Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Butler commission to rein in budget

By Steve Kemme skemme@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON - Butler County department heads are asking for a lot more money for 2003 than the commissioners want to give them.

        Based on department requests, the county's preliminary 2003 general fund budget is $4.8 million - or 7.5 percent higher than this year's budget. The commissioners want to hold next year's budget increase to $2 million, a 3 percent hike.

        Commissioner Courtney Combs said departments had been warned to keep their budget requests at 3 percent or below because of the county's tight financial situation.

        “These requests are disheartening,” he said. “This $4 million-plus increase cannot be tolerated.”

        The county is not considering laying off employees. But it might reduce its number of employees by not replacing those who quit or retire, Mr. Combs said.

        “It's very possible we'll have a hiring freeze,” he said.

        Tim Williams, county finance director, will meet with the departments' staff members to whittle down

        requests before department heads meet individually with commissioners in November. After public hearings, commissioners will approve the final 2003 budget in December.

        “We have plenty of work to do between now and the end of the year,” Mr. Williams said.

        This year's county budget is $63.8 million, and the preliminary budget is $68.5 million, $2 million higher than the commissioners desire.

        Like other Ohio counties, Butler has been damaged by federal and state funding cutbacks and rising health care costs. In addition, Butler's new Common Pleas Court judge and new Juvenile Court judge that will be added next year will cost the county $310,000 to $325,000. The county also may have to begin paying debt service next year on the county jail that opened last month.

        The annual cost of operating the new jail- $3.5 million - is about the same as operating the old jail, Mr. Williams said.

        The commissioners said that the criminal justice system, which accounts for almost 64 percent of the county's preliminary 2003 budget, will have to sustain far bigger cuts than other departments. The criminal justice system consists of the sheriff's department, the prosecutor's office, the courts, the adult probation department and the juvenile detention center.

        Mr. Combs said that when he became a commissioner 16 years ago, the criminal justice system took only 40 percent of the county budget.

        “If we could stop the costs of the criminal justice system from escalating, we could provide a lot of needed services that we can't provide now,” he said.

        Those needed services include education and training for people trying to get off welfare and economic development, he said.

        “We won't approve an increase in jail inmates until our finances will permit it,” Mr. Williams said.


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