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County begins budget hearings

November 14, 2012
By MARK LAW - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - The Jefferson County commissioners and county auditor's office Tuesday began budget hearings with county departments in preparation of the 2013 general fund budget.

As has happened during the past several years, the budget amount will be the same, and departments submitted proposed budgets asking for modest increases.

The auditor's office reported the county is expecting $11,779,000 in revenue for next year, with an anticipated $1 million in carryover funds from this year to next.

The county will have to cut about $1.4 million from proposed budgets to get a balanced budget.

The county is anticipating losing money in local government funds from the state, but that loss will be made up with income from casinos distributed around the state. The county this year has seen a 14 percent increase in sales and use tax (piggyback tax) collections.

County Commissioner Thomas Graham said the county's self-funded hospitalization program will see an increase of about 15 percent to the share of hospitalizations costs of employees and the departments.

Graham said the county had a surplus of $6 million, which the county allowed to be trimmed down without having to pass costs onto employees and departments. He said the county is required to maintain a minimum of a $3 million surplus to cover the costs of catastrophic illnesses.

The county this year didn't grant a two-month waiver in hospitalization costs to employees and departments as it had during the past several years because the surplus was being spent down.

Graham said the county budget should be OK going into next year if departments keep spending the same as this year.

Graham said the increase in sales and use tax collections should benefit townships and villages with recreation projects.

County Auditor Patrick Marshall said he is concerned about the overall economy in the country going into next year with the "fiscal cliff" issue and possible recession.

Marshall said the county lost revenue from various sources but was able to recoup the money in other areas, including real estate conveyance fee collections, which are up because of the and gas industry leases.

Marshall said the county still hasn't seen a large number of jobs being created.

Marshall said hospitalization costs will increase, but Workers' Compensation rates for county workers will be going down next year.

County Commissioner David Maple said the county will still have challenges come 2013.

"We need to be conservative in spending and have good budget management," he said.

The gap between proposed budgets and anticipated revenue going into the 2013 budget isn't as large as in previous years when the county has faced with cutting $2 million to $3 million out of proposed budgets, Maple said.

"We will be able to manage through it as long as we are conservative in spending," he said.

County Commissioner Tom Gentile said he was glad to see county departments submitting proposed budgets similar to actual budgets for 2012.

"I don't think it will be easy, but we are losing and gaining revenue at the same time. The biggest challenge will be increasing costs and not having an increase in revenue. I feel more comfortable with this budget cycle. (In previous years) we had to make cuts," Gentile said.

Gentile said the county had a $15.1 million budget in 2008, compared to a $13.4 million budget in 2012.

Commissioners will be meeting with department heads throughout the week to go over individual department budget requests. Commissioners during the next month will trim the proposed budgets down to meet expected revenue before approving a 2013 budget.

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