hoping that the other elected officials understand that we don't have all of the money that we'd like to have to fund their operations and we did the best we could for each one on an individual basis.
Wert also highlighted some of the new and added costs that affected the budget--which altogether amount to $968,000.
One of the added expenses is caused by the new Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) radios that are used by the Richland County Sheriff's Office.
"We spent months and months working on what was the best radio for our sheriff's deputies to have for their safety and for the safety of the residents of Richland County," said Utt.
Wert also shared, "The radios got to the point of obsolescence, if you will. I believe it was a choice of having more costs to get to done what we needed, or jump on with the MARCS radio group...I think to move us into the future I think we made the right choice, but it is costly."
Another item that impacted the budget is utility expenses, which John said have increased throughout the county. That, of course, impacts county departments they are responsible for, some of which are 24-hour operations.
John commented, "It's easy to say, 'Why don't you just cut out a department?' But we as government are required to have certain services. Just simply cutting out a department, as easy as it might sound, we can't legally do."
Richland County's current sales tax rate is 7.00 percent. Wert pointed out that 48 of 88 counties in Ohio have a rate of 7.25 percent, which is what Richland County's will become.
Through this .25 percent increase in sales and use tax, it is estimated to generate about $3 to $3.5 million.
Utt emphasized, "We don't want to leave [the increase] on permanently; it's just for a 12-month period."
There will be two public hearings that are set for April 7 at 9:30 a.m. in the commissioners' boardroom and April 14 at 6 p.m. at the Longview Center.
Moving forward, John said they're hoping to institute new measures, including the establishment of a Budget Stabilization Fund through Ohio Revised Code 5705.13 to act as a rainy day fund.
"We here in the county don't have that fund set up yet, but that is something we as commissioners are looking at setting up so in the future, although right now we're not set to have a carryover for next year, if and when there is a carryover, or if there does happen to be one next year or the year after, we will have a fund that we can put money back into for special expenditures that might come up," she said.
She said they will also work to finalize the 2016 budget by mid-December and effective Jan. 1, 2016. "That way it'll help departments be better prepared to move into 2016," she explained.
The commissioners hope to work with the department heads and encourage them to look at how they do business and how they can make cuts when possible.
"Revenues are not going up as quickly as we would like to see, and in some cases not as quickly as expenditures are, so we need to take a look at how we do business," she said.