Commissioners say they don't know what they will do about the county's financial situation.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Trumbull County's financial forecast is still cloudy and county commissioners say the money they were saving for a rainy day is nearly all spent.
In each of the last three annual budgets, commissioners have tapped into a rainy-day fund to make ends meet.
The fund, created with the proceeds of the Hillside Hospital sale in 1998, has been drained of $13 million to meet regular county expenses over the last three years
There's only about $1.4 million left and no more hospitals to sell.
"We used the Hillside money the same way the state of Ohio used the rainy-day fund," said Commissioner Joseph Angelo.
A history of the account suggests that it has been "raining" in Trumbull County every year since 2000 -- the first full year since the commissioners reduced the county sales tax from 0.75 percent to 0.5 percent in June 1999.
Sales tax collection dropped more than $3 million between 1999 and 2000 and stayed at about the same level the next year.
Commissioners tapped the Hillside fund for $2.5 million to make their budget in 2000, then for $5 million in 2001 and $5.5 million for this year.
The money was transferred to help meet the roughly $37 million general fund expenses.
Commissioners have not made plans for next year, when the Hillside money is gone.
"We are anticipating growth in sales tax, we have been taking some cost-cutting measures," said Commissioner Michael O'Brien. "We will see in the spring and check what the trends are."
Angelo noted that 77 of Ohio's 88 counties have sales tax higher than Trumbull's 0.5 percent.
"In September or October, we are just going to have to review our position and see where we have to go," Angelo said. "We are hoping for a good year."
It has not been a good year so far.
In the first four months of 2002, sales tax received by the county was about $40,000 down from the same period last year.
"So far, it has fallen off," said county Auditor David Hines. "I hope it is not the beginning of a trend."