MAHONING COUNTY Officials seek reduced funding requests

Budget hearings begin next week and last until Feb. 2.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners said officeholders and department heads should come to the budget hearings prepared with analyses, comparisons and other data to justify their funding requests for this year.
New commissioners Anthony Traficanti, chairman, and John McNally, vice chairman, had their first meeting of 2005 Thursday, along with incumbent Commissioner David Ludt.
They know they will have a daunting task to allocate money to the various general fund departments for this year, and they have asked department heads for help.
Traficanti said Auditor George Tablack informed them the county is spending about $250,000 a week it doesn't have, and that practice must end.
The practice of bringing in "wish lists" at the budget hearings also will end.
Past benchmark
Traficanti said commissioners have adopted an idea by Tablack to have officeholders and department heads use 1999 as a benchmark for analysis of their 2005 budget requests. Budget hearings are scheduled to begin Wednesday and continue through Feb. 2.
Tablack had suggested the commissioners use 1999 because that was the last year the county had between $34 million to $37 million to spend.
The county budget commission has certified the county will have between $34 million and $35 million to spend this year. Commissioners hope that figure will increase when the last revenues from the half-percent sales tax, which ended Dec. 31, come in. The sales tax, defeated twice last year for renewal, had brought in about $13 million a year, county officials said.
County comparisons
Joseph Caruso, assistant county administrator, told department heads to look at similar-sized counties, such as Lake, Trumbull, Butler, Lorain and Stark, to note comparable sizes of operations and specific needs.
Comparisons would include caseloads, office staff counts and identifying any outside vendors departments use to provide services, Caruso said.
Tablack said the analysis must contain how departments operated and were funded back in 1999, and what their specific needs are today.
He used the example of how many prisoners Sheriff Randall Wellington housed in the jail in 1999 as compared to today.
"The sheriff has three times as many prisoners in the jail today than he did in 1999, and that has to be looked at" when determining how much money he will need this year, Tablack said.
Commissioners passed a temporary appropriation of $12 million in December to get general fund departments financed through March. Commissioners have to pass a final spending plan by April 1.
Public hearings
Caruso added that budget hearings will be open to the public in the commissioners' conference room in the basement of the courthouse, 120 Market St. A schedule will be posted, and commissioners urged the public to attend.
"The public hearings accomplish two things: They educate the public on how specific offices operate, and they show how best the commissioners can allocate money for those offices to operate in 2005," Caruso said.
Dog warden
In other business, commissioners removed the interim tag from Mike Fox's name and made him the permanent county dog warden.
Fox, who has been with the department for nearly 30 years, had been serving in that capacity since the retirement of Carol Markovich last May. Fox's yearly salary will be about $41,000.

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