MAHONING COUNTY Judge: Budget cannot be reduced

Budget hearings end this week.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Judge Beth Smith of Mahoning County's domestic relations court said she has cut her budget to the "bare bones" and asked commissioners to give the court its full budget request for 2005.
Judge Smith said, "We just couldn't operate if we had to lay off any employees." The domestic relations court has 12 workers.
The court received $774,234 in 2004 and has asked for $787,116, primarily to cover an increase in hospitalization as health insurance costs continue rising.
But the judge says her workers are abiding by the commissioners' request to help out in that area.
"We are the only division of the common pleas trial division that has their employees make their [10 percent] co-pays on health insurance," the judge said.
County budget hearings end this week, and the commissioners then will have the task of paring $57 million in budget requests to match its expected revenues of between $34 million and $35 million.
The county will have 30 percent less to appropriate this year because of the expiration of the half-percent sales tax last year. County voters twice narrowly defeated the tax at the polls in 2004.
Commissioners have asked officeholders and department heads to compare their budgets in 1999, the last time the county had about $35 million to spend, and are also asking them if they could operate at the 1999 level or with 30 percent less than they received last year. Almost all have said they could not.
April 1 deadline
Commissioners must have a full-year appropriation in place by April 1. County offices are running on a temporary appropriation of $12 million for the first quarter of this year.
The judge and her top administrators, Mark A. Huberman, chief magistrate, and Mary Lou McDonald, court administrator and bailiff, pointed out a brief history of the court's cost-cutting efforts since 1997, when Judge Smith took the bench.
She reduced the number of employees from 20 to 14 and the court's budget reduced by more than $206,000. She further reduced her staff to 12.
The court imposes an additional filing fee for special projects, primarily in the area of family services, thereby removing such expenditures from the court's general fund requests, Huberman said.
The court has steadily reduced its pending caseload from 470 in 2000 to 320 in 2003.
As far as salaries are concerned, the court's total 2005 salary request is $14,655 less than in 2004 because Judge Smith decided not to fill a vacant secretarial position for the chief magistrate. Since 1999, the salary request has risen just 6 percent.
Finally, Judge Smith said the domestic relations court strictly adheres to the county's policy on sick leave, vacation time and lunch breaks. Employees start at 8 a.m., get a half-hour for lunch, and leave at 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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