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Commissioners to seek renewal of criminal justice sales tax in March

Staff photo / Ed Runyan Sheriff Jerry Greene is seen talking to the county commissioners Thursday at a budget hearing regarding his 2024 budget. At left is William Cappabianca, Green’s chief deputy.

YOUNGSTOWN — The Mahoning County commissioners will ask the public to renew the 5-year 3/4 percent criminal justice sales tax at the primary election in the spring and will hold two public hearings in the coming weeks to talk about it.

The hearings will be 5:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Covelli Centre and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at McMahon Hall at the Mill Creek MetroParks Farm, 7574 Columbiana-Canfield Rd. In Canfield.

Audrey Tillis, county administrator, said she feels the departments that are funded by the criminal justice fund have been “good stewards, and the commissioners have been very transparent,” mentioning that the county commissioner newsletter provides information on the fund. To put the issue on the ballot, the commissioners will have to take a formal vote later, Tillis said.

The commissioners also plan to approve a 2024 criminal-justice-fund budget in the coming weeks that will be about 8.3% higher than this year and a general-fund budget that is about 5.4% higher.

The criminal justice fund pays for the departments such as the sheriff’s office, jail, prosecutor’s office, 911 center and coroner’s office.

At budget hearings Thursday, Tillis and Jen Pangio, the county’s new director of the Office of Management and Budget, provided documents indicating that the criminal justice fund budget for next year will be $39 million, compared to $35,980,000 last year.

Next year’s general fund budget, which pays for most of the other county departments, such as commissioners, auditor’s, treasurer’s, recorders and clerk of courts, will be $44,125,000, compared to this year’s budget of $41,829,652.

At the start of the commissioners’ budget hearings, Tillis noted that it is probably the first time in all of her years working in budgeting that a budget request came in lower than the amount of revenue certified for that budget.

In this case the criminal justice fund has revenue of $39 million available for 2024, and requests from the departmentsin the justice fund came in at $38,751,856.

Tillis said the sales tax revenue in the criminal justice fund is expected to increase through 2024. And the revenue brought in by the sheriff’s office, for instance to house federal detainees in the Mahoning County jail, is also expected to increase, Tillis said.

Sheriff Jerry Greene then thanked the commissioners for making the funding for the criminal justice fund stable through the criminal justice sales tax.

“You have supported our office and not only our office but the criminal justice system here in Mahoning County 100%,” he said. “Our public safety and our criminal justice budget is stabilized financially right now, which is huge to us.

“The jail is incredibly expensive. The jail is what keeps all of law enforcement agencies here locally, our townships, our cities, our state and federal law enforcement agencies — it’s what keeps everything criminal justice wise stable in Mahoning County by housing who they arrest.”

“Not only that, our agency is very aggressive with multiple task forces, U.S. Marshal’s Task Force, the Drug Task Force, and Crime Against Children Task Force,” he said.

“When you don’t have a budget, you not only have to cut employees, you have to cut wages, but you cut those extra things that law enforcement, and especially my agency, those things that we sincerely believe makes a difference.”

He said the reason the sheriff’s budget rose from the $27.5 million to start the year to about $29.5 million now is because he has 12 more employees and employees are making 2.75% more money through collective bargaining.

He said the cost of medical expenses continue to rise with a projected 8% increase in 2024. The cost is $3 million this year, he said. The cost of inmate meals is going up 8% also, he said.

He said inmate phone calls and their use of tablet computers generates about $1 million in revenue that goes into the criminal justice fund. Looking back 12 months, the jail has generated $6 million from sources such as housing federal detainees. That number was only about $1.5 million several years ago, Greene said.

He said it’s important that these revenues have been generated to offset the big increases in wages and other costs in recent years.

Gina DeGenova met with the commissioners for her first budget hearing as county prosecutor after being appointed early this year.

She is asking the commissioners for a budget of $5,820,841, compared to last year’s budget of $5,844,062, according to county budget documents. DeGenova said she does not know why her figures are different from the ones provided by the county, but she shows last year’s budget request was $6,047,737, and this year’s request being $5,877,799.

She said her office was able to “reduce our budget,” but “Services were not impacted in any way. And in fact we increased services in the community, and we did more with less.”

She said there were several positions that were not filled after someone left. One of those was her position as chief assistant before she was elevated to prosecutor. “We have allowed some staffing levels to be reduced based on need,” she said.

She said costs associated with the office’s victim support dog, Hope, have been paid through donations, such as $17,000 worth of training. Hope was a rescue dog and adopted through the county dog pound at no cost.

There will be a need to cut from requests in the general fund. The total requests are $46,978,719, with the certified amount of money available for the general fund being $44,125,000.

erunyan@vindy.com

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