COLUMBIANA COUNTY Budget hearings put on hold

One worry is that a sagging economy will cause sales tax earnings to slip.
LISBON -- This year's round of budget hearings for Columbiana County government departments has been postponed but not abandoned, officials say.
Commissioners Dave Cranmer and Jim Hoppel said Friday they still hope the annual meetings, aimed at helping craft next year's general fund budget, will be conducted.
Commissioners must have a 2002 budget ready by the first of the year.
Budget hearings were to have started weeks ago, but a strapped state budget and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have changed that.
Attack's impact: The events probably will affect 2002 revenue and expenses, making it difficult to budget for next year, Cranmer explained.
"It's hard to hit a target with things changing on a regular basis," he added.
The terror attacks have depressed the national economy, which could take time to recover. That, in turn, could diminish the county's sales tax revenues, Cranmer said.
Right now, the tax is bringing in more than $500,000 monthly.
The ailing economy also is likely to pare the county's investments. Earnings could drop by thousands of dollars, Cranmer said.
State officials, looking for ways to save money for the state budget, are considering trimming the amount of state tax dollars known as local government funds that go to counties annually.
Spending: Officials also are worried about increased costs to the county next year.
One example is the county's anticipated 2002 payment of $918,000 to a multicounty juvenile justice system.
The agency, faced with $1 million in funding cuts from the state, may have to increase the amount it charges its six member counties, which includes Columbiana County, Cranmer said.
County department heads submitted their 2002 funding proposals to commissioners in July. The requests totaled about $15.5 million.
At the time, commissioners estimated 2002 revenues to be $12.8 million and said requests would be trimmed to meet that amount.
Now it appears the reductions may have to be even more severe, commissioners say.
Once the 2002 funding picture becomes clearer, commissioners say they hope to meet with department heads to further discuss their budgets. The sessions, open to the public, could be held in the next few weeks.
"I would hope that we hold them," Hoppel said. "If budget hearings were ever needed, this would be the year."

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