County budget adopted for 2018

LISBON — Columbiana County commissioners adopted a 2018 county budget that keeps appropriations roughly at 2017 levels, at least through the first six months or so, setting the stage for another possible showdown with the Veterans Services Commission.

The budget adopted Wednesday by commissioners sets appropriations at $18.6 million, which is almost exactly what county offices were given initially this year.

“We did the best we could to appropriate what we were given,” said Commissioner Mike Halleck, who takes the lead in preparing the budget.

The Veterans Services Commission was appropriated $658,000, the same as last year and $50,000 less than it requested. The VSC requested $695,000 for 2017, and when commissioners only appropriated $658,000 the board responded by suing commissioners, despite a promise by Halleck to get them the funding later in the year as additional revenue came in. The lawsuit was resolved in late July, when commissioners agreed to give the VSC the additional $37,000 it demanded.

When asked in October if they would file another appeal if commissioners failed to provide the full $708,000 it was seeking for 2018, VSC Chief administrator Kevan Wain said his board would not be happy if that were to occur.

State law requires VSCs to receive funding equal to what a half-mill property tax would generate, which is currently $873,000, so the VSC has been giving commissioners a break by asking for less than it is entitled to legally.

When asked if he thought the VSC would file another lawsuit, Halleck said, “I don’t anticipate that happening again.”

By law, commissioners cannot appropriate a penny more than has been certified by the county budget commission. But the budget commission is extremely conservative in its estimate. For example, the budget commission certified $18.6 million in revenue for commissioners to spend this year, but since then, actual revenue received to date has exceeded $23 million. This happens every year, and when it does commissioners appropriate the additional revenue among county offices on as an as-needed basis.

This is a budgetary practice the budget commission and county commissioners have followed for years as a way to control spending, and Halleck said 2018 will be no different.

“We will review the budget in the third quarter to see how things are progressing in terms of revenue,” he said.

County Auditor Nancy Milliken said they are deliberately conservative with revenue estimates given commissioners to ensure the county ends the year with a healthy enough carry-over balance. “What if we certified $23 million (in revenue) and that didn’t come in … We would be in trouble, so we just want to be on the safe side,” she said.

Milliken pointed out the county is entering an uncertain period with its county sales tax. The federal government told Ohio it could no longer charge state and local sales taxes on Medicaid managed-care providers after June 30. This is expected to result in the loss of $2 million for a full year starting in 2018.

To help local governments with the funding loss, the state legislature is providing the county with $4.9 million in “transitional aid,” with a $2 million payment received in November and a second due in early 2018. This money went into a special fund to be used only when necessary.

Commissioners are in a good position to absorb the loss in sales tax revenue, at least for now, because of the $4.9 million from the state, plus the $5.2 million in county general fund revenue already being held in reserve.