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MAHONING COUNTY Officials fear state will reduce funds



Published: Mon, September 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Mahoning County gets about $12 million yearly in local government funds.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County officials are rallying the troops, hoping they can silence a budget-cut rumble that's coming from Columbus.

County commissioners received a letter recently from Larry Long, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, warning them of looming cuts in local government funds.

"They've told us that this could happen and we'd better get ready," said county Administrator Gary Kubic.

Long's letter says that although there is not a specific proposal pending in the Legislature to cut the local government funds, "there is a great deal of speculation as to how the state will fill its projected $4 billion shortfall" for its fiscal years 2004 and 2005.

A reduction is local government funds is apparently high on the list of possibilities.

Local government funds are generated from several state taxes, such as sales tax, corporate franchise tax, use tax, public utility excise tax and personal income tax. A percentage of that revenue is put into a pot and distributed annually to Ohio's 88 counties, with allocations based on each county's population compared with the total population of the state.

Distribution in county

County budget commissions in turn distribute the money among townships, municipalities, park districts and libraries according to a state formula. The county itself generally gets the highest percentage of the money, which is usually used for general operating expenses.

That's the case in Mahoning County, where commissioners dread the thought of losing the funding. The county's finances are already in jeopardy, depending on whether voters renew a 0.5 percent sales tax in November.

The sales tax brings in about $12 million a year for general operating expenses.

Elizabeth Sublette, county budget director, said the county received about $12 million in local government funds this year and expects about the same amount next year. According to the distribution formula, the county keeps about half of that and distributes the rest.

"It would be disastrous to lose that money," Sublette said. The cuts would go into effect in 2004.

She's not sure whether the cut would eliminate all the LGF money, or just a part of it.

"But losing anything would hurt us badly," she said, noting that the hit would be doubly devastating if the sales tax is defeated. "But it's not going to hurt only us. It will hurt everybody in the county."

Effects on rural townships

Lee Kohler, president of the county Township Trustees and Clerks Association, said the hit would be devastating, especially for smaller, rural townships whose budgets are already scraping the bottom of the barrel.

"The bombshell is really going to hit at the end of 2003 if they cut that money," said Kohler, a Springfield Township trustee. "It's very serious. It's going to be disastrous."

In his letter, which was sent to commissioners in all 88 counties, Long said commissioners must realize the tight spot the state is in financially.

Likewise, he said legislators need to understand that many counties are faced with tight budgets and cannot afford to lose the funding.

"I know times are not easy," he said in the letter. "Programs are being cut back, delayed or eliminated. Capital projects are being put on hold. Employee positions are being phased out, abolished or reduced."

That's why he's asking commissioners to pump information to their local legislators about their financial situations.

Kubic and Sublette have sent a memo to all Mahoning County officials asking them to write to state officials and ask them to support continuation of the LGF program with no reductions.

"It is essential that the governor and state assembly understand the negative impact [the cuts would have] to your department and the services you provide," the memo says.

bjackson@vindy.com




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