TRUMBULL BUDGET Officials predict drastic cutbacks
A citizens review committee is being formed to participate in the meetings.
WARREN -- Trumbull County elected officials are scratching away at their numbers, and saying they're not coming up with winners.
Also losing will be the public, if the 2005 budgets assembled by county commissioners hold true, and services are reduced, the officeholders say. Some cuts are more than 40 percent deep.
"When you look at the budget, they did it across the board, which I don't think is right," said Auditor David Hines. "In all the 21 years I've been here in the county, this is the worst budget I've ever had. It was done with no consideration of what the job functions are."
The auditor's office budget went from $860,000 in 2004 to $581,000.
Commissioner Daniel Polivka, board chairman, is well aware the officeholders will be riled when they come before the board the week of Jan. 30 to discuss what departments can do to make ends meet and generate more revenue.
"The commissioners certainly are in a tough situation, with only the $32 million or $32.5 million" the county budget commission projects for 2005, Polivka said. That's about $6 million to $7 million less than what was spent in 2004.
Optimism for long haul
The board's logic in cutting so deep, he explained, was "to pare down to what we have to work with right now. It's certainly not a good thing at this point, but I'm optimistic that for the long haul we'll be able to turn some things around.
"It's unrealistic, maybe, but we're trying to look at everything. We're trying to turn every rock upside down and think outside of the box, to see how we can best serve Trumbull County with what we have right now," Polivka added.
Diana Marchese, county recorder, said "there's no way" her department can go from $508,334 last year to $332,736 now.
"We cannot operate with the budget they gave us," she said. "It's taking us to four employees. We have nine now."
She is looking at options like a short work week to keep at least two of these employees. As for the rest, "I'd like to know what the unemployment costs [to the county] are going to be."
Treasurer Christ Michelakis' staff mailed 143,000 tax bills Friday. Layoffs will create chaos, he warned. He will hold off on layoffs until he meets with commissioners at month's end but has given two-week notices to two part-timers. His office spent $862,000 in 2004 but received $580,036 now.
"The schools will suffer if we don't collect the taxes in a timely manner. Eighty percent of the taxes go to the schools," Michelakis said. "They just won't get the money, because we won't have the people here to process the mail."
Sheriff Thomas Altiere has already furloughed 27 employees and ended northern Trumbull road patrols.
Hines and Adrian Biviano, chief deputy auditor, noted the commissioners chose to fund some nonmandated functions such as 911, Cooperative Extension, Soil and Water District, Building Inspection and Child Support Enforcement. They recommended looking at whether these nonmandates need to be funded and cutting them if not.
Polivka, however, said he sees "value-added service" coming from these nonmandates -- which he said were cut but not eliminated. Some of those services are money makers, he said.
He also said areas that generate revenue and don't need to be subsidized were left alone as much as possible.
"It's a working document," he said of the budget. "What would be great is if everyone worked as a team, even the mandated areas, to help out. What will happen? I don't know."
Some of the mandated areas are the courts, prosecutor and board of elections.
The prosecutor has judges' approval to keep his staff at 34, after its reduction from 39 two years ago; 30 percent to 40 percent of those salaries are reimbursed from state or federal grants. "We are at a level that the court found, from my presentation, to be at bare bones," Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said.
Clerk of Courts Karen Infante Allen said her courthouse functions won't be affected but the impact on her auto title division in the administration building was being assessed.
The elections board can pay its staff, board members and all election expenses with the $1.26 million in its budget, said incoming director Kelly Pallante.
Suggestions that could emerge from the budget meetings, besides ways to generate revenue, are ways to combine some functions such as data processing, and possibly pool resources with municipalities, Polivka noted.
He said a citizens review committee is being assembled to participate in these meetings, and then to make nonbiased and nonpolitical recommendations.
On Polivka's desk was a tax chart showing sales tax amounts for all Ohio counties. Five counties including Trumbull have a 6.5 percent total sales tax rate. Thirty-one collect the highest 7.5 percent while 33 collect 7 percent.
Will an additional sales tax be revisited in Trumbull County this year?
"We're not going to get into that right now," Polivka said. "I've always stated that should be the last resort."