Many wants and needs for the county were openly discussed
The commissioners began their final review of the 2015 Butler County operating budget during their meeting on Tuesday morning.
"Last week during our budget talks, we poured over expenditures and overall budgets for the county,"began Finance Director Ryan Adkison. "We also reevaluated our revenue projects to be closer to the actuals."
The county, facing a fairly large funding gap, has been forced to trip the fat in its budget.
"We have looked at some one-time options to try to complete the funding of the gap," Adkison went on. "Today, we will review those modifications and look at the overall budget."
"In order to better review the budget, we went back to a completely flat mill levy,"explained County Administrator Will Johnson. "One of the options is a change in the merit increase. The reduction in the merit increase form 2.5.5 percent to two percent will free up a bit of money in the budget."
"We also had two in the part-time staff that was deleted out of the budget. That in itself saved us $18,000," added Adkison.
During the budget talk, many wants and needs for the county were openly discussed.
"The additional $400,000 for the sheriff's department was never placed in the budget," explained Johnson. "It was requested and considered, but it was not added."
"It those additional personnel are an absolute need, it would be frugal of them to take some of the people at the detention facility and he could put them in cards he already owns," commented Commissioner Jeff Masterson.
"The only way for the sheriff's office to gain these four officers is to raise the mill levy," said Johnson. "It's that simple."
"There is some way for him to do it within our current budget if there is a need," said Masterson.
Not all of the commissioners were okay with the merit increase for the county employees, either.
"We have to be careful that we don't establish an unsustainable trend," added Commissioner Ed Myers. "We're trying to go for what is a virtually flat budget in order to have enough to fund the increases in pay we've been contemplating. Even without any merit increase, we are paying just as much because of the increased benefits. I am not sure whether we should shave back the merit increase further than 2.5 percent to two percent or even a more modest COLA (cost of living allowance.) There seem to be so many households in Butler County who are scratching to keep a standard of living that they're used to and a lot of them are very frankly falling behind. Is this really sustainable at this rate? I'm not opposed to a flat mill levy by any means, but given these constraints, I question whether even a two percent merit should be considered."
"Our health insurance keeps going up," said Commissioner Dan Woydziak. "That two percent won't even come close to what their additional cost will be for coverage. I know that in my house my utility bills have also increased dramatically. I understand that we're campaigning with other people's money, but if we don't allow our employees to make ends meet, then we're going to start losing employees. I think that two percent is modest. I applaud Ryan and Will for finding the shortfalls in the budget, but I think going under the two percent for a merit increase would not be wise."
"We don't have a merit increase every year," added Commissioner Mike Wheeler.
Commissioner Peggy Palmer was still not convinced.
"We our treating our folks well," said Palmer. "They have the longevity plan which is good. They have an added day off for a holiday. Increases in their salary ranges. We pay for a lot of training and uniforms and even some cell phones. We also have health and dental. I feel real comfortable this might be the year we use it towards lowering taxes for our constituents"
"If you take out the merits, it won't go towards lowering taxes," explained Johnson. "It will go towards rebuilding our reserves and sustaining spending."
"We’re getting to the point where merits and services are a big part of the budget that we find ourselves squeezed on the other services," added Myers. "I would feel a bit more comfortable if the merit increase were scaled back to a percent and a half."
"These increases in employee benefits payments are actually having a reduction in benefit while it costs you more," said Masterson. "The cost increases but the amount of services are reduced. We’re changing to a higher deductible and it’ll cost us less while them more. I’m not opposed to the two percent increase. I think for the most part, a lot of employees get very average pay. I’m a blue collar person, so I can relate to what they feel. Staffing levels and needs could be argued, but they’re your most valuable asset. We can target some of our equipment purchases. I want to preserve our infastructure, but can we get a fourth year out of that vehicle instead of three? There’s $1.7 million in the CIP for equipment annually. I think we can target those areas if we need to. I don’t have a problem with what I see here."
"We don't want to have a lower or a flat mill levy on the backs of your employees," agreed Woydziak. "We appreciate our staff and the service they give our constituents."
"I need some more figures before I can make a decision," said Palmer.
After some discussion, the Commission agreed on whether or not to publish the in-hand budget.
"I do believe that this budget reflects a conserted effort to be as efficient and economical as possible and I do appreciate the efforts of staff to try to be as accurate and complete as possible," said Myers.
"Based on the fact that its reduced, I’m comfortable with where it is," said Masterson
Masterson then moved to approve the 2014 budget for publication and Woydziak seconded. The motion was carried 5-0
The commission also:
• approved a homestead lot split for property located at 12223 NW 60th St in Murdock Township.
• completed a work session on the Butler County Fire Districts.
Kari Adams can be reached at email@example.com.