Commissioners keep county budget simple

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

LISBON - Columbiana County commissioners are keeping it simple this year when it comes to the county's 2014 budget: Every officeholder will automatically be given a 2 percent funding increase, unless they request a hearing.

The only officeholders to do so yet were county Common Pleas Court judges C. Ashley Pike and Scott Washam, and their representatives briefly met with commissioners this week to go over their funding request.

Amy Ondrejko, court operations officer, and adult probation department director Jeff Miller presented commissioners with a memorandum that noted the court's combined budget 2014 request of $1.14 million is the same as the past three years, and this is the amount that will be put in the form of a court order to the board. This figure excludes $450,916 for the probation department, which is overseen by the judges.

The courts historically request more money than they spend to cover any unexpected expenses, such as jury trials. Ondrejko said the number of trials in recent years has been low, but that can change if more defendants opt to take their case to trial, "and those expenses can blow us out of the water."

As the year draws to a close, the court returns unspent money to commissioners for use by other offices, and Ondrejko said they will continue that practice.

"The main thing is we intend to work with you, but the 2 percent increase may not be enough," she said.

Commission Chairman Mike Halleck said they appreciate the efforts of the judges and other officeholders in doing what they can to control spending. "We've worked well together and will continue to do so," he said.

Halleck was hoping the judges would reduce their budget court order by at least $36,000, which represents an increase in the amount commissioners are providing to help pay off a loan used to fund renovation of the courtrooms in the 2000s. The renovation, which included other improvements to the entire courthouse, was supposed to be paid for entirely with court fees and money received by the courts for handling child support matters.

Those funding sources fell short, and commissioners began contributing $25,000 per year to help make the loan payment. Commissioners were asked this year to increase their contribution by $36,000 because the shortfall had grown, and Halleck believes the judges should absorb that cost by taking a $36,000 cut in their budget.

After the meeting, Halleck said they are trying to hold the line on spending so the county general fund can end the year with a $2 million balance - about the same as last year - thanks in part to an increase in sales tax collections and state casino tax revenue.

He said the 2014 county budget will likely total between $18.5 million and $19 million. The budget this year was $18.1 million, but the final revenue and spending figures always exceeds appropriations as originally adopted.

In other business, commissioners received a petition from Middleton Township trustees to close two unnamed alleys in Negley. The matter will now be scheduled for the required public hearing, after which commissioners can act.