Director believes additional layoffs can be avoided

Published: Sun, December 11, 2011 @ 12:05 a.m.

By Peter H. Milliken


Even if Mahoning County budgets its general fund conservatively at $47.9 mil- lion for next year, the budget director believes the county can get by without imposing any new layoffs among employees paid by the general fund.

“We’ll be able to roll over some of the revenue and hopefully get back to where we are right now,” said Barbara J. Sours, who became budget director in September, referring to a projected carry-over of funds from 2011 to 2012.

The budget commission has certified only $47.9 million in general-fund revenues for 2012, compared to the $54.5 million certified this year.

Carol McFall, chief deputy auditor, however, has projected a $3.1 million general-fund carry-over from 2011 to 2012, and she predicted that amount will be added to the $47.9 million total early next year.

John A. McNally IV, chairman of the county commissioners, said he has confidence in the $3.1 million carry-over projection.

McNally said, however, he did not know if additional layoffs can be avoided at even the $51 million level, which includes the carry-over.

With general-fund budget requests from county departments totaling some $63.3 million for next year, and with Sours calling for the commissioners to budget at $47.9 million, the commissioners face difficult choices.

The general fund is the main operating fund.

The justice system, including the jail and the courts, will be the top funding priority for 2012, as it is every year, McNally said.

McNally said he hopes to recall the 18 sheriff’s deputies needed to reopen the two closed prisoner housing units in the main jail. “I don’t really know how possible that’s going to be, but I think that’s going to be the starting point,” McNally said.

“Everything else would be a bonus at this point,” he said of any other proposed additional items in the sheriff’s budget.

“I think the guiding principle for the commissioners is the criminal justice system and attempting to get the sheriff’s department as much as we reasonably can to fund the operations of the jail,” he said.

“The commissioners believe that funding the jail operations is the first and most important issue there.”

The courts generally submitted “fairly reasonable” budget requests, McNally said.

“The judicial system is going to drive what happens in other departments,” McNally added.

“I don’t think any department is more important than any other department. We need them all to function,” Sours said. “What we need to do is figure out how to divvy up that money so that everybody can continue to operate.”

Sours said she does not have any prescribed formula for the commissioners to use as they prioritize county spending.

“I can show you what everyone has requested and what they’ve survived on this year and last year, and I can show you how much we have to cut,” Sours said.

“Ultimately, it’s the commissioners’ decision,” said Anna DeAscentis, budget specialist.

McNally said he hopes the commissioners will enact a 2012 budget Thursday.

DeAscentis said the commissioners should look for strategic ways to use county money as matching money to leverage the maximum potential outside grant funding. “All opportunities for funding are open for discussion,” DeAscentis said.

For example, she noted that the county gets only $44,000 a year from a state emergency management grant because it contributes only $44,000 in matching money from its general fund. The $88,000 funds the combined salary and benefits of Clark Jones, county EMA director.

The county would benefit from matching dollar-for-dollar the full $121,520 in state money, to which the county is entitled under that grant, to make funds available for the maintenance of county emergency management agency vehicles and equipment, she said.

In recent weeks, the commissioners have conducted budget hearings for some big-budget departments, including some that are seeking major budget increases for next year.

Saying he wants to recall all 37 laid-off deputies, open all of the county’s main jail and reopen the minimum security jail for overnight use, Sheriff Randall A. Wellington seeks an increase from $13.7 million this year to $19.6 million next year.

The facilities maintenance director, Pete Triveri, seeks an increase from $3.2 million to $3.9 million, saying he wants to restore his staffing to the 2006 level.

The board of elections seeks to nearly double its budget from about $1.5 million to $3 million as it prepares for a two-primary, high-voter-turnout presidential election year.

Prosecutor Paul J. Gains seeks to raise his criminal-division budget from $1.9 million to $2.2 million to fill some vacant staff positions.

However, Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick is content to reduce her demand on the general fund from $5.7 million to $5.5 million because she’s been using federal and state money to compensate for lost county general-fund revenue in recent years.

Judge Dellick has reduced her staff from 160 in 2007 to 112 today by not replacing employees who’ve left due to layoffs, resignations and firings.

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