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State raises doubts about Liberty's future



Published: Wed, July 17, 2013 @ 12:08 a.m.

State raises doubts about future after township shifts funds to cope with cutbacks

By Lee Murray

TheNewsOutlet.org

Liberty

A state auditor’s report found several problems in Liberty Township’s accounts that raised “substantial doubt” about the township’s “ability to continue as a going concern.”

Officials blame severe cuts in state tax revenue, the elimination of estate taxes and a reduction in the property tax base for a 22.4 percent cut in the township’s general-obligation fund budget, which led officials to borrow from one account to cover another.

In 2011, the township had a general fund budget of $1.1 million. For 2013, that budget has been cut to $854,000.

Borrowing between accounts – specifically moving funds from the fire fund and the police fund into the general obligation fund – is forbidden by the state.

“They’re worried that we don’t have the dollars to operate the township,” said Liberty’s fiscal officer, John Fusco.

“We get through our bills and our payroll, but that’s about it. There’s no extra to do roads or to do anything else.”

Brittany Halpin, spokeswoman for the Ohio auditor, said that the state will offer assistance to the township.

“Yes, it is serious, and it is reported as serious,” Halpin said. She added that representatives from the Local Government Services section, a division that assists struggling townships with financial advice and evaluation, will meet with township officials to decide what is needed to go forward.

“Talk is cheap,” said Trustee Stan Nudell. “How can we spend the money differently? Unless we have more money coming in, we’re going to spend it the same way.”

Nudell added that the township is managing funds properly and can pay its bills.

Trustee Jodi Stoyak said that cuts in the Local Government Fund and estate taxes are to blame.

According to policymattersohio.org, a nonprofit research organization based in Columbus, Liberty incurred a $389,000 loss in local government aid as part of a $1 billion state budget cut for 2012 and 2013.

“The governor [John Kasich] has reduced our Local Government Fund,” Stoyak said, “and he’s taken away our estate tax. That’s gone after this year.”

The township’s estate tax income has fallen too, from $300,000 in 2011 to about $32,000 this year, according to the township’s budget.

Despite the harsh language of the report, Administrator Pat Ungaro was keen to point out the township’s successes.

“They should be complimenting us,” he said. “Every operation is in the black.”

Ungaro added that the township inherited some financial challenges that it overcame.

“When these trustees started we had $800,000 in bank debt,” Ungaro said, “Now we have no debt at all.”

Halpin said she could not discuss what the next step would be if Liberty’s accounts remain deficient.

“It’s hard to say what will happen next until we get in [there],” she said.

The state said the township misused funds in 2010 by transferring $22,444 from the police fund to pay for the new 911 communications center. The 911 center has since closed because the levy that was passed to pay for it did not draw in enough money to cover costs. The township also took money from the fire fund to pay for police salaries because of a deficit.

Both transfers are against state rules. Halpin said, however, that there is no legal penalty for swapping funds in that manner.

“There wasn’t enough money for the police payroll, so Pat [Ungaro] and John [Fusco] decided, together, to take money from the fire fund and pay the police,” Stoyak said. “You’re not allowed to do that, but he didn’t want to lay off a whole department so we did what we needed to do.”

Fusco added that there was an understanding between now-retired state auditors and the township.

“We’re not allowed to do that, but we had no choice,” Fusco said. “The state auditor told me that they would have done the same thing.

“We had to do it, otherwise we wouldn’t have a police department,” he added.

Halpin said she could not confirm whether or not any previous auditor agreed with the township about swapping money between funds.

The township continues to seek ways to save money.

It has hired Joshua Cleland of Campbell as a full-time firefighter. Nudell said the decision to hire a firefighter for $33,597 per year was more cost-effective because the township was continually incurring overtime expenses with regular firefighters. Last year the department spent $208,000 on overtime pay because two firefighters were injured and one was on extended leave.

“I’m really optimistic that we haven’t been better than we are today,” said Ungaro, who has recently gone down to four work days a week to ease salary expenses.


Comments

1repeaters(221 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

This is a prelude to a road levy; just read between the lines. Thanks to the township and the schools, the taxes in Liberty are 39% higher than the next highest community in Trumbull County. If you gave them a penny; they spent a dollar. They could have saved $750,000 by going to the county 911, 5-6 years ago, but those who wanted re-elected supported by those departments that wanted the power, threw common sense out the window. How many of the other county communities would love to have this kind of money and the tax base to go along with it??? Always remember, 'the higher the taxes, the lower the property values'. And that translates into the exodus of good taxpayers to other communities with lower taxes. Liberty has yet to learn that, "TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS' is not as easy in real life.

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2Miki(99 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

Every township has had their budgets cut. This is simply a lack of leadership by the trustees. A failure to manage the monies that they have to run the township. Now you hear the excuses.

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3michael1757(291 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

I think kasic is to blame. He's cuttin' everything. How do you think he's gotten such a surplus for the state. Whats he sayin'? 2.5 billion. I'm probably wrong about that figure,but it's alot. My food stamp's got cut in half,but that may be federal. Anyway,kasic's tryin' to take credit for Star,but that was all Tim Ryan.In the end,it's kasic. kasic's the worst thing for this state.Yeah,I know.h

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4TB(1167 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

State Surplus Is Coming Off The Backs Of Local Governments,As Proven By This Article. There's A Point Where Cuts Becom Detrimental To The Community, And We Have Hit That Point In Ohio. Columbus Has Decided To Keep More Of Your Tax Money In Columbus,And Not Return It To The Cities And Townships.
I Find It Interesting That Townships Can Not Move Money Because Of State Law, When The STate Budget Does The Exact Same Thing.

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5mnascar(36 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

I bought a house in Liberty two years ago. Now everywhere I look they are short of or out of money. Put levies on the ballot for specific things. Police, Fire, Roads, Schools etc. If we want them we vote for them. My pockets aren't getting any deeper. I have to live within my budget. So do the schools and township. Sorry but it's true. I can't afford any more!

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6TB(1167 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

You're Missing The Point. The Money Should Be There, But The State Budget Has Taken Your Tax Money From Your Local Community For Columbus And A Rainy Day Fund.

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7DwightK(1300 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

Why is everyone so cynical? The township was operating fine until Governor Kasich cut the revenue. Now the state has a surplus while local governments like Liberty go broke. When revenue is cut, so are services. What do the citizens of Liberty want to give up so Ohio can have a 2 billion dollar rainy day fund?

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8AtownAugie(718 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

Not surprising Mr Ungaro, the township administrator, is ducking responsibility. But at the mere possibility of a new motel or other business, he'll run over anyone between him and a TV camera to brag "I did this. Me, me, me.". Good job, Pat -- doing for Liberty what you did for Y'town: glad-handing while using smoke and mirrors.

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9DontBanThisDrone(530 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

“We get through our bills and our payroll, but that’s about it. There’s no extra to do roads or to do anything else.”

Right there says it all. Make sure payroll is covered, even if there's nothing left over to do anything that you're on payroll to DO. lol

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10endthismess(333 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

I have known Liberty Township for nearly 60 years and I am originally from there. The trustees have had a constant history of never being the best since the mid 70's, so this township management problem is nothing new and this includes all the inside hiring which has gone on for years too. Liberty has lost revenue over the past 50 years here and there, like all areas do. Nothing new. If the road dept employees are asleep on the job..why not take their pix, the truck number and report it....dah! Post it online. If the road department supervisor is hiding a township service truck behind his house to avoid his nosey neighbors..take a pix and report it. Liberty ppl have always been complainers about every single thing in the entire 5 square miles of that township...FOREVER. They are the biggest group of constant bit----- around..... HANDS DOWN. Can't please these ppl. If the rotten governor has pulled the funds apart...then get down to Columbus and start making some noise!!! Call all those blow bag congress and senate ppl to help you and stop waiting for a bag of money to fall from the sky. That's right....get off your calcified hind ends and do something for yourselves....for once. And...get off Ungaro's back....you ppl ought to be darn grateful he came to help repair your busted township.

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11DontBanThisDrone(530 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

I bet Ungaro is the single largest annual expense the township has.

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12TB(1167 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

Check Out The Vindys Own Editorial On This Issue On The State Level.

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13Robert_Neville(123 comments)posted 1 year, 5 months ago

Wow this is really shocking. It looks like the people need to call there State Rep. The money is drying up and the money I spent on my new Toyota just left the country. I think it is time I start buying American. Wait they produce nothing anymore. Looks like we need to bring jobs and industry to the valley again. This will pay for schools.

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