Commissioners split on budget
December 10, 2012
The Butler County commissioners continue to be divided on how much pruning can be done to the proposed 2013 budget, which includes a 2-mill property tax hike. Commissioner Bill McCarrier said at Wednesday’s meeting he is convinced the increase is necessary. “Raising taxes is not what any commissioner wants to do,” he said. “In no uncertain terms, we can’t exist on the current millage.” Under the $196 million budget, the tax rate would increase from a total of 23.6 mills to 25.6 mills. Nearly 4 mills remains dedicated to debt repayment. A 2-mill tax hike would amount to a $34 increase in the annual bill of the average homeowner. McCarrier said with rising costs and reduced state funding, the county has no choice. Commissioner Dale Pinkerton agreed a tax increase was needed, but didn’t rule out reducing the budget before it is adopted Dec. 27. “If we can figure out a way to do it in the next 22 days, we will do that,” he said. However, Pinkerton said something drastic would have to occur for the proposed tax hike to be decreased. Commissioner Jim Eckstein disagreed, saying there is no problem deflating the tax hike by a mill. Pinkerton countered Eckstein’s argument, saying county officials already spent a significant amount of time on each department and row office budget to reach this point. “We actually have been looking at it a long time,” Pinkerton said. Budget consultant Bill O’Donnell agreed dropping the increase lower than 2 mills would be difficult. “I don’t know how you’ll be able to cut costs to that extent,” he said. Eckstein maintains expenses could be streamlined by downscaling proposed renovations to Alameda Pool and the bike/walking trail on the closed section of Alameda Park Road. Gary Pinkerton, director of county park and recreation, said in an interview any pool repairs are not budgeted for 2013. Eckstein also supports buying a building instead of constructing one to address office space. The design process is under way for the new building to be erected adjacent to the government center. McCarrier and Pinkerton supported construction of the new building to address office space needs because financing proposals indicate the project could be funded without increasing the county’s annual debt payments. Eckstein also wants nonunion workers to pay a higher contribution to their health care costs. Under the current policy, a 2.5 percent deduction is taken from their paychecks. “We don’t pay enough,” he said. Eckstein said instead of basing the contribution on a person’s salary, it should be set by the insurance premium paid by the county. “The leadership should come from here,” he said. Eckstein said the county also should reduce the number of sick days and extend the work day by 30 minutes for nonunion employees. Pinkerton opposed the idea of making those employees pay for more and work longer than what’s stipulated for those covered under union contracts. “You can’t do that,” he said. “I don’t think that’s fair.” Eckstein said the current union contracts shouldn’t have been set for four years because the county’s costs could have been reduced after two years. He also wants to spend all $900,000 in revenue generated from gas drilling impact fees to offset expenses. During public comment, Butler Township resident Charles Furl agreed the impact fee money should be used. Furl also opposed constructing the new office building, saying the burden is on the taxpayer. “It means to me government is growing,” he said. Furl said even if the cost, which is an estimated $10 million for construction and another $7 million for financing, doesn’t affect taxes, it isn’t necessary. “It’s still adding to the amount of debt we owe,” he said. Furl said an additional 2 mills is enough to affect seniors on fixed incomes. The 2013 budget covers 14 elected officials, 762 full-time employees, 111 part-timers and 43 seasonal workers. No new jobs are budgeted. The gross county payroll is projected at roughly $38 million. The county prison on South Washington Street remains the largest expense at more than $10 million. Of the total $5.9 million budgeted for contributions to nonprofit entities, Butler County Community College is the largest at nearly $5 million. To help offset a loss in federal grant funding to the Victim Outreach Intervention Center, $40,000 was diverted from the Airport Authority to VOICe, which aids victims of domestic violence. The total amount budgeted for VOICe is $60,000.