Commissioners set $1 million aside

LISBON – Columbiana County commissioners are taking $1 million from what is expected to be a $2 million budget surplus and setting it aside to spend for special projects and unanticipated emergencies, but please do not call it a “rainy day” fund.

Commissioners voted this week to create a reserve balance/escrow account within the general fund and then transfer $1 million into the account.

“What we’re looking for is being able to put some money back, for lack of a better word, in a rainy day fund,” said Commissioner Chairman Mike Halleck.

He said some county officials are reluctant to refer to the fund as such, believing the public construes it as a slush fund to use for any purpose. Halleck promised this money will not be used for operating expenses.

“It will give us some leeway should we need access to the money for an emergency or a capital improvement project,” he said.

Commissioners did the same thing in the 1990s with $600,000 left over from the year-end balance, but the money was eventually used for operations when voters failed to renew the county sales tax and money became tight. He does not expect that to happen this time.

In recent years, commissioners have set aside some of their budget surplus instead of adding it to the next year’s budget appropriations and then tapped into it to supplement daily operations on an as-needed basis. Halleck said that will not be the case with this money as long as he is commissioner.

The county general fund was on pace to end 2012 with a $2 million-plus budget surplus, thanks to commissioners leasing county property for shale gas drilling, an increase in sales tax collections, and first-ever tax payments from Ohio’s first casinos.

Halleck said this good fortune and their tight rein on spending has placed commissioners in the unaccustomed financial position of being able to undertake a major project should the need arise.

The commissioners next meeting is 9 a.m. Jan. 9.