Revenue from the county's 1 percent sales tax is higher than originally projected.
By NORMAN LEIGH
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- Col-umbiana County residents fearful that a budget crisis will force the sheriff's office to virtually close can breathe easier, a county commissioner says.
Commissioner President Jim Hoppel said Monday he's confident the nearly $81,300 needed soon by Sheriff Dave Smith can be squeezed from the county budget.
Smith told commissioners last month that he needs the money, or he'll be forced to lay off his entire work force Aug. 23, leaving himself to staff the department.
The $81,300 will allow the department to run until about mid-November, when about $91,700 will be needed to get it through the end of the year. That amount also should be available, Hoppel said.
The money will not come from the 0.5 percent sales tax increase commissioners imposed in June.
Collections from the increase won't begin until September. The county won't get its first check until December.
To keep the sheriff's department running, the county must rely on collections from the 1 percent sales tax already in place.
Revenue from the 1 percent sales tax is coming in better than the conservative estimates established earlier this year, Hoppel said.
Originally, county officials thought the 1 percent tax would produce about $5.8 million annually, Hoppel said.
Room to breathe
It now appears that the tax will produce closer to $7 million, he said.
"With all the talk of the economy being bad, people are still spending money," which helps bolster sales tax revenue, Hoppel explained.
The additional revenue should give the county enough fiscal breathing room to keep the sheriff's department operational and to deal with two lawsuits against the county that demand a total of about $600,000.
The lawsuits were filed by county common pleas court judges and the veterans service agency. Each group claims it was underfunded by commissioners and must have more funds.
Commissioners have stressed that despite better-than-expected earnings from the 1 percent sales tax and the imposition of the 0.5 percent sales tax, the county's finances are still tight.
The county has gone for months without adequate revenue, resulting in layoffs, reductions in county services and some bills going unpaid.
It will take time and frugal cash management to get county finances back into the black, officials say.