Auditor: County finances stable despite challenges
By Justin Wier
Despite a weak economy and the impending loss of nearly 10 percent of its sales tax revenues, ratings agencies maintained or improved Mahoning County’s bond ratings in 2017.
Mahoning County Auditor Ralph Meacham drew upon the ratings agencies’ reports while providing a look at the county’s finances in 2017 at the Mahoning County commissioners’ reorganization meeting Monday morning.
“The commissioners have done a very good job of managing this budget,” Meacham said at the meeting.
County officials continue to stress the loss of a statewide tax on Medicaid managed-care organizations, which brought about $4.5 million into the county annually.
After a ruling by the federal centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the state had to expand the MCO tax to non-Medicaid MCOs or eliminate it. Ohio stopped collecting the tax effective July 1.
State lawmakers provided the county with about $5.2 million in transition aid to extend through the end of 2018. Meacham cited increased sales-tax collections as a reason why the county may be able to weather the loss.
“We’re ahead of the game on this,” he told the commissioners. “We’re doing OK.”
The county’s sales tax revenues jumped from $34 million in 2014 to $44.2 million in 2016, in part because the county’s sales tax increased from 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent in 2015.
Projections released by the auditor’s office predict $43.5 million in 2017 and $41.1 million in 2018; however, those do not take into account the transition aid provided by the state to make up for the loss of the MCO tax revenue.
Meacham also cited the continued growth of a reserve fund containing 60 percent of casino revenues and slight surpluses in the general fund as reasons the county’s financial position continues to earn strong bond ratings.
He also noted a decline of about 90 employees between 2016 and 2017, but noted that those numbers have not been audited.
“I’m encouraged by that because given our population decrease, we should be very judicious about growing staff in this environment,” Meacham said.