County ended 2012 with record balance

LISBON – Columbiana County’s general operating fund ended 2012 with a record $2.2 million balance, thanks in large part to the lease of county property for oil and shale gas development and a 10 percent increase in sales tax collections.

“It was a very good year. Let’s hope it continues into this year,” said county Auditor Nancy Milliken.

Spending in 2012 totaled a record $23.8 million, a whopping 23 percent increase from the $18.4 million spent by general fund offices the year before.

Milliken said the figures are somewhat misleading because most of the $3.2 million received for leasing county property for drilling was also counted as expenditures, because county commissioners set aside $1.5 million of that to help resolve the East Liverpool/Buckeye Water District lawsuit and spent another $500,000 on capital improvement projects. Commissioners also transferred another $1 million into a separate account outside the general fund for special projects, which also counted as an expenditure.

Another major contributing factor for the record-setting year was a 10 percent increase in county sales tax revenue. The two sales taxes generated a record $14.5 million last year – an increase of $1.4 million from 2011. This was also attributed to property owners spending some of the money they received for leasing their land to drilling companies.

“Even if you take the lease money off, it’s still the most revenue this county has every seen,” Milliken said.

The other major source of revenue for the county is state Local Government Funding, which totaled $1.46 million last year, a decrease of $540,000.

Milliken said the $2.2 million balance is also misleading because $439,000 was taken off the top to pay unpaid bills carried over from 2012, and another $80,000 is automatically used to make the annual payment on the jail construction bonds. Approximately $300,000 from the balance was set aside to cover the first payroll in January.

This will leave a remaining $1.45 million, and Milliken said commissioners are likely to leave that money out of the 2013 county general fund budget and use it to supplement spending on an as-needed basis.

Milliken said officeholders for the most part held the line on spending in 2012 after commissioners cut their budget appropriations by an average of 5 percent. She said officeholders will still be asked to keep a tight rein on spending this year.

“We still have to hold the line on spending because a lot of that revenue was first-time revenue” that cannot necessarily be counted in the future, she said. “If we’re all frugal with our money, that’s how we end up with a nice carry-over.”