Financial woes: Auditor shares county fiscal concerns

Concerned with the financial picture portrayed of the county, the Auglaize County auditor met Thursday with the Auglaize County commissioners to discuss her budgeting worries.

“We always try to remain so positive about the county,” Auditor Janet Schuler said. “I like that, but things aren’t as rosy as they appear just because the sales tax is up.

“Sales tax numbers are good, but they have to be because the state is yanking money away from us,” she said.

She said increased sales tax revenue is only helping to offset state cuts to local government.

By 2014, Schuler said the county is expected to receive no more local government money, which is to continue to decrease until then. In 2007, the county received $767,000 from the state source compared to $544,000 it is to receive this year.

She said back in the 1930s, the income tax was passed by the state on the promise that part of the money would be funneled back to local government.

“Now they are not going to fund us any more, even though we are the ones enforcing all their laws,” Schuler said. “The cuts they made are very small to the state budget, but very hurtful to townships, villages, cities and counties.”

Other state cuts impacting the local budget include the state no longer funding a pre-sentence investigation officer and county court systems now bearing that burden with a small amount of support through a grant.

Schuler said the approximate $20,000 the state is supplying to help cover the pre-sentence investigations is about half the cost.

New state sentencing requirements also are expected to continue to add up to more prisoners in county jails.

House Bill 66, which passed in 2006, has done away with tangible personal property tax.

“They said they would hold local governments and schools harmless with payments until 2018, but we are getting no more money,” Schuler said, noting between 2012 and 2018 that accounts for another $1 million in money lost for the county.

Increased state auditor rates were implemented or layoffs would have been necessary in the state office, which means that cost also has been passed on to local government.

When Schuler took office in 2007, the county earned $1 million in interest annually, but in 2011 that figure was down to $244,000 and it is expected to be $168,000 this year.

Anticipated money from state casinos funneled into counties also isn’t as high as originally promised.

Schuler said they may receive approximately $100,000 less than anticipated this year and next, amounting to $167,000 this year and $253,000 next. The referendum had suggested the county would receive closer to $800,000 annually.

“There are no guarantees,” Schuler said. “It’s all speculation because nobody knows.”

With casinos no longer having the exclusive rights to video lottery terminals, the auditor said that is expected to have an impact on what counties receive.

“I want you to keep all that in mind,” Schuler told the commissioners.

She said if sales tax numbers stay where they are, the county would be 8 percent above where it was last year in their collection, amounting to approximately $500,000.

“It certainly helps,” Schuler said, “but compared to what we are losing, the sales tax numbers are just keeping us a float.

“It’s a perfect storm on county government,” she said. “I feel we are good stewards of state money but that money is going somewhere else and not here anymore to simulate our economy, to fund employees, for people to make purchases here.”

She anticipated the county’s carryover for 2012 to be $1.7 million compared to $3.1 million from 2011.

Schuler also asked about paying the remaining costs for the Auglaize County Courthouse renovations with approximately $87,000 of unencumbered money left in the permanent improvement fund through the end of the year as they front loaded the fund to pay bills.

Commissioners estimated needing approximately $10,000 of that to pay for work being done now to the outside of the courthouse along with some technology costs, which still need to be paid, although some of those costs are to be reimbursed from court computer funds.

Auglaize County Administrator Mike Hensley said they would need to be cautious about how quickly little projects could add up.

Commissioner John Bergman said there is not a lot of cushion in the budget.

Looking into the future, he said in a few years they would need to revisit the county’s 0.5 percent permissive sales tax, first passed by voters in 1996 to build a new jail and then continued by a resolution from the commissioners for operations of the jail.

He said it may be something they have to take back to the voters in 2014, unless all three commissioners at the time agree and sign another resolution.

“Ending the 0.5 percent sales tax makes me want to break down and cry,” Schuler said.

She said if that was done, it would have to directly impact the Sheriff’s Office budget, which at approximately $4.5 million, nearly one-third of the $13 million for the county remains one of the county’s largest funds.

In 2011, the permissive sales tax brought in more than $1.2 million to the county.

“We would have to curtail spending at the Sheriff’s Office with real cuts to places where we spend the most — courts, jail, the Sheriff’s Office,” Schuler said.

She said she is confident about the future, but concerned about revenue and expenditures and admits that the county is facing challenges.

“We need to watch and continue to provide services that we need to provide statutorily,” Schuler said. “The county is holding its own.”