Trumbull County’s budget warrants public exposure


A year has passed since we urged Trumbull County commissioners Daniel Polivka, Frank Fuda and Mauro Cantalamessa to adopt all 19 recommendations put forth by a special budget review panel.

The recommendations are designed to help the keepers of the public purse properly manage government’s revenues and expenditures.

Then, as now, the millions of dollars in savings projected by the citizens committee provide a compelling reason for Polivka, Fuda and Cantalamessa to act sooner rather than later.

While it’s true that some of the changes are being implemented, most, including several significant ones involving the payroll, remain on the wish list.

Hence, a demand was made by Mike Matas of Cortland and Stephan Stoyak of Girard for a meeting with the commissioners and Rebecca Gerson, the county’s new administrator, purchasing director and transit administrator.

“We have had only one meeting in August 2017 and feel we need to provide the public with an update to your effort,” Matas and Stoyak wrote in an email to Gerson, who has been on the job since April 9.

It should be noted that when the budget review committee released its analysis of county government’s operation last year, members called for quarterly meetings with the commissioners.

There’s an important reason the lines of communication should be kept open at all times.

In the not too distant future, Polivka, Fuda and Cantalamessa will have to make a decision about increasing government’s revenue to deal with the loss of income from the tax on Medicaid managed-care organizations. The MCO tax had brought in $3.3 million annually.

The county’s sales tax has been 1 percent since July 2005, and last year government saw a slight decline in collections, from $26.6 million in 2016 to $26.2 million in 2017.

There are two ways the commissioners can increase the sales tax: place an issue on the ballot for a vote of the people; or, impose it themselves.

Either way, the officeholders will need the support of the private sector to be successful. That’s where the budget review committee comes in.

A vote of confidence from members of the committee will go a long way toward building much-needed credibility.

ADOPT ALL RECOMMENDATIONS

But it should be clear to Polivka, Fuda and Cantalamessa that such support will come at a price: the adoption of all 19 recommendations for bringing revenue and expenditures into line.

Shortly after she was appointed administrator – filling the position was one of the budget review panel’s recommendations – Gerson talked about the need to “right size” county government and streamline its operation.

The report from the budget review committee, which was created by the commissioners, is actually a blueprint for dealing with Trumbull County’s social and economic realities. The decline in population, shrinking of the tax base and an increase in the number of residents on fixed incomes are factors that cannot be ignored.

The most significant findings of the budget analysis have to do with employee compensation. The review committee has concluded county government could save $2 million a year if the changes it has proposed in the labor contracts are adopted.

Wages and benefits, payments for unused sick leave and vacation time and insurance payments are the big-ticket items that governments at all levels are being forced to address.

One of the most glaring revelations in the Trumbull County budget review report has to do with the workday schedule. Employees work from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with a one-hour paid lunch and two 15-minute breaks, resulting in 6.5 hour of work for eight hours of pay.

Another egregious long-standing practice has to do with the retirement plan. Collective-bargaining agreements have required Trumbull County to pay up to 90 percent of the employee’s portion of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) as well as 100 percent of the employer’s portion.

In January, the commissioners approved pay increases for 200 employees at the county Department of Job and Family Services and 315 nonunion employees in a number of county departments.

The agreement eliminates the so-called “pension pickup” for JFS employees hired after Jan. 1, which means the practice of taxpayers paying for the employer and employee pension contributions has not been eliminated.

Commissioners Polivka, Fuda and Cantalamessa have some explaining to do about their stewardship of taxpayer dollars. A public meeting of the commissioners, Administrator Gerson and members of the budget review committee is timely and necessary.

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