Budget cuts announced for some county offices

LISBON — Columbiana County general fund offices will be cut 6 percent come 2017 to address an anticipated loss in sales tax revenue that will begin in July.

County commissioners sent officeholders and department heads a letter on Oct. 24 informing them about the across-the-board cut to be enacted when they adopt the 2017 county budget.

“Please take this into consideration when hiring and giving pay increases,” they wrote.

Commissioners have already drafted a proposed 2017 budget that sets spending at $18.6 million, an $800,000 reduction from the $19.4 million the various departments were given to work with at the start of this year. The $18.6 million figure is the amount of revenue the county budget commission has estimated will be available next year.

Initial budget appropriations usually have little bearing on actual spending because to be on the safe side the budget commission is conservative with its initial revenue estimates. As additional revenue comes in during the year and is certified for use by the county auditor’s office, commissioners increase budget appropriations. For instance, spending totaled $23.6 million last year, $4.5 million more than was originally appropriated.

Commissioners do not expect that to be the case in 2017 and beyond, at least not to that extent, because of changes in sales tax collections at the state level that take effect July 1. As a result, commissioners expect to receive $800,000 less in county sales tax revenue next year, with the loss growing to $2.1 million in 2018, when the full brunt of the changes will be felt.

“There’s a lot of counties going through this, but we’re in the top 10 in terms of losses,” said Commission Chairman Mike Halleck.

The Oct. 24 letter to officeholders included a copy of the all proposed department budgets, but none have so far asked for a hearing with commissioners to lobby for additional funding. “I anticipated some of that but I also think people are understanding,” he said.

The county sheriff’s office has the biggest budget, so it would also see the largest reduction, going from $2.7 million to $2.54 million — a cut of roughly $160,000. As in past years, Halleck said they will work with officeholders and provide them with additional revenue when possible, but Sheriff Ray Stone is still concerned.

“I don’t know what I’m going go to do. I certainly don’t have any money to waste,” Stone said. “I’ll do what I can not to lay anyone off but they may be my only recourse. That would be counterproductive.”

Commissioners ended 2015 with a $3.2 million cash carryover. “The good news is because we’ve been so conservative we’re probably going to have a good carryover balance again,” Halleck said.