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Mahoning County budget growing by $5.3M

YOUNGSTOWN — The Mahoning County commissioners on Thursday approved a 2022 budget that is about $5.3 million higher than this year’s.

The 2022 budget totals $72.5 million, compared with the 2021 budget of $67.2 million.

That figure includes both the general fund, which covers departments such as the county courts, commissioners’ and auditor’s offices; and the criminal justice fund, which covers the sheriff’s office, jail, county 911, prosecutor’s office and coroner’s office.

The budget includes an increase in the justice fund to $33.2 million, which is a substantial increase over 2021. The general fund is rising to $39.3 million, an increase of $2.3 million over 2021.

Audrey Tillis, county administrator, said after the meeting that sales tax revenues were higher this year than the commissioners expected, so the commissioners were able to authorize additional expenditures as the year progressed. They also allowed the county to increase wages.

“We made sure we covered all of the needs the departments had,” she said of this year and similar amounts of funding in 2022. “We put some things into contingency, and we will take care of those things with carryover” revenues, she said.

During a budget hearing last month, Sheriff Jerry Greene said the additional money the sheriff’s office would need to operate next year was partly because of the $6-per-hour increase in the starting wage for his employees that was approved. The increase was needed to stem the loss of deputies and jail employees to other agencies offering higher wages, he said.

That raise will cost $1.4 million in 2022 and will affect about a quarter of his employees (49 people). The sheriff’s office has increased its number of housing officers and deputies by nine people since the pay raise and expects more to be hired. The latest contract approved this year also increased wages for all other employees 2.75 percent for each of three years. Other employees include ranking officers and civilian employees such as secretaries.

Hospitalization went up $488,000 this year, and the cost to provide medical care to inmates also increased because of the difficulty in getting medical workers for the jail, Greene said.

“The cost of jail medical now for our jail facility has gone up. Essentially the same thing that has happened in law enforcement and other areas has also hit the medical field extremely hard, and it’s become difficult to find nurses and other medical staff for our jail.

“So our medical costs went up about $317,000. Probably about $200,000 of that is in wages and about $117,000 of that roughly was with the additional increase of an employee” to provide mental health care.

“During COVID you have inmates that didn’t have visitation and all of that,” Greene said. “We certainly recognize that the mental health of inmates in our jail was an issue, and we felt it better for us and our liability for the county that we have additional mental health for everybody.”

REVENUE AND EXPENSES

The budgets the commissioners approved Thursday increase the sheriff’s budget by $2.2 million.

Greene said he thinks the sheriff’s office was one of the first law enforcement agencies in the area to raise wages for employees.

“We saw the trouble coming,” he said. “We basically had to put a tourniquet on the bleeding at the sheriff’s office of losing employees when we were unable to replace them, whether it was to different jobs or the types of jobs they were doing. Pay had everything to do with it.” The starting wage is now $23 per hour.

He said increases in revenue brought into the sheriff’s office offset the $1.9 million increase in the justice fund budget.

The most recent contract with the U.S. Marshal’s Service to house federal detainees in the county jail generates $3.2 million per year more than in the earlier contract. The new contract is for $5.8 million. The old contract paid the county $2.6 million.

The sheriff’s office also switched to a new phone system. In 2019, the sheriff’s office earned “royalties” of about $250,000 from calls made by inmates. The sheriff’s office is projected to take in $800,000 this year, an increase of $550,000 in revenues.

“But what also comes with this and what we have added are the tablets (computers). They have programs on those. There is all kinds of different programs to take part in, plus it does keep the inmates busy,” Greene said.

He added that a “pass through” agreement the sheriff’s office signed with the U.S. Marshal’s Service to facilitate federal inmates remaining at the private prison in Youngstown, the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, generates about $690,000 per year in revenue for the sheriff’s office.

Any of the additional revenues left over “are going into criminal justice fund if times get a little tougher for us. Then we will be able to offset those costs.”

The sheriff’s office lost some revenue in the sheriff’s sales because of foreclosures being curtailed during COVID-19, and staff handling sheriff sales were moved into other jobs, but it’s a small loss in revenue compared to the revenue increases, Greene said.

He said he expects overtime costs to drop because of the additional staffing. “We were so short staffed, we got to the point where people were being forced overtime multiple days of the week. They had to sign up for forced overtime,” Greene said.

erunyan@vindy.com

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