Commissioners cut county budget

LISBON — Columbiana County commissioners followed through with their plan to cut budget appropriations by 6 percent in 2017 to address an anticipated $800,000 shortfall.

The 2017 county budget adopted Wednesday by commissioners reduces appropriations for general fund offices from $19.4 million to $18.6 million next year because Medicaid services are no longer subject to state and local sales taxes because of federal rules changes. The loss in county sales tax revenue is expected to be $800,000 in 2017 and grow to $2.1 million in 2018, when the full brunt of the change will be felt.

Commissioners told officeholders in October they intended to enact an across-the-board 6 percent cut in appropriations to address the shortfall and recommended they begin preparing now. Commissioners said they would still hold budget hearings if any agency asked, and the only one to do so was the Veterans Services Commission, which said it needed a minimum of $695,000 to get by in 2017. The VSC was appropriated $658,522, however, reflecting a 6 percent reduction from 2016.

The sheriff’s office has the biggest budget so it will obviously sustain the largest loss in actual dollars. The sheriff’s office’s initial appropriations will go from $2.7 million this year to $2.54 million in 2017, and Sheriff Ray Stone has said he hopes to avoid laying anyone off in response to the $160,000 reduction.

Commission Chairman Mike Halleck said officeholders have historically done a good job of keeping spending under control, which is why he believes they can find 6 percent to cut from their budgets. He said commissioners will continue the practice of providing additional funding to officeholders as the year progresses. That almost always occurs because the auditor’s office is conservative with its revenue estimates to ensure the county ends the year with a carryover balance.

“We’ll review all (requests for more funding) in the third quarter,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state legislature is looking for a possible temporary solution because the state also stands to lose $400 million in 2017-18. Halleck said it is his understanding counties that rely disproportionately on the sales tax would experience less of a cut than others, noting the sales tax accounts for 70 percent of the county’s revenue.