Trumbull County’s budget could do with a makeover

If things were going swim- mingly in Trumbull County government, a special budget review panel would not have come up with 19 recommendations – many of them significant – for managing revenues and expenditures.

Indeed, the committee, appointed by Commissioners Daniel Polivka, Frank Fuda and Mauro Cantalamessa, believes the county could save millions of dollars if its recommendations are adopted.

But there’s another compelling reason for Polivka, Fuda and Cantalamessa to embrace the findings: They’ll have 12 advocates (members of the budget review panel) should they decide to increase the county’s sales tax.

Earlier this month, commissioners said they were moving ahead with some of the recommendations, while others will take some time to implement.

Mike Matas, chairman of the review committee, acknowledged it will be a drawn-out process to achieve total compliance, but that he and his colleagues expect the commissioners to adopt a majority of the recommendations as soon as possible.

Matas, a Trumbull County resident, is budget director of Lake County.

It should be noted that the most significant findings deal with employee compensation. The budget review committee has concluded county government could save $2 million a year if the changes they have proposed in the labor contracts are adopted.

Labor negotiations

Polivka, Fuda and Cantalamessa revealed that five of the recommendations are on the table as the county negotiates a new labor contract with the unions. They include wages and benefits, payments for unused sick leave and vacation time and insurance payments.

Richard Jackson, the county’s human-resources director, said he could not discuss the specifics because of the ongoing contract talks, but details of the committee’s report were contained in a Vindicator story published June 3.

One of the most glaring revelations will undoubtedly trouble private sector taxpayers the most: County employees are paid for 40 hours although they work only 32.5 hours a week.

The current workday schedule is 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with a one-hour paid lunch and two 15-minute breaks, resulting in 6.5 hours of work for 8 hours of pay.

The budget review committee says the schedule should be revised. We could not agree more.

Likewise, we endorse other compensation-related changes the panel has recommended:

Eliminating all taxpayer contributions to the employee portions of the retirement plan. Currently, the collective-bargaining agreements require Trumbull County to pay up to 90 percent of the employee’s portion of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) as well 100 percent of the employer’s portion.

Assessing the current policy on sick-leave payout upon retirement so as to reduce it to no more than the statutorily permitted amount.

Reviewing the vacation-time conversion policy.

Recent payments for unused sick leave and vacation have cost Trumbull County about $1.3 million.

John Talstein, a member of the budget review committee, noted during a meeting with commissioners that most of the $1.3 million was paid to only “17 percent” of the 2,000 county employees.

It’s this kind of windfall that private-sector taxpayers find unfathomable. It contributes to the public’s distrust of government.

The panel has also recommended that management work toward eliminating all contractual language on health insurance, including premiums, copayments and deductibles.

Committee members are of the opinion that such a move would serve to develop employee awareness of the growing costs and impending challenges regarding health-care coverage.

Employee compensation, including wages and benefits, soaks up most of the operating revenue, which is why the committee wants the county to adopt the changes it has recommended.

The bottom line for Commissioners Polivka, Fuda and Cantalamessa is this: Adopt the recommendations of your committee and you will have valuable public support for a sales-tax increase. Anything less, and the support will dissipate.

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