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Board divvies revenue


November 10, 2012
Morning Journal News

LISBON - Columbiana County commissioners continue to use some of their additional revenue to help underfunded offices.

Of the $594,047 in additional funding certified this week as available to appropriate, commissioners used $500,000 to cover a shortfall in the county's $5.8 million self-funded employee health insurance program.

"For a lot of years, and not the fault of anyone ... our insurance for county employees has been underfunded," said Commission President Mike Halleck.

Although Halleck did not say so, more funding has been needed to offset an increase in claims. The $500,000 is in addition to the $94,473 they moved from the general fund earlier in the year to cover higher-than-expected claims.

Another $10,000 in additional revenue went to the fair board to help pay for construction of the new rabbit and poultry barn at the county fairgrounds. The barn cost about $80,000, and donations totaled $66,000 as of late September.

"That's something we felt ... that would benefit all," Halleck said.

Commissioners also appropriated $15,000 to the county's 4-H program, another area he said was "grossly underfunded" by the board because of a tight budget.

Approximately $50,000 went to the county data processing board to cover shortfall for maintenance agreements and to begin replacing computers in the auditor, treasurer and commissioners' offices.

Finally, $19,047 went to cover a shortfall in the county coroner's budget. Almost all of that was used to pay attorney fees incurred this year by the coroner's office in defending itself against lawsuits filed by two former employees and related issues.

"We're putting it where we believe it can do the most good," Commissioner Jim Hoppel said of the appropriations that went to the fair board and 4-H.

Commissioner John Payne agreed. "I'm just so glad we're in a position to help," he said.

When commissioners adopted the 2012 general fund budget it was based on an estimated $17.4 million in revenue, as certified by county budget commission. But since then, actual general fund revenue has increased to $22.5 million.

So what accounted for the increase?

- $1.2 million increase in county sales tax collections through October. This has been attributed to the shale gas lease boom underway in the county.

- $275,000 in casino tax revenue from the state.

- $3.2 million from the lease of county property for oil and gas development. Of that amount, $1.5 million was immediately placed in an escrow account to help resolve East Liverpool's lawsuit against the Buckeye Water District, while commissioners put the remaining $1.7 million in a reserve account for building repairs and improvements.

"So it's really not an increase of $5 million because $3 million of that did not stay in the general fund," said county Auditor Nancy Milliken said.

Commissioners were being conservative with the 2012 budget because of an anticipated $600,000 cut in state funding. As a result, officeholder budgets were reduced by 5 percent, with the understanding commissioners would provide more money if additional revenue came in, and that is what has occurred.

Commissioners already used the casino tax money and increased sales tax revenue to repave the courthouse parking lot, repair the leaking county jail roof, and restore funding to some of the other county offices that were cut this year.



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