Contingency fund erodes

The actual amount of sales tax dollars will depend on the local economy.
WARREN -- Trumbull County commissioners are tapping into a contingency fund to keep short-funded operations running until fresh sales tax money arrives this fall -- but that contingency fund also is starting to run dry.
The contingency fund that started at $654,575 is now down to $126,000, the county auditor's office says.
For example, Coroner Dr. Ted Soboslay requested $181,775 from the commissioners on June 16 to cover salary, benefit and retirement shortages. That hasn't happened, but his staff continues to collect paychecks, and as of Friday its bills were being taken care of.
"There's no additional money to appropriate," Auditor David Hines said. "He's out of money, a lot of us are short -- including me."
The county's general fund budget for 2005 is $32 million. The budget, approved early this year, didn't have enough money set aside for a whole year's worth of electric and gas bills, Hines noted. The shortfall is $1.8 million to $2 million.
New offices
To conserve some dollars, there have been layoffs and reduced hours this year for offices such as the sheriff, recorder and treasurer. Supply usage also has been reduced.
Using the contingency fund is nothing out of the normal, agreed Hines and Tony Carson Jr., county administrator.
"It's on target for what we intended it for," Carson said, explaining it largely has covered unemployment costs. One month's unemployment bill for the sheriff's department, he explained, was $35,000.
The commissioners use the contingency fund for expenses officials know will come up over the course of the year.
"Every year the contingency fund does go down throughout the year. It's a typical way that we budget," Carson said.
The current $1.8 million to $2 million shortfall also is "not a major thing" to be concerned about, Hines added.
Larger budget
That's because the county is anticipating $3 million in additional revenue from its two new sales taxes. The exact amount will depend on the state of the local economy, Hines noted.
He said a new -- larger -- budget certificate would likely be issued by the three-member county budget commission after the sales tax funds begin to arrive. Commission members are the auditor, county treasurer and prosecutor.
The county already was collecting a half-percent sales tax; the two new taxes make the county's total sales tax rate 1 percent.
One new tax is an emergency quarter-percent additional sales tax for criminal justice services, such as the sheriff; the other is for general county operations. Both are for a continuing period.
Collection on these quarter-percent taxes started July 1. The first payment is to be sent to the county from the state's Sales and Use Tax Division in September.
At that point, the commissioners will look at the needs of all the departments and the county as a whole to distribute the money, Carson has said.

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