Commissioners say they were surprised by end-of-year checks.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- The financial condition of Trumbull County depends upon when you asked about it.
Two months ago, during difficult labor negotiations and a strike by Child Support Enforcement Agency workers, the county was facing a financial crisis, according to commissioners Michael O'Brien and Joseph Angelo Jr.
The tax shortfalls predicted in November, however, never materialized.
During the strike, the commissioners predicted the county would spend $37 million from its general fund in 2001, while taking in only $34 million in revenue. Most of the $3 million left in the fund from the previous year would be spent, according to material distributed to a fact finder and union officials.
O'Brien and Angelo circulated fliers projecting a $600,000 decrease in sales tax revenue, and warned that property tax collection would decline as well.
Now, they are preparing to make a budget mirroring last year's. "Basically, we anticipate a status quo budget," O'Brien said.
Official word of how much money commissioners can plan to spend is not due from the county auditor's office until March.
"I think it might go down a little," Angelo said. "It is too close to call."
Higher tax collections: Sales tax collection in 2001 was slightly higher than for the previous year. Commissioners were able to end 2001 with a general fund carry-over of $2.3 million because of several end-of-year payments to the county.
"We did not know the money was coming," Angelo said.
These payments included $724,000 from the city of Warren for housing city prisoners in the county jail, a transfer of $600,000 from a bank account holding the proceeds of the 1997 Hillside Hospital sale, a $284,000 workers' compensation refund, and a $100,000 tax settlement check, said Roselyn Ferris, clerk for commissioners.
Auditor's estimate: The revenue figures distributed to the union, the fact finder and the press during the CSEA strike were prepared by the auditor's office based on estimates from the beginning of the year.
"We told them they were very conservative figures, there was additional money coming in -- how much additional money we just didn't know," said David Hines, Trumbull County auditor. "Based on past practices, that is what they should have known."
The disagreement is one reason the auditor's office does not have a representative at the commissioners' budget hearings this year. At the hearings, department heads lay out their 2002 financial requests.
"To sit up there all day long, I don't see any point to that," he said. "They don't listen to me anyway."