Commissioners talk budget with Veterans Services

LISBON –The Columbiana County Veterans Services Commission met last week with county commissioners to go over the VSC’s proposed 2017 budget, becoming the first county agency to take commissioners up on their offer to discuss appropriations before next year’s county budget is approved.

Commissioners sent officeholders and department heads a letter last month informing them the 2017 county budget will be cut by 6 percent across the board due to an anticipated $800,000 loss in county sales tax revenue because of changes in the federal law regarding sales tax collections. The annual loss is expected to grow to $2.1 million in 2018, when the full  brunt of the reduction will be felt.

In their letter, commissioners invited officeholders and department heads to meet with them if dissatisfied with their appropriation, and the VSC is the only agency to request a hearing. Commissioners are planning to give the VSC $658,522 in 2017 compared to this year’s $700,000 appropriation.

“We are mindful of the county’s projected revenue shortfall, and we have judiciously worked to reduce our budget request from that which was submitted in May. We must, however, hold the line on a modified budget of $695,000, which is slightly less than last year’s appropriations,” said VSC chief Kevan Wain.

Wain went over the various assistance programs available to help the county’s 9,037 veterans, and through their efforts they help secure millions of dollars a year in new benefits for them. He noted that by law the VSC is entitled to the equivalent of whatever a 0.5-mill in property taxes would generate — currently $819,000 per year — and pointed out they returned $36,915 in unspent funds in 2015 and expect to do so again this year.

“We continue to be good stewards of the county tax dollars and anticipate a smooth appropriations process again this year, with no modifications to our downward-revised 2017 budget,” Wain said.

Commission Chairman Mike Halleck was non-committal as to whether they would increase VSC appropriations by the requested $37,000, but indicated they would take a look in July to determine whether the agency needed any additional funding.

“It was 6 percent, like everyone else,” Halleck said, when asked after the meeting about the VSC’s reduction. “Like I told them, we’ll review it in the summer, along with everyone else’s.”

Commissioners can only allocate what the county budget commission gives them to spend, and the budget commission — consisting of the auditor, treasurer and prosecutor — takes a conservative approach, to ensure the county ends the year with a carryover. As a result, actual revenue almost always exceeds initial appropriations, as commissioners provide departments with additional funding as it comes available throughout the year. For example, last year spending ended up exceeding initial appropriations by $4.5 million.