The clerk said the number of cases filed in the courts continues to rise.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County Clerk of Courts Tony Vivo told commissioners he's not requesting salary increases for his staff this year and is asking for the same budget amount he received in 2004.
Vivo and his top aides, Kathi McNabb Welsh, chief deputy, and Scott Grossen, office administrator, spent more than two hours at the clerk's budget hearing discussing Vivo's statutory mandates and how a cut of perhaps as much as 30 percent in his 2005 budget request "would imperil the effective operation of the courts."
Commissioners are having budget hearings with general fund departments through Feb. 3.
The county has lost roughly 30 percent of its revenue with the expiration of a half-percent sales tax at the end of last year. Voters twice rejected it at the polls.
The county will have between $34 million and $35 million to spend this year, but budget requests are at $57 million.
Commissioners have asked department heads to come prepared with two primary pieces of information -- a rundown of staff and budget in 1999 as well as comparisons with peer counties on staff and operations.
The county is using 1999 as a benchmark because that was the last year the county commissioners appropriated about $34 million.
Vivo said that in 1999, in just his legal department at the courthouse, 11,005 criminal, civil, divorce, domestic violence, judgment liens, foreclosures and appeals cases were filed and handled by 21 employees.
He has estimated the 2005 caseload will be 15,980. He now has a staff of 28 workers.
The biggest rise in filings is with foreclosures and judgment liens. There were 650 foreclosures filed in 1999, but that number rose to 1,375 last year, and Vivo's staff estimates that number may exceed 1,500 this year.
Judgment liens filed that year were 4,773, but increased to 5,937 last year, and is estimated to be about 6,000 this year.
Vivo said the formula for the increases is that when "times are bad, and the population goes down, more legal actions are filed."
Vivo received $2,485,714 for his budget in 1999, which included handling filings in the four county courts in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Sebring. Last year, he received about $3.1 million, and that is what he's asking for in 2005.
Grossen said staff members haven't received a raise since 2002, none is planned this year and open positions in the Boardman, Austintown and Canfield courts won't be filled.
A 2002 performance audit on Mahoning County government done by the Ohio auditor's office said the clerk's office compares favorably with peer counties for staffing levels, and that work is being done "effectively while efficiently using general fund resources."
Vivo also suggested to commissioners that they should revisit a plan to consolidate the county courts. He told them lease agreements for space the Austintown, Boardman and Canfield courts occupy expire this year, and Sebring's expires in 2007.
It will be up to commissioners and the judges, however, to discuss how any consolidation would be done.
Commissioner Anthony Traficanti, chairman, said a proposed court consolidation plan "is in on the commissioners' radar screen."