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Fulton County Officials Still Working On Budget




Fulton County officials are still working on preparing the general fund budget for 2008, and as of last week, the operative word was “tight.”

Vond Hall, Fulton County administrator, said based on the best available figures, budget expenses exceed revenue by about $625,735, once enough money, $2.4 million, is set aside for the first three months of 2009.

Fulton County receives money from a number of sources, including property taxes and sales taxes. Money generated from property taxes isn’t available until April of each year… so the county has to have money set aside to operate for the first three months, January, February, and March.

Hall said he likes to have about $2.4 million available for that purpose.

In the past, the county has gotten by on a smaller carryover. For example, when the county started 2005, there was only $1.7 million on hand, “and we made it work,” he said.

As of last week, the total requests for money from the county general funds were $11,940,000 for 2008.

Also, as of last week, the county budget commission had developed a new certifi- cate of revenue, expecting the county would receive a total of $13,714.265.

At first glance, that would indicate that Fulton County will finish 2008 with excess revenue of $1,774,265.

But when Hall sets aside $2.4 million for the first three months of 2009, there’s only $11,314,265 of revenue available; as a result, the county is in the hole by more than $625,000.

Since Fulton County cannot run a deficit, unlike the federal government, the county will have to dip into that $2.4 million carryover to cover expenses. Or, as Hall said, the county will erode the carryover.

Service Levels

Fulton County officials have been working hard to cut expenses from the budget, doing everything from stopping all non-essential vehicle purchases to installing a new Internetbased telephone service.

But all of the relatively “painless” cuts have been made.

“I believe we’re down to impacting service levels,” he said.

By service levels, Hall means services provided by the county, through the general fund, to Fulton County citizens. Service cuts could mean fewer county employees to answer phones and wait on people in county offices, or even fewer office hours.

Many county services, such as the Senior Center and the Developmental Disabilities Board, have their own tax levies and aren’t impacted by the general fund budget issue. The Fulton County Highway Garage relies on motor fuel taxes, among other things, for its revenue.

But others, such as the county’s share of the Fulton County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Ohio State University Agricultural Extension Office, rely on the county general fund.

The commissioners have talked about cutting the soil and water and extension funds. Those who used the services protested the cuts.

“Do we want to cut service levels? No, we do not want to cut service levels,” Hall said.

“But unless we raise additional revenue, we won’t be able to continue into 2009,” he said.

The county commissioners had discussed increasing the county sales tax by a half percent (.5%), raising it to 7% on purchases of some goods and services.

A vote of the commissioners to put a sales tax hike on the county ballot passed 2-1, with Paul Barnaby, county commissioner, voting against. But the commissioners said they would not put the issue before voters without a unanimous vote of the commissioners.

Hall said he will bring the issue before the commissioners again.

Unknown

There is some bright news in the county budget situation, and there are some unknowns.

Hall said interest income was higher than expected for 2007. It was originally anticipated that Fulton County would earn $800,000 in interest from investing unused funds- money the county has, but doesn’t have to spend until later.

Actual interest income will be about $1.3 million, he said.

But with the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates to boost the economy, Hall said he expects interest income will decline again.

Further, the county won’t have exact revenue and budget figures until the books on 2007 are closed and balanced.

Hall said while he originally estimated the carryover available for 2008 at $2.4 million, as of last week the estimated figure was about $2.5 million, which closes the budget hole by about $100,000.- David Pugh


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