Huron County Auditor Roland Tkach has a serious message for county commissioners — the 2008 carry-over was down 12 percent and at the lowest rate in 10 years.
That, coupled with declines in revenue, could mean problems if costs can’t be contained.
“That whole combination does not bode well for the county’s finances,” Dennis Steiber, deputy auditor, said Monday. “Roland is trying to take a very pro-active approach with the commissioners right now — telling them we’re here as a resource and we want all parties involved to know where we’re at so there are no further surprises down the road.”
Commissioner Mike Adelman said he appreciates the auditor’s office for the most recent information.
“The auditor is just bringing to our attention that the year is starting out slowly,” Adelman said. “He had given a revenue estimate in December and we based our 2008 budget on that. He wants us to be able to make our budget work.”
The auditor told commissioners total revenue to the general fund was down 11 percent in January 2008 from a year earlier. Sales tax alone is down almost $41,000 so far this year.
“Sales tax is our largest source of revenue,” Steiber said, adding that totals for both January and February are lower than in 2007.
“Commissioners were aware that the balance was down from last year and realized that revenue was going to remain stagnant at best,” Steiber said. “What we want to avoid is coming to them in September or October saying ‘We’re out of cash — what do we do?’”
The report that Tkach and Steiber prepared for commissioners also pointed out a few significant financial details:
*** The county spent more than in took in for four of the past five years. 2005 was the only year since 2003 that the county took in more money than it spent.
n The 1/2 cent sales tax for the Huron County Jail has not covered jail expenses since 2000. Expenses outpaced jail revenue by almost $11,000 in 2000 and by almost $240,000 in 2007. The worst financial year for the jail was 2004, when expenses were more than $370,000 over revenue.
n The criminal justice system in Huron County — covering the prosecutor’s office; common pleas, probate and juvenile courts; the clerk of courts office, the coroner, police and municipal courts, the sheriff’s department, the jail, the public defender’s office and the law library — took up 48 percent of the county’s 2007 budget.
Adelman said he remembers similar circumstances in 2003 and 2004.
“We had a real dip in our revenue because interest rates crashed and some other circumstances,” he said. “We worked through things. Projected revenues are falling short and adjustments have to be made.”
He said “some belt-tightening” might be in order for the county.
“I feel our budget is very tight, but there’s always some wiggle room,” he said, adding that the 2008 budget of $15 million is just $3,000 more than the 2007 budget.
The auditor’s office also gave commissioners a report prepared by the Bowling Green State University Center for Regional Development which warns a weak housing market, the price of oil and a decline in the value of the dollar all suggest 2008 will be a difficult year for northeast Ohio.
On the positive side, the report stated inflation is expected to be fairly low for the year, possibly between 1.8 and 2 percent. Interest rates might decline and local companies that trade in world markets could see “significant” growth this year.